There are various methods used for tuning a vehicle correctly. Older cars relied on computer chips, compared to modern cars which typically can be flashed on a software level. The car’s diagnostic port is linked to a laptop which then uploads the new software to the car. Automobiles have continued to evolve and become more complex, and ECU tuning became more advanced as well.
Chip and Flash Tuning
Let’s start with chip and flash tuning as these two are nearly identical in design. Both methods rely on a computer to program a tune based on the specific needs of your car. This ECU tuning software will generally modify ignition timing and modify the engine’s fueling, as well as MANY other factors. It is then uploaded to your ECU which overwrites the OEM tune file.
A flash tune can be uploaded straight to your car while a chip needs to be physically fitted to the engine’s ECU. After you are done tuning your car with either method, you will instantly experience the boost in power the moment you drive your car.
Stand Alone Fuel Management
This system completely replaces your car’s factory computer and has tremendous capabilities. The only downside with a standalone engine management is that it requires plenty of work to install and setup. Mostly, they are used purely for highly modified cars and race cars. An appropriate setup for standalone fuel management can cost between $4000 -$40,000. For the majority of street cars, a standalone ECU isn’t necessary.
Piggybacks and Tuning Box Kits
Today’s most recent cars feature extremely complex computer systems. The sheer volume of data that their engine ECUs process every second is amazing. A lot of this has to do with the integration of new features.
Modern automobiles have advanced camshaft control, turbochargers, direct-inject systems, coil on its plug ignition, etc. More components mean more data to process which requires more computing power as a result. A lot of automobile manufacturers also encrypt their ECU software making it extremely challenging to reprogram.
For a lot of enthusiasts, it’s easier to run a piggyback tuner or tuning box kit. These types of tuning systems intercept valuable sensor data (such as air/fuel ratio, ignition, throttle position, crank position, camshaft position, MAP/MAF, or others) and modify the signals before sending them to the ECU.
It’s basically just like a chip or flash tune where software is uploaded to the car. By modifying the signals from engine sensors, the factory ECU is effectively tricked into producing more power, because the sensors will output signals which make the ECU think it’s not producing enough power.