last updated 22/12/2020
Diesel Performance chips are electronic devices that intercept and modify engine management signals to increase the power output of an engine. Some companies may call it a chip or a module or piggyback ECU or tuning box or something else, claiming theirs is superior. Some companies can re-program the factory engine management without needing to add any extra electronic hardware.
Whatever they’re called and whatever method is used, they all do the same thing – dump more fuel into the engine to generate more power. This article refers to “diesel performance chips” to cover all types and methods.
I don’t have a diesel chip on my Hilux because chips increase wear and reduce life. This article explains why.
A universal feature of design is that you can’t get something for nothing. There’s no free lunch. Any design is a compromise. Change one variable to make something better and you invariably make something else worse. For an engine fuel map design, some of the compromises would be between performance, fuel efficiency, engine / drivetrain life and emissions. Vehicle manufacturers pick a balance between these parameters that they believe provides the best overall enjoyment / value to the customer for the life of the vehicle.
To increase power via a diesel performance chip requires the other parameters to be compromised. It is not a case that manufacturers aren’t skilled enough to design an engine fuel mapping with more power. They have more resources and better knowledge of the engine than any third party accessory vendor would. We know that one parameter can be made better only through sacrificing others. How much is engine life and drivetrain life compromised when a third party performance chip is installed in an engine? It’s very difficult to say. How can it be proven that an engine that lasted 300,000km with a performance chip would have lasted 500,000km without? It’s pretty difficult to do. All we know is that there is a trade-off involved in increasing engine power and the original manufacturers are not willing to tolerate it.
In terms of the manufacturer, they understand the compromises and are purposefully picking a design that they believe yields the best results. However, for aftermarket items like diesel performance chips, the compromises are not well understood. In this case when we introduce changes we get unintended consequences.
Maintaining Component Load Within Manufacturer’s Specification
What about the claim that diesel performance chips maintain all engine components within limits of manufacturer’s specification? Firstly we immediately know this is a lie. The engine has a maximum power specification and the chip is exceeding it. However, even without this obvious overload, we know that increasing load increases wear even if remaining within specified limits.
Wear and tear is not a step function that suddenly kicks in when a limit is exceeded. More stress, whether it’s mechanical or thermal, means more wear, regardless of specification. Wear and tear is a continuous curve – a specification simply picks a point on the curve that the manufacturer calculates will provide a certain probability of failure over the life of the equipment. So more power means more stress and more stress means higher risk of failure, regardless of specified limits.
Whether an engine is purposely de-tuned by the manufacturer, and the reasons for the de-tuning, be it emissions, noise, regulations, catering for varying fuel quality, catering for varying driver habits, allowing for poor servicing schedules, allowing for higher powered engines in premium models, etc, are irrelevant. There is only one way to move on the failure curve when power is increased, and that’s up. This holds true for any starting point.
Some may claim diesel performance chips develop power in a way that does not hurt the engine. It’s not possible. If you trace back the origin of a power increase, it comes down to more torque at the driveshaft, which can only be obtained through more heat, more pressure and more force, which is more stress. The diesel performance chip puts more fuel into the engine and you get more power. Then the only way to get that extra power to the wheels is by transferring it through the rest of the drivetrain, increasing stress on your clutch, gearbox, shafts, joints, differential, etc. For a general article on how failure works and its relationship with load, click here.
Separate to the manufacturer’s specification, is there some other fundamental limit that a component is safe to operate under? A common misconception is that components have a breaking limit. A fundamental rating which should not be exceeded. Keeping below the limit ensures safety for the component. Actually there is no such limit. Probability of failure is a continuous curve. There is no fundamental limit, but the chances of failure increase as stress is increased. Understanding that probability of failure manifests as a smooth, continuous curve is critical in understanding why more power means higher risk of failure, regardless of any other conditions. There is no safe limit, all components will fail eventually, the higher the stress the sooner they will fail.
An Example: Diesel Generators
Consider diesel generators. Large generators worth hundreds of thousands of dollars come with several ratings depending on the duty they are being utilized for. The standard ratings are termed:
The exact same engine gets three different power ratings. Continuous is for when running all the time at full load and attracts the lowest power rating. Prime is for when running all the time but at varying loads, where full load is permitted only for restricted periods, and attracts an intermediate power rating. Standby is to supply backup power for limited durations and permits the highest power rating.
