Sep 28, 2019

ECU tuning: what is it?

Porsche engine control unit software tuning in progress

An ECU (Engine Control Unit) is the largest computer in a modern vehicle. It modifies engine performance by responding in real-time to input from sensors that inform how much to adjust fuel mixture and ignition timing. ECUs may be used to control other performance variables, including engine idling speed, valve timing or throttle response.

The first ECU was introduced at the very end of the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the invention began to gain market traction, in response to growing concerns over how vehicle emissions were contributing to air pollution.

The main job of the computer’s system is to control how much fuel is being used and when it’s being used. But what works in one environment or climate may not work so well in another. For a vehicle to achieve its full potential, an ECU may need to be altered. This is where ECU tuning comes in.

What is ECU tuning?

Much like any other computer, with the right tools and knowledge at hand, you can change the default settings of an ECU to your liking. Not only does this introduce the potential to unlock additional horsepower; you can also improve fuel efficiency if you drive your vehicle appropriately.

Tweaking the ECU is especially useful if your car has recently been modified with custom parts, such as a new sport exhaust system. Whenever you make major alterations to your Porsche engine, it may require some alterations to the ECU’s settings to get the most out of these changes.

How is ECU tuning done?

Porsche ECU chip during remapping

ECU tuning (aka chip tuning or remapping), is the process of giving a vehicle’s ECU new settings. The process can be achieved in several ways – which is best depends on how much you’re willing to spend and how far you want to go.

Before considering ECU tuning, it’s important to establish whether it’s possible with your vehicle. As ECUs were introduced in the late 1970s, it may not be possible if you own a classic model which predates this era. In addition, any vehicles manufactured before 2000 are unlikely to work with current ECU tuning software. Even some vehicles manufactured after 2000 can have difficulties – it depends on the model.

Remapping your vehicle’s settings

If ECU tuning is possible, the most common approach is to connect an external device running professional software. Once connected, an engineer can either apply a standard ‘mapping’ (collection of settings) designed to suit your general needs, or custom mapping designed to deliver specific improvements. While standard mapping is often faster and more affordable, custom mapping can produce better results.

Exposed Porsche engine prepared for ECU remapping

What are the benefits of chip tuning?

ECU tuning can unlock the full potential of your vehicle, improving horsepower and torque ratings, making the vehicle feel more responsive and maximising power from additional upgrades.

The procedure can also improve fuel efficiency on turbo diesels, if you take full advantage of the improved drivability and are appropriately conservative with your acceleration. Reports of up to 10% better fuel efficiency a successful ECU tuning have been documented. Getting these kinds of benefits could help with recouping any money spent on the ECU tuning in the first place, particularly if you’re planning to switch to using premium fuel.

If you’ve recently completed any modifications to your vehicle, especially the engine, the ECU data that was relevant to your vehicle’s systems may need to be updated in order to achieve optimum performance.

Cars at petrol station at night in the rain

Considering chip tuning for your vehicle?

If you’re unsure about the process of ECU tuning, a reputable garage will be able to spell out the advantages and disadvantages, and provide any other information you need to make a decision.

Provided you look after your vehicle, i.e. carry out regular servicing and use high-quality fuel, then you should expect to experience the benefits which come with ECU tuning. Equally as important is the need to choose a reliable professional to tune your ECU and maintain your vehicle afterwards.

At Parr Porsche, we have a wealth of the right expertise, knowledge and equipment to tune your ECU the right way. Contact our team today to find out how we can help you unlock your vehicle’s true potential.

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