Tuning for more efficient power
As its name implies, the engine control unit, or ECU, does what it says: control the engine and its function. And despite the added complexity of modern systems, the basic chemistry of how and why an engine runs has remained the same: Fuel and air mixes in a sealed chamber which is then ignited by a spark (or compression in the case of diesels), this basic principle hasn’t changed since the invention of the engine over a century ago.
So where does tuning come in and what does it even mean? Tuning, in the basic sense, means altering the amount of fuel and when the sparkplug fires to get maximum power. The only way to do this is by using an aftermarket engine management computer, or piggyback, and one of the most popular is Unichip. It’s the only truly universal engine management system that can be installed in an ECU-equipped car, be it gas or diesel, American, European, Korean or even Chinese vehicles. And unlike every other piggyback, the Unichip typically installs with 10-12 wires, as opposed to 40-50 wires in other systems.
By being able to take control and alter the air fuel ratio (rich/lean) and control spark timing (advance/retard), the Unichip enables the tuner to maximize every drop of fuel turning it into power. So how much power does it make? The answer depends on what car you have. Let’s take three examples: a small displacement engine like the 1.3L found in the Honda Jazz, a “big” engine like the 2.4L on a Toyota Camry, and one of the wildly popular turbo diesel engine equipped SUVs such as the Montero Sport.
As with every Unichip install, the tuning has to be done on a dynamometer and this is where a little misconception lies. The dyno itself has one job and one job only, to measure a car’s power output and nothing more; it doesn’t tune, and it doesn’t alter any settings. The tuning is still done by a human with a laptop. The dyno also tells us numerically how much power is made instead of the “gut” feeling.
The 1.3L engine starts out with a base power of 68whp (wheel HP) and with Unichip tuning, increases to 77whp, a 9whp increase. The bigger Camry engine starts off at 124whp and gets a 16whp increase to 140whp. The Montero Sport has a base power of 155whp and gets a pretty huge 35whp increase to make 190whp. Notice the trend here? The bigger the engine, the bigger the gain, with turbo cars getting a significant increase. Numerically, the 9whp gain on the Jazz is smaller than the 14whp gain on the Camry, but if taken as a percentage, they’re about the same at 12%
Another welcome side effect of tuning your car is that it will result in better fuel economy. Remember above that cars tend to run rich, and by leaning it out, more power can be made? Since fuel is being taken out of the engine, the result is less fuel consumed. And just like power, the average fuel economy improves by 9%-10% if you maintain your driving habits.