So, for a standby genset, the rating is increased and the generator is configured to deliver more power because the application is for short durations only – you can get away with a smaller generator than you otherwise would for continuous applications, even with the same load. The manufacturer is picking points on failure probability distributions for various loads and time periods so that overall the generator will be adequately reliable. Run a generator at its standby rating for continuous periods of time? Then your warranty is void and you’ll likely suffer premature failure. I guess the generator manufacturer is doing their own in house version of “chipping”, developing more power from the same engine, but it wears the engine out faster. Mechanically the engine is not changed, but the rating does change. Remember this is for an off the shelf genset worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, where the manufacturer has a huge development budget, perfect understanding of their hardware and plenty of development time to tune and optimise their products.
So, for a generator worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the manufacturer doesn’t have the technology or capability to increase power without increasing failure rate. Why can’t they increase power in a way that doesn’t add stress to the engine, in the same way that some chip vendors suggest a chip works? It’s not possible. More power = more stress = increased risk of failure. There is no way to circumvent this. Increasing power in a genset from its continuous to its standby rating is the same as putting a chip in a vehicle’s engine. More fuel is dumped in, more power is developed, failure rate increases.
What if the increase in power yielded only an extremely small, insignificant increase in failure rate? Then genset manufacturer’s would always provide the standby rating. But they don’t. The difference in failure rate is significant enough for the different ratings to exist.
Some argue that a diesel performance chip allows lower rpm and thus offsets any additional engine wear caused by the chip. Almost all the time, with a chip installed, you’ll be doing the same rpm as without the chip installed. Some of the time with the chip you’d be doing higher rpm as you accelerate faster / drive up a hill faster / drive up the sand dune faster / overtake aggressively at high speed instead of waiting.
For a tiny fraction of the total operating time, having a chip may allow you to avoid changing back a gear. The chip allows more fuel to be dumped at lower rpm so that you can develop the power you need without the higher rpm necessary if the chip wasn’t installed. In either case the engine is generating roughly the same power but at different rpm. To develop the same power at lower rpm means more stress per power stroke. It means the engine is exceeding its designed torque rating. The reduced wear made available through reduced rpm is offset by increased torque and more stress per power stroke. In fact you could argue that in this case, higher rpm yields less wear, because the same power is spread across more power strokes and the engine torque is kept within design limits. Concentrating power usually increases wear in a non-linear fashion. However the dynamics of an engine generating power at various rpm are complicated – it’s a fight between increased combustion stresses vs reduced friction and acceleration stresses. A safe conclusion is that, since the operating time of such a situation is so minuscule relative to total operating time, and the overall energy delivered is the same in each case, it doesn’t make much difference. So for the same power (at varying rpm) a diesel performance chip will not significantly change overall wear and tear. But tap into any additional power, then wear and tear will be increased. So the net result is that a chip increases stress and therefore wear and tear and so reduces the life of components.
How Much Will Component Life Be Reduced?
How much does wear and tear increase when a diesel performance chip is fitted? It’s hard to say, but we can make some guesses. In terms of mean time between failure, mechanical components with metal sliding or rolling against metal often have a cubic relationship with load. So if your chip delivers 35% more power, then mean time between failure is reduced by a factor of 1.35^3 = 2.5. So, on average, components will fail around two-and-a-half times as often. The life is less than half standard. This is independent of initial conditions. It does not matter if the engine was originally de-tuned, and the reasons for the tuning. It does not matter if certain stress or temperature limits are not exceeded. It does not matter if the chip maintains exhaust gas temperatures and coolant temperatures below certain values. It even does not matter if you treat the engine like a princess, service the engine every week, use the best most expensive oil and tenderly rub the car down every night. Any 35% increase in power, from any starting point, under any conditions, will reduce mean time between failure by a factor of 2.5. This is the nature of how failure manifests. It’s physics. Failure is a continuous curve.
