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Chip tuning started to hit the modifying scene back in the mid 1980s with cars such as the Ford Sierra "Cossie" Cosworth Turbo. Cars like this offered big power for family hatchback money, and engine technology had been moving to Electronic Engine Management for a few years. It was found that by changing some of the parameters inside the engine's Electronic Control Module (ECU), the turbo could be made to produce more boost, the injectors could be made to provide more fuel, and the ignition timing could be altered to make the engine produce more power than was originally intended.
Back then, this was achieved by means of a "re-chip". The chip inside the ECU that held the fuel, timing and boost map information had to be manually changed by removing the chip and replacing it with a new one containing different parameters. The phrase "Chip Tuning" was born.
Fast forward to the late 1990s and many manufacturers are using turbocharging in their vehicles, and not just the hot hatches. Many manufacturers have started to use low pressure turbochargers to give mild increased in power. This is a good thing, it means you can reliably have the power of a 2.5L engine from a 1.8L or 2.0L turbo engine and have all the economy benefits of having the smaller engine. The good news is that many manufacturers used it in their hotter cars, too.
Volkswagen released the Golf GTi 1.8T with 150bhp. This is an interesting model to look at as the turbocharger only added 25bhp over the non-turbocharged version of the same engine. Surely that turbo can do more?... The answer is, yes it can, quite a bit more!
Audi were using the 1.8T in their S3, providing 210bhp. It was also widely used in the TT, with the 1.8T engine offering power outputs of 150bhp, 180bhp, and 225bhp. Audi also had the 2.7T for the S4 and RS4.
Seat had the Leon Cupra and then the Leon Cupra R, both with the 1.8T. Skoda had the vRS range where the 1.8T was used and the 1.9TDi PD130 engine.
With all these turbochargers being used, the potential for tuning was massive. Things had moved on in leaps and bounds with ECUs. The On Board Diagnostics II standard had been implemented in the mid 1990s primarily for emission control and data acquisition purposes and by the year 2000, it was mandatory that all cars could have the engine management software re calibrated by using the protocols built in to the OBD-II standard. This gave the tuning world a much easier way into the ECU, and remapping was born.
With manufacturers seeking to reduce tooling costs the same base engine can be seen not only across a model range, but in the case of the Volkswagen Group, across other brands within the Group. To maximise profit the same base engines can be and are sold with differing power outputs to slot into spaces in a model range. This means with a few choice modifications to software and sometimes hardware, much higher power levels can be achieved from the same unit.
What is a remap?
Put simply, a remap is a recalibration of the car's Engine Electronic Control Unit (ECU) to provide more power.
Why would I want a remap?
There are many reasons, some more obvious than others. As a remap increases the power output of the engine, there are many advantages. Your vehicle will be quicker, flat spots in the rev range can be eliminated and believe it or not, your fuel economy will increase. The increase in power can be very practical too, particularly for load-lugging and towing.
How can my car possibly use less fuel?
With a remapped ECU, your car will produce more power which means you can reach your target speed in a quicker fashion. The most economical way to drive is to reach your target speed quickly and switch to a high gear for economy. Furthermore the remap can be tuned specifically to provide better MPG by altering the fuelling and timing.
Why aren't cars "remapped" by the manufacturer?
When a manufacturer builds an engine, the engine needs to run on fuel in every market that the vehicle is sold in, which more often than not is not just in the UK or Europe. In the UK we have much better quality fuel than many countries and so with a remap, it is possible to capitalise on some of the unnecessary margins built in by the manufacturer. Also, manufacturers have to build engines that can work in many climes, some much more extreme than our own. The engine has to output the same power whether the ambient temperature is -40° or +40°. The manufacturer will always "play safe" and cater for every eventuality in the standard map which leaves room for improvement.
Is it safe?
Remapping is perfectly safe if it is a good, well developed tune. There is no getting away from the fact that it will put more stress on certain components. Your turbo will be worked a little harder, the clutch may wear a little more than usual. However nothing we do will over-stress your engine and we don't push everything to the absolute limit. Of course if you are looking for something with a little more spice than usual, we can cater for your individual taste.
Can it be detected?
Remapping does not involve a physical re-chip as with older vehicles and it will not be apparent on first-glance that your car is remapped. In fact, unless there appears to be a problem when a diagnostic scan is run, or on the first test drive, we don't even need to open the bonnet. However, there are many tuning companies online who state that their remaps are "undetectable" and this simply isn't true. While it may not be physically apparent it is relatively easy to find out by comparing the contents of the ECU with a standard one, by verifying the checksum (a value calculated against the contents of the ECU), and by taking the vehicle for a test drive and taking some logs of the data provided by the ECU. Remapping is NOT undetectable, and don't let anyone tell you different.
Will it affect my insurance?
In the majority of cases, yes. Obviously this will depend heavily on individual circumstances and some insurers do not charge an increased premium. However it would be wise to check with your insurer first and perhaps shop around before deciding to have your car tuned.
Will it affect my vehicle warranty?
The short answer is yes. However many dealerships are aware of remaps and are not scared of them, some even offer them! It is important to note that a manufacturer cannot refuse a warranty claim on your car because it is remapped, they would have to prove that any failure was directly caused or affected by the remap. This is always a grey area and some people prefer the "head in the sand" approach where other people are more up front with their dealers. Remember that a dealer wants your business, so perhaps find a more understanding dealer or use an independent specialist if you are experiencing problems.