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AIan AndersonM.l.M,l. explainshow to transformyour car's pertormanceby changingjust one smallcomponentin its ECU.

egular readers may remember a recent Editor's edict concerning how DIY is not only still alive but kicking along nicely. That may be so, but we de$r anyone, no matter how dab-handed they are with cars. not to break into a cold sweat when confionted by the sight of a fuel-injected engine! A bonnet full of pipes, trunking, wiring and not forgetting a computer appears as complex as the workings of 42 CAiR MECHAIIIICS DECEMBER1995

the SpaceShuttle and that's not a silly comparison. In fact, a modern fuel-injected engine usesmore powerful computers than the ones Neil Armstrong andBrzz Aldrin relied upon to take them to the moon and back. However, looks can be deceptiveand, while an EFI set-updoesn'tlend itselfto weekend tinkering, itcertainly holds the key to unlock a healthy increasein performance. And it's all down to a simple chip change.

Engine tuning has shifted dramaticallyoflate, moving awayfiom the dirty hands, a box of tools and trial and error method, which servedus so well admittedly, to the sophisticated clinical hightech approach. And it's more than a welcome advance. Just a simple change of microchip in the engine's management system can reap potentially racing car-like bhp figures. You don't have to go quite that far but a slight increasein performance, to


help when towing or travelling fullyladen perhaps, would certainly not go amissfor many drivers even though the average family car is quicker than its GT relation of 10-15yearsago.

when in a high gear and on light throttle. Amodified chip can cure thesemaladies. Drivability also means response and, while it is hard to criticise the performance the majority of cars these days, the throttle response can leave something to be desired with many cars feeling rather woolly. Does anyone remember the accelerator pump? On the old fixedjet carburettor it provided an instantjet of neat fuel when the right foot was planted to the floor. Now a Ford Cortina 1600was never the fastestthing on four wheels but at leastfelt asthough the loud pedal was connected to the engine without any fluffiness and flat spots.A good rechippingjob rekindles this lost feeling. There are numerous tuning companies around specialisingin re-mapped chips and the vast majority of cars can be converted.

How? Although a typical electronic fu el injection system is pretty complicated, the way a'super-chip'works is almostsimplicity itself. Essentially,all modern EFI systems rely upon an on-board car computer known as the ECU (Electronic Control Unit). This is whatmakes the engine tick becauseit governshow much fuel is supplied to the engine and the optimumignition timing setting for any given time after taking into consideration vital factors such as operating temperature, throttle opening, engine load and so on. At the heart of an ECU is the microchip which is the unit's'brain'becauseit is pre-programmed to correspond with the car makers' wishes.A new re-programmed chip simply sendsout different messagesto the ECU, tricking it into believing that more fuel and different ignition settingsare needed. The net result is more power. It is that easyand, unlike power tuning of old, does not suffer reliability or temperamental tantrums and still retains the original engine tuning settings.

Whydon'tthecar makers doit? Ifjusta simple change ofmicro-chip can reap so much reward, the big question is how come the car makers don't fit these optimum performance microchips asstandard or at leastoffer than as an option? The answeraccording to leadingchip swapper,Bucks-basedSuperchips(Tel: 01280 816781)is due to compromise. Astandard mass-producedcar must suit a wide range of driving conditions and drivers. Amanufacturer must alsoallow for the factacar must be able to run satisfactorily without proper regular servicing and cope with varying fuel quality. So,aslong asyou are a typical owner who looks after your car properly, then you can enjoy a healthy performance increase that is totally usable at the expenseof only a couple of miles per gallon at best. The other major engine chip comes from Weber (Carburettors) no less.Called Star-Chip(Tel: 01932788805),itwas developed by racer tuned car developer David Brodie and his Brodie Brittain Racing concern (Tel: 01280 702389). Star-Chip even claims increased fuel economy with its modified micro marvel, particularly on motorways.

Thechipthatneeds changing is insidetheEGU. This mightbeunder aseat,a bonnet or,asinthiscase, upandunderthe dash- usually moresatisfactory as protected it'sbetter fromdamp anddirtupthere. The great thing about re-chip tuning is that the gains aren't solelyabout extra power. Indeed, performance increases are quite conservative for non-turbocharged cars, usually 10 per cent in terms of power and 15 per cent more torque. However, the real improvement is in all round drivability. Thanks to emissionregulations and a fanaticalfixation with statutory fuel consumption figures, some EFl-equipped cars display certain unwelcome side effects. Peugeots,for example, are fitted with a fuel shut-off device when the throttle is closedand this can lead to an annoying jerking motion when driving in town. Vauxhalls have been known to suffer fiom a similar snatchingsensation