In reality you won’t always be using the extra power, so mean time between failure will be affected to a lesser extent. Lets say you use 35% extra power for 10% of the time, 15% extra power for 20% of the time, and no extra power for 70% of the time. Taking a weighted linear combination to approximate the change in mean time between failure, you get 1.35^3*0.1 + 1.15^3*0.2 + 1^3*0.7 = 1.25. So component life will on average be 25% less. You’ve lost a quarter of the life.
This calculation is very rough. I’m not trying to give an exact figure. The point I am making is:
A significant increase in power must result in a significant increase in failure rate
To increase power without significantly increasing failure rate is the equivalent of saying:
I’m going to significantly increase speed without significantly increasing wind resistance
The relationship between speed and wind resistance is fixed. Wind resistance is proportional to speed squared. There is no alternative. There is no range of speeds where wind resistance remains relatively constant. The relationship is the same all the time. The same applies to load vs failure rate.
You can’t get a significant increase in power without simultaneously increasing failure rate by a significant amount. You can’t use that extra power for a significant period of time without simultaneously increasing failure rate by a significant amount. If you want to increase power without significantly increasing failure rate, then you need to restrict the increase in power to be practically imperceivable, or restrict the time that you use the extra power to be almost never.
Circumventing Restrictive Emission Systems?
Chips dump more fuel into the engine. Dumping more fuel means a bigger bang and more stress. Yes the original manufacturer may restrict fuel injection quantity for emission reasons but that is irrelevant. If you dump more fuel you increase stress which increases failure rate. This is true for any starting point, independent of initial conditions, independent of the reasons behind those initial conditions.
Do chips circumvent some other restrictive emission system, like EGR valve, catalytic converter or diesel particulate filter, that frees up some hidden capacity in the engine? Two answers. Firstly, no, chips have absolutely no interface to these devices and cannot physically affect them. Secondly, if they did, why are you giving me acid rain, smog and cancer just for your selfish desire to have more power?
Part of the reason fuel quantity is restricted is to minimize the production of soot. Dumping more fuel will generate more soot. The extra soot is another way the engine wears out faster, in addition to the extra wear caused by increased combustion temperatures and pressure. With extra soot you can also expect your EGR valve, catalytic converter and diesel particulate filter to clog up faster than usual and require extra maintenance.
More Sophisticated Chips?
What about your top of the line super expensive chip that employs multi-point fuel adjustment, fuel mapping adjustment based on throttle position, boost adjustment, timing adjustment and exhaust gas temperature compensation? Unfortunately these chips can’t escape the laws of physics. More power means more stress and more stress means increased risk of failure. Different brands will use extravagant wording like “sophisticated mapping and tuning techniques,” “extensive research and development”, “optimized injection timing” and “supa dupa ultimate supreme” but they are not special. Fancy chips simply dump more fuel into the motor, same as cheap chips. They just have more flexibility in the fuel mapping and have a few different ways of adding the extra fuel (and air). Fancy chips may also employ techniques to reduce the risk of limp mode, fault codes and engine check light. This is by adjusting inputs to the engine management system so it does not flag some sort of parameter correlation fault. It does not change how the chip develops more power nor does it change the effect on failure rate.
Whether a chip adds more fuel by increasing fuel rail pressure or whether it increases boost or whether it increases injector pulse time, it’s not really relevant. Each vendor will say their method is the best. Any method increases failure rate.
An expensive chip will probably reduce the risk of very large increases in failure rate if you are going for large power gains. For example the fancy chip may reduce how much extra fuel it adds when coolant temperature or exhaust gas temperature get dangerously high, or know to limit fuel addition at certain boost and rpm values where overfueling could be an issue. A cheap chip might keep adding more fuel until the engine suddenly fails.
What about piggy back ECUs or ECU remaps? Vendors will tell you these are far superior because they can manipulate many more parameters. The ECU uses many parameters to determine how much fuel to dump into the engine. Various look up tables, torque limits, air flow sensors, emission limits, oxygen sensors, temperature sensors and many more. When the factory system determines that more power is permitted and required it raises the rail pressure and / or extends the injector pulse width to get more fuel into the engine. Whether you go to the trouble of manipulating those variables (for example increasing torque limits, reducing emission restrictions etc) is irrelevant – the end result is dumping more fuel. You can bypass all those calculations and simply add a bit more fuel to the standard amount, which is what a chip does. The end result is the same provided you’re dumping similar amounts of fuel and generating similar amounts of power. Engine wear is determined by how much work the engine does.
