Engines of new ex works cars are calibrated for average performance development. If you wish to make your car more efficient and perform better, engine tuning is a sensible measure. There are many possibilities.
Artic temperatures as well as desert heat only rarely occur in Europe and therefore many default settings are superfluous. With these calibrations manufacturers compromise between performance and life span with minimal maintenance. And what is more: they consume performance, which can be returned to the car with professional assistance. Engineers have to consider all potential weather circumstances.
Types of tuning
Tuning is not limited to mechanical interventions in the engine although it all once started there with the retrofitting of turbo boosters, compressors, nitrous oxide injections, etc. Again and again, technical progress created new possibilities for car performance enhancement.
Nowadays engine tuning essentially stands for alterations in the electronic engine control, being the quickest and easiest way to enhance a car’s performance. Nevertheless, a driver can choose between several tuning modes.
Available now are the following:
1. Chip tuning
Two ways of chip tuning
Chip tuning comprises two different modes of engine performance enhancement: installing an additional control unit as well as the so-called “software optimisation” are known as chip tuning.
The difference lies in the amount of work and the price. Installation of an additional control unit (ECU) lasts only a few minutes and expenses start at ca. 300 EUR. Software optimisation is a procedure which can only be performed by a garage. It lasts several hours and starts at ca. 600 EUR.
1.1 The additional ECU: take care!
The market of control units is extensive. Choosing for branded quality is essential. Plenty of oversees manufacturers promise excellent performance for a small price.
Installation of these cheap control units means considerable risk. The performance development of these solutions is generally too high and too imprecise. With ECUs from the auction houses on the internet, extensive engine damage often is only a matter of time.
Prices for branded ECUs start at 300 EUR. Principally they are supplied with a general type approval. Nevertheless, registration for MOT approval of performance enhancement measures is mandatory. The car insurer must be notified about the engine modifications as well. Otherwise a claim might be partially or totally rejected in case of accident.
Installing additional control units
Installation of an additional ECU is amazingly simple. It is connected to the engine cable harness with the supplied cables and plugs – ready. Performance enhancement is immediately available. Especially the simple installation of these control units make them attractive for DIY tuners.
1.2 Software optimisation in the garage
Software optimisation is more comfortable for the user, though considerably more expensive. The procedure involves the reprogramming of the available ECU for optimal performance development by a garage. Garages charge heavily for their expertise and work. Count on at least ca. 600 EUR for this mode of chip tuning.
The result is noticeable: a 30 – 35 HP performance enhancement is realistic. This additional performance can be used for a sporty driving style. With a normal driving style it can be perceived by the reduced fuel consumption. Another advantage is the garage taking over the administrative nuisance. Registration in the vehicle documents is part of the service for most service providers.
2. Extra performance by combination?
Of course it is very enticing to trick the engine into an even higher performance by a combination of both engine tuning measures. Before you decide to this step, please advise yourself thoroughly.
An engine performance cannot be limitlessly enhanced. Furthermore, the ex-works settings are tuned to a default performance. If a software optimisation can cause a plus of 30 HP, an additional performance enhancement will require adaptation of the brakes and the suspension.
The essence of things: traditional engine tuning
- An engine requires three things for its operation: air, fuel and ignition. The air is necessary as it contains oxygen burning the fuel in the combustion chambers. The more air is available in the combustion chambers, the more effective the combustion. In the old days, turbo chargers and compressors were retrofitted to this end.
- This is no longer an option in all modern engines. The only possibility for enhancing the air supply in modern engines is installation of a high-flow air filter, offering a larger surface, enabling more air to stream into the combustion chamber, potentially raising the performance.
- No miracles can be expected from these measures. Generally, the effect is a better engine sound and a slightly better reaction time of the accelerator. A better performance via a high-flow air filter requires additional installation of an airbox. It improves the air influx, additionally cooling it. This installation should be performed in a professional garage.
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3. High performance is not everything
Engine performance enhancement is not the only way of improving the performance of your car. Just as important as the engine performance is in view of driving style and fuel consumption, two additional factors come into question: weight and aerodynamics.
A lighter car propels lesser mass. Already the very first kilo less will serve to reduce the fuel consumption and improve the agility.
- Several possibilities for weight reduction are available, though often very expensive: bonnet, wings or even doors and boot lids made of CFRP can reduce the weight of a car by 40%. These components are hand-made and therefore correspondingly expensive.
- The interior offers additional possibilities for reducing unnecessary ballast: replacing the spare tyre with a repair kit, removing the back seat and replacing the front seats by lighter sport seats will reduce the weight by ca. 100 kg. An empty interior, however, has an annoying side effect: it makes more noise.
- A performance enhancing measure which has come slightly out of fashion is car body tuning. The traditional lowering of the car reduces the air resistance. If the car is additionally equipped with front, rear and side spoilers, improving the road traction and reducing the air resistance, this will become noticeable in the driving quality.
For these measure also applies: registering, registering, registering, as otherwise it will become very expensive at the next MOT inspection!
Performance or eco tuning?
Some people want a better performance, others want to save fuel. The said engine tuning measures are equally suitable for reaching these goals. However, under the label of eco-tuning, a lot of nonsense is on offer.
We warn in advance: not any additional device, super oil or fuel additive will in any way reduce fuel consumption.
Therefore: beware of magnets, tank pills, additives and whatever else haunting the internet, promising miracles.
Balanced tuning in combination with a fuel-reducing driving style and sensible weight reduction offer the best possibilities for an ecologically optimised driving quality.
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Breaking point: nitrogen oxide
The requirements for vehicle engines have changed. A few years ago a maximum performance at a minimal weight was the target of all engine development. Nowadays, the emission factor is more important than ever.
This sets limits to retrofit tuning: the higher the performance of an engine, the hotter the combustion. A hotter combustion, however, produces more nitrogen oxide. Excessive tuning can therefore end in a driving prohibition. Furthermore, the hot exhaust gases are not conducive to exhaust cleaning. Especially the ultra-thin platina layer in the catalytic converter is prone to suffer from it.
Therefore: engine tuning is great, but should always occur within the limits of what is sensibly feasible. Thus, you can ultimately profit from an optimal saving effect.
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