Watchdog: Engine remapping

Watchdog: Engine remapping
29 Aug, 2012 9:30am Jon Morgan

What are the benefits and potential drawback of getting your engine chipped? Auto Express investigates...

If you want more power or economy from your car, it’s worth considering a remap. This alters how the engine works in order to improve performance, and is also known as chipping. We get lots of letters and E-mails inquiring about this, so here we explain what’s involved.

Remaps are made possible by your car’s engine control unit (ECU). This controls the ignition timing, air/fuel mixture and (on turbo cars) boost pressure. It also imposes any speed or rev limits.

A chipping company can reprogramme the car’s ECU to change how it controls the engine and can also remove any limits placed on it. This used to be done by plugging a microchip with new software into your car’s circuit board, but these days, software can be installed using a laptop connected to its diagnostic port.

The gains can be impressive. Remapper Superchips lets you search the make, model and engine of your car online, to see what improvement it can make.

For example, its £455 upgrade for the MkVI VW Golf GTI boosts power from 207bhp to 251bhp, and torque from 280Nm to 324Nm.

Chipping turbodiesel engines can increase economy by seven to 10 per cent, because it adds torque lower down the rev range. This means the engine doesn’t have to work as hard as before.

Many companies offer plug-in kits that are pre-installed with the software upgrade. These allow owners to remap their engines themselves. It means you can restore the car’s factory settings should you wish, plus there’s no need to travel to the company’s premises.

Some people are concerned that remapping could cause problems with their car. But it shouldn’t affect reliability if you use a reputable company such as Superchips.

Its technical director Jamie Turvey told us: “Remapping does put extra strain on an engine, but not a dangerous amount. We check carefully that the temperatures and pressures our remaps put the engine through don’t exceed the acceptable parameters.”

He added that most cars’ engines are built to offer more performance than they actually deliver. “You find manufacturers launch a car with a set power figure, but then over the life of the model they’ll introduce a few facelifts and performance versions,” he explained.

“They don’t develop new engines for each new version: mostly they limit the performance of the earlier models and then offer a little more power with each new edition. We just release the optimum performance.”

Obviously, you need to inform your insurer of a remap. But you may be pleasantly surprised by its reaction, according to Turvey.

“Historically, insurers would run a mile from chipped cars,” he said. “Some still will, but for the most part it’s very different these days. Some will just say ‘thanks for letting us know’; others will have a set fee.”

Disqus - noscript

Why bother tell your insurers anyway? it's not like they can ever find out.

@Lagoya - Takes less than five minutes to find out when they carry out damage assessment after an accident !!

So you're telling me that if you had a crash they are going to take the battered carcass of your ride and stick it on a rolling road?! Are they gona download the engine map and analyse it with the stock one? Come on, they will never find out! :)

I'm happy to believe many of the claims for power and torque improvements (especially on turbo engines), but I hear lots of claims about improved fuel consumption and / or lower emissions (I see there's even one in this article)! What I NEVER see though, is official, independent figures done to the same standards that the car manufacturers have to work to!

Here in Canada, at a car crash scene, police investigators plug in a laptop to the diagnostic port to check on the vehicles operating parameters - this then tells investigators whether or not the ECU programming has been changed, and they also upload all the details about throttle position, speed, use of brakes , etc... as these parameters are recorded in the ECU, to aid trouble shooting driving issues, and to activate safety equipment such as airbags, abs, stability control, and so on... When they find evidence of aggressive or illegal driving, that is brought out at subsequent court proceedings. Do the police also use these techniques in the UK?

Errm. I think not.

If you kill six people at a bus queue, or crash through Tesco's window and the resultant fire causes £3-million damage, your insurers are going to try very, very, very hard to avoid paying.

Many years ago a former insurance employee told me it was not unusual to strip the engine of a crashed car and measure things such as the camshaft with a micrometer to make sure it was to the manufacturer's official spec.

So the claims assessor spending five minutes with his laptop plugged into the diagnostic socket not only seems possible, but highly likely.

And if the insurance company doesn't pay guess who does?

What puzzles me is the question - If chipping is so fantastic, why don't the car manufacturers do it?

The argument that the manufacturers want to hold a little bit back for future improvements just doesn't ring true.

It beggars belief that if Volkswagen (using the example quoted above) could get a power increase of 15 - 21% (example above) AND an economy improvement of 7 - 10% they wouldn't leap at the chance.

No. Sorry. Does not compute. The car market is way too competitive to sacrifice "free" improvements like that. There must be a downside we're not being told about.

it sounds tempting, i need a economy gain but there are no figures on those. i checked the superchips web and i get a 28 bhp increase but no increase in mpg. the only downside is wear and tear on engine parts but like it said some will over do it and some like superchips are right, same engine but different config for power. if i do go this path then i do intend to declare this to my insurers but at the end of the day its down to how strong your right foot is ;) and if you're like me doing 620 miles a week paying £70 diesel/week i think it will slowly pay off

They just have to read the ECU through the ODBC post, it will have flagged a code that says the software is not the same as the manufacturer's original.

I'm sceptical about these claims and agree with the comments below. If theres no downside, why don't the manufacturers with their huge development budgets offer these upogrades?

Then again, Volvo do offer a similar product through Polestar which reatains the manufacturer warranty. Maybe there is something in it?

I can contribute my two cents as I have done a remapping to my previous car , although a N/A model. The car manufacturers usualy don't get the last ounce of performance from their engines because they want to find the optimum compromise between wear & tear, emmissions and bad fuel or maintainance. In turbo engines it is also a safety issue as they have to ensure that the engine is not more powerfull than what the brakes , transmission and shocks can handle plus the fact that they try to find a compromise between power,reliability and fuel consumption. So when you mod chip a car you cut some of these safety margins but then you must be more carefull with the oil, fuel and service intervals as well as some other components like brake pads, tyres and the like. Sucessfull tunes usually have no downsides and some times even improve fuel economy as they provide more torque lower but you have to be more dilligent with maintainance. In turbo engines if you go for extreme gains you risk the longevity of the engine if not they are ok too. Plus in the German and Austrian market there are also eco tunes for diesel engines mainly that focus on optimum fuel consumption perfomance.

They dont do it because they need to meet tax and emission bands to sell the car. Ive not remapped my car as I dont see its value of £450, but others who have had their RX8's remapped have gained 31bhp and gained around 2mpg, along with more torque lower down and a stronger torque curve.

Remapping isn't about gaining MPG. If your after MPG buy a 1litre C1. Remaps are primarily used to extract more performance whether its crank or wheel horsepower and torque/power delivery.

If theres a downside, why isn't remapping illegal and why dont manufacturers warn against it? They dont.

Im sorry that just isnt true.

I work for an insurance company, and given the economic climate and time constraints if you have an accident an engineer will only come and carry out a physical inspection of the vehicle.

The only time the key may be used will be to turn the ignition on to verify the mileage. To suggest an engineer reads the ECU via the ODBC post is ridiculous.

It simply doesnt happen.

And for all you naysayers, I work for the UK's largest motor insurer.

Whoever your mate is, they are chatting bubbles.

It is unusual, and something like that would ONLY happen if there were concerns over the accident etc as the cost of stripping a vehicle is significant.

9/10 an engineer only carries out a physical inspection of the said vehicle and may turn the ignition to check the mileage.

I have had 3 vauxhall 1.9 diesels mapped........ when mapped they put a big smile on your face......... the power gains are significant.......... with the massive torque increase you can out perform the 2 litre petrol turbo vauxhall cars and get over 60mpg on a run............ happy days. The down side...... if you are continually "smiling" when driving you will cane drive shafts. The clutch and internals no problems.... just drive shafts...... and why dont manufacturers map up the cars............ easy........ the emissions n engine efficiency tests etc regulated by our friends in Brussells. you know what we need to do ........ get out of europe for years of happy motoring :-)

Don't be silly. If we left the EU we'd still have to have EU standards, but no say in them, as is the case with Norway. People are queuing up to join. Also, car makers would pull out of the UK and imports would be very expensive. And we have no UK mass car manufacturer left cos all you folk wouldn't buy Rover 75s. Land of Hope and Glory? BMWs, Audis and German Minis.

Obviously if car manufacturers were to chip their own engines, the performance and efficiency gains in the short term would mean that it would be increasingly difficult to improve and advance at the same level in the future. The result would be that performance and efficiency gains of future models and engines would be perceived to less impressive. This would affect sales for the company and would presumably force the Climate Change authorities to reconsider targets for engine efficiency if car companies are easily able to comply with current emissions legislation by making simple adjustments.

The number one reason for "conservative" engine tuning is to pass Euro V/VI emission regulations, required to sell vehicles in the EU (or Euro IV, Euro III etc for older models). The MOT emissions tests are, by comparison, very easy to pass. Other reasons, of course, do include reducing wear and tear on the engine and thus reduce warranty claims, and also to maintain brand segmentation. The new Golf GTD, for example, can be very cheapy re-mapped to out-perform the pricier, petrol Golf GTi. But it wouldn't do in marketing terms for the GTD to be quicker than the Halo brand car.

I'd have to be mad to tell my insurance company, Bandits!!

BileMonkey beat me to it

My VAG engined car bought as 140 bhp and 258 lbft was dyno tested before chipping and actually had 155 bhp. After chipping this went to 186 bhp and 290 lbft on the dyno. Adding a KN filter increased the final figures to 191bhp and 295 lbft. The chipping was carried out at 4000miles and the car passed it's MOT's with good emissions every year. So all in all great fun/smile factor and 50+mpg over 100000miles.

total remaps are trained tuners and seem to be good. my mondeo is 15% more efficent and has done 60,000miles plus since the remap. no problems so far. in fact the m.o.t. tester said he has never heard of a moneo with 100,000 mile on it with zero smoke on the emission meter. he said its a wonder taxi drivers don't have there's all remapped.
john . stonehaven, aberdeen.

I drive a C220 and had a C250 before they both have same engine. Mercedes use the same engine on their C Klass range 2149cc or something for their 200 220 250 cdi engines yet the cars all have different performance statistics this is all done via software in ecu. Some form of limits are set to achieve this. I believe this true with their c160 180 200 petrol engines also which use a 1599cc engine. Otherwise car manufacturers would have to develop serveral engines for on model range and this is not cost effective. I also understand the new 2014 C Klass will use the diesel engine developed by Renault which has been used in the Clio, Nissan Qashqai just to mention the ones I know.

I assume from that then you do not own a decent motor ;)

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