Some vendors, particularly those selling piggy back ECUs and remaps, will have you think that “tuning” is some sort of sophisticated optimisation process. It is implied that efficiency is improved through the tuning process. Actually tuning involves finding out exactly how much extra fuel can be dumped into the engine under various conditions. So if you want to really push the limits on what your engine is capable of then tuning is helpful. This doesn’t change how the extra power relates to failure rate. Using fancy programmable chips and tuning them on a dyno does not circumvent the laws of physics.
If you are after modest gains then any old chip from a reputable supplier will do. Plug it in, use it at a low setting and you should get acceptable results. If you want to push the limits then get a more fancy chip or piggy back ECU and tune it on a dyno. In either case you’ll suffer from increased failure rate. The higher the increase in power, the higher the increase in failure rate. Tuning at higher power gains will prevent high risk problems like over-fueling.
Is Your Engine Purposely De-Tuned?
To market their products, some chip vendors suggest your engine is de-tuned from the factory. De-tuned with respect to what?
There is no inherent or correct tuning level for an engine. No tune is more valid than any other tune. Any particular tune is simply picking a point on a continuous curve. No point on that curve is more special than any other point. Any tune is de-tuned with respect to a level of tuning higher up the curve. Similarly, any tune is over-tuned with respect to a level of tuning lower on the curve. It’s all relative. This means every tune is simultaneously de-tuned, over-tuned and perfectly tuned, depending on your reference. The chip vendor will label the factory tuning level as de-tuned to justify adding a chip. It’s irrelevant. If you crank up the power then you must increase failure rate. The starting point, and the reasons for it, are irrelevant.
Regardless of suggested levels of tuning, engines in their standard tune do not last forever. They only last a few hundred thousand kilometers. Significantly increasing power means an engine will fail earlier.
Why Are Diesels So Easy To Chip?
Unlike petrol, diesel engines can run very lean (excess air). In fact, with modern diesel engines, they almost always run very lean. This encourages more complete combustion, improved fuel efficiency and less soot production. It also keeps combustion temperatures down since there’s more air to absorb the combustion heat. Absorbing more heat means more pressure which further improves efficiency.
Running excess air means it’s a piece of cake to make more power – simply dump more fuel. Simply increase fuel pressure and / or open the injectors for longer.
Although petrol engines are tuned to run as lean as possible to maximise engine efficiency, they cannot run as lean as diesel engines. They run close to stoichiometric ratio of 14.7:1. Running lean on petrol causes inconsistent burns (leading to engine knock or pinging) and excessively high combustion temperatures. So there is little to no excess air in a petrol engine. You can’t simply dump more fuel. You need to get more air in the engine too. This makes getting more power out of a petrol engine more complicated compared to diesel.
If You Do Have A Failure
So if you have a mechanical failure with a chip installed, was it caused by the chip, and if so can you claim warranty? People are so indoctrinated by the marketing about chips that they will find other reasons like “bad fuel” or “bad driving style” or “abused car” or “towed a heavy caravan” or “crappy design.” All those reasons might be valid, and could contribute to a failure. That doesn’t mean the chip didn’t contribute. As soon as the chip is installed it must be contributing to additional wear and tear and potentially contributing to an eventual failure. That extra wear and tear accumulates over time. People often relate a failure to a recent event or what the car was doing at the time. Actually failures develop over long periods with many contributing factors. Almost certainly a chip would contribute to a failure, because it is stressing out components more.
Your vehicle manufacturer’s warranty will be void, no question. And rightly so. You’ve overloaded the engine. No investigation is necessary. Vehicle manufacturer’s warranty is void. It’s very easy for the manufacturer to legally void their warranty with this sort of modification and I 100% support them in this case. If you sold buckets rated at 20kg and someone put 30kg in the bucket and broke the handle would you provide warranty?
What about the chip manufacturer’s warranty? Some warrant their product against damaging your engine. However it’s very difficult to prove the chip was the main culprit. Normal wear and tear would have contributed. A defect in the vehicle could have contributed. I am yet to hear of a chip manufacturer footing the bill for an engine failure, despite many engines going bang. You would need to employ an engineer that specializes in engine failures to investigate the cause of the failure and produce a report that you can take to court. This could cost thousands of dollars and consume a lot of your time.
Essentially, if you get a diesel performance chip, you’re on your own. Use at your own risk. The vehicle manufacturer is freed of any responsibility because you’ve overloaded the engine and it’s difficult to pursue the chip manufacturer.
Will a Chip Save Fuel?
This is something that’s particularly annoying – the dishonest marketing of chip vendors claiming that chips improve fuel economy. Some throw around ridiculous figures like 30% improvement. Where the hell is 30% of the fuel injected into the stock engine going?
I feel for people who buy a chip to save fuel. How can a device that dumps more fuel into an engine save fuel? Chips increase fuel consumption. This is true for practically all scenarios. Chips do not improve combustion efficiency, they dump more fuel into the engine.
Do not buy a chip if you want to save fuel.
With a chip you drive faster. This means without a chip you drive slower. Driving slower means:
- lower RPM
- less mechanical friction
- less wheel friction
- less wind resistance
- less energy wasted accelerating towards conditions where you need to slow down
Every point above saves you fuel. This is without a chip.
Any device that claims “more complete burn” you can instantly dismiss as having any fuel saving ability. There simply isn’t any margin to exploit on a modern engine in terms of more complete combustion. Emission standards that dictate the amount of unburnt hydrocarbons that are allowed to come out the tail pipe translate to roughly 1/1000th of the total fuel coming into the engine. So at best “more complete burn” could reduce your fuel use by 1/1000th of your total fuel use.
Fuel efficiency is mainly governed by the mechanical arrangement of the engine / vehicle, friction and the laws of thermodynamics. A chip does not alter any of those. Some people report a small increase in fuel consumption when a chip is fitted. Some people report a minor improvement. Some report not much change. The small variation in fuel consumption is less than the accuracy of the test, given all the uncontrolled variables when testing fuel efficiency.
Many people who report a fuel saving would experience psychological effects such as selective perception and confirmation bias. Many people who report a fuel saving are looking at the trip computer rather than actually measuring fuel use. When a chip is installed, a trip computer will always report better than actual fuel usage, as the chip is injecting more fuel than that calculated by the trip computer. Some people are so addicted to spending money on gizmos that they are desperate to validate their spending and will confirm everything that the marketing has trained them to believe. You will sometimes hear “If I don’t use the extra power, fuel efficiency is improved.” The fact that the driver changes his driving habits, purposely driving more economically, makes the test results invalid. Use the extra power and you will definitely consume more fuel. The chip is putting more fuel into your motor. If there were ways to make a vehicle more economical through engine fuel mapping, the manufacturer would definitely exploit it. The manufacturer isn’t going to throw away fuel for nothing.
Some suggest that lower RPM afforded by a chip reduces fuel consumption. This is the only possible way that a chip could improve fuel consumption. For me this will never happen – I drive for efficiency and I am nearly always in top gear at any speed above 60km/h. I can easily take a corner in third gear. I can up change so that the engine is barely above idle and still accelerate away. My Hilux has 126kW. A Hilux of 20 years prior had around 60kW. A modern vehicle has a tonnes of power. More power than necessary. I can change gears as early as I want. Anyone can drive like this if they want to minimise fuel use, with or without a chip. Changing gears earlier means accelerating gently. Adding a chip allows you to accelerate more rapidly given the RPM you decide to change gears at.
You may have heard someone say something along the lines of “with a chip I can maintain 100km/h up a particular hill in my area. Without the chip I’d always slow down to 90”. This is what you’d expect – with a chip you go faster. Wind resistance and friction is higher and so fuel economy suffers.
It is true that lower RPM reduces engine friction and thus reduces fuel consumption. However, with a chip, for the vast majority of operating conditions, engine rpm would be the same or higher compared to without a chip (see “Lower RPM” section above). The time when a chip may afford lower rpm is when