Back in the days when muscle cars ruled the roads, gear-heads were able to manually adjust settings on their carburetors and distributors in order to gain large amounts of power. Today, many of the adjustments you could make with tools are fully under control by computer. To up that computer, one can use ECU tuning.

Electronic control units, or ECU tuning, is a general term that includes any item that allows you to adjust the computer system in a vehicle. This includes performance chips, performance programmers, tuners and flashers. They used to be an actual chip that would replace your vehicle’s original computer chip. Nowadays it is much easier to use an ECU performance chip. There are a plethora of reasons to do this. In this article we will describe why you may want this modification and what it can mean for your vehicle’s performance.

black circuit board concept

How Does ECU Tuning Work?

Some reasons you may want to use ECU tuning would be: to gain better performance, to make up for engine modifications such as an engine swap, to alter your fuel/air ratio. The first performance programmers were very basic and tedious to install. They could really only tell the engine how to run by monitoring and controlling items like ignition timing and fuel delivery to save fuel and get the most power from any situation.

Onboard diagnostics (OBD-II) came along and provided a standardized system and improved features. You were now able to plug in a reader to pull information from your vehicle’s computer no matter what you drove. It did not take long for do-it-yourself ECU tuning to come along – allowing anyone to have more control over their vehicle’s performance.

A modern ECU plugs directly into your electronic system under the hood. Running in-line with your system, it is able to intercept the data before it is transferred from your vehicle to the computer. Before it sends that information through, it analyses it and adjusts it to enhance your vehicle’s performance.

Installation is quick and as simple as plugging the unit directly into your on board computer. Once it is in place, unless you want to set your vehicle back to stock specifications later, you never have to worry about adjusting it.

General Specifications

  • Different stages (levels) are available for every driving need.
  • Most control modules are custom programmed to make the most of the output and performance of your specific vehicle make and model. Some even take your engine size, transmission, and tire size into consideration.
  • Offers accurate and immediate tuning since you plug it directly into your own system.
  • Never needs adjusting unless you want stock specifications returned.
  • Simple plug-in installation.
  • Optional in-cab monitors for live on-the-fly data.
  • Most vehicles can attain over 20 miles per gallon along with more power and reliability.

PROs and CONs of ECU Tuning

PROs

  • Installing one will give you more power and torque, as well as a smoother ride and a gain in fuel efficiency.
  • Different tuners are available for different driving needs from racing to every day driving.
  • Affordable way to increase performance and torque or to improve fuel efficiency.
  • No major internal modifications to existing components needed.
  • Gives you the ability to go back to stock specifications when you need to sell the vehicle or take it in for emissions testing.
  • Certain performance chips and programmers give you the ability to custom tweak many of your systems components.

CONs

  • Some tunes require a fuel upgrade to premium due to increased performance. This ends up increasing the cost of use.
  • More performance means more wear and tear on your parts. This means shorter part life and more replacements and repairs -all of which add to overall cost to use.
  • Have to compromise something. You cannot have the best of both: horsepower and torque, or miles per gallon. If you want better fuel economy some horsepower and torque have to be sacrificed. If you are looking for more power, more fuel has to burn to achieve it. Thus you will see a drop in fuel efficiency.
  • May void warranties included on your vehicle if programmers are found to have been used to alter your vehicle’s stock settings. Dealers are instructed on ways to find out if this has occurred.
  • If you are not familiar with your system and blindly make guesses as to settings on a custom performance programmer or chip, you can destroy important internal components such as your transmission and engine.

Examples of ECU Tuning Units

Bully Dog Performance Chips & Programmers

Bully Dog is a sought after company in the performance programmers aftermarket industry. Their mission is to provide safe and efficient ways to empower individuals and give them the ability to take control over their vehicles. They offer a wide range of programmers and aftermarket parts for every vehicle and even big rigs. Reviewers love the quality of the products and say they can see a big difference in vehicle performance. They also find that customer service adequately knows info about their products and is especially helpful.

Jet Performance Products

Originally a carburetor shop that specialized in drag racing, Jet continues its commitment to enhancing vehicle performance 49 years later. Amongst its wide variety of aftermarket parts, programmers and chips for many applications are available. Reviewers really appreciate the knowledge base of Jet’s staff. They also love the custom programmer options and claim there is an amazing difference in their vehicles performance and gas mileage even when hauling heavy loads. They also say the programmers are a little on the high end in price and they would like them more affordable but the gain in performance was worth the money.

Superchips

Superchips, founded in England, was originally focused on providing the British racing community with products to enhance their vehicles. They are one of the first companies that specialized in vehicle tuning. Eventually, they came to provide programmers worldwide and now manufactures all of their products in the USA. Nowadays, they’ve become one of the most recognized brands in auto performance with their products being used in all sorts of motorsports, NASCAR, off-road racing, and drag racing. Reviewers rave about the ease of installation and the pre-loaded tunes. They can also definitely see the quality and years of experience in the industry shine through in their products.

circuit board

Conclusion

There is a world of aftermarket parts that are available to enhance your vehicles power, performance, and efficiency. ECU tuning options such as performance tuners and ECU performance chips allow you to get to the brain of your vehicle and tell it how to run things more effectively.

Which brands have you had noticeable success with? Leave your experiences, gripes, and suggestions for others looking to implement this type of vehicle enhancement.

Images from depositphotos.com.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This