Doit yourself Despite its sophisticatednature you can quite easily fit a new pre-programmed chip yourself, although it does depend upon the engines involved. Some require specialist soldering in place and, while it's true that your local TV repairer can easily do it, most chip suppliers would prefer you to take your car along to one of their agents where the engine would be setup on a rolling road to make the most of the new programme. What you should ensure before any modifications are carried out is that the car is fit for tweaking, particularly the engine. Cylinder .o-pt.sions should be within spec and any servicing item such as spark plugs and air filters in good order. Prices? On average less than f200

DECEMBER1995GAR MECHAIUICS43


rest of the mechanicals,chassis,suspension and brakes are up to the job and uprated if necessary.

Drawbacks acrosstheboard, plus af25 fittingcharge and the dreaded VAT, although costsdo vary depending upon which re-chipping company you select.Weber agents,incidentally, will fit a Star-Chip free.

Thevitalmemorychipitself.Doesn'tlooka lot for over0200,doesit? | wouldn'tfancysoldering a replacement in myself!

Turbochips Owners ofturbocharged cars can enjoy somemassivepower hikes-by asmuch as40 per cent -yetachip changeon its own reaps little gain. It is only when a resultant tweak to the turbo's boost pressure really pulls out the extra horses. We're not kidding. For example, a Ford Escort RS Turbo in standard trim developsan honest 132bhp; after chipping this can soar to a massive210bhp while a standard Cosworth Sierra (a1ready quick enough for most normal people, thank you - Ed) can be tuned to develop a whopping 330bhp according to Superchips. Turbo tuning is considerably more expensive than a normally-aspirated car. Pricescan run to the thick end of a grand on certain Sierra and Escort Cosworths and Nissan's twin turbo 3002X sports car but, on average, look at spendingbetweenf,350 to f500 for the majority of cars, depending upon who carries out the work. With such dramatic power increases it is vital with an old turbocharged car that not only must the engine be strong enough for the additional urge but the 44 GAR MECHAIIIICS DECEMBER1995

As long as you use a reputable engine developer of known experience then you shouldn't encounter any problems. Back to Superchips again who offer a lZ-month guarantee for their products, plus a full refund scheme after seven days' trial ifyou aren't satisfiedwith any non-turbo conversion. Any good company should offer a similar deal. Only deal with well-known companies; both Star-Chip and Superchips have.their own dedicated franchise dealer networks. Some re-chippers advise converted carsto run on a diet ofleaded fuel or Supergreen ifcat-equipped,to get the best ffom the new set-up, the notable exception being Star-Chip which still runs on standard unleaded - far more convenient and cheaper. Make sure to that the engine is kept in tip-top tune. There's no evidence to suggestthat modified cars suffer unreliability problems but someenginesmay be more sensitiveif they go out of tune. There again, any good Car Mechani,cs reader wouldn't dream of neglecting their pride andjoy, would they? Owners of newish cars still under the manufacturer's warranty should bear in mind that it will most likely be invalidated after the conversion, and remember that any tuning project will most certainly effect the standard insurance cover. Have a word with your insurers firstbecauseon non-turbo cars the slight power gains may be looked upon pretty favourably.

Thenextstep Until recently, a few cars were deemed 'unchippable', such as certain Toyotas, Mazdas,Mercedes,VWs and Peugeots. However, this has been overcome with a new type of engine management computer that interfaces with the engine's existing ECU. It is more expensive than a simple re-chip, Superchips' ICON range starts from f225 and requires the engine to be set up on a rolling road. Some companies can also provide a bespoke servicewhere you can have a blank micro-chip specially re-mapped for your particular engine for fine tuning. This is more use to cars which have already been specifically tweaked with a modified cylinder head or exhaust system. A new idea from Superchips is the switchable chip. Called Romswap, it allows a converted car to revert to standard form at the flick of a switch which some turbo owners may find useful if other people of varying skills drive the car. You can also opt for a blank chip which means that it can act as a useful anti-theft immobiliser. Diesels haven't been forgotten and there is a dedicated range for turbodiesels that can offer good power increases.For example, the 90bhp VW Golf TDI unit can raise its game to a healthier 115bhp with an even more impressive torque curve. So there you have it. Anew era of engine tuning is fast gaining widespread approval, and not simply with go-faster enthusiasts.Many ordinary drivers after just that little bit extra driving pleasure are seeing the benefits of fitting modified chips to their cars.

Superchips supplya widerangeof chipsfor modifyingperformance, notall of themto improve performance. Chipsarealsoavailable to improvepullingpowerandoveralldriveability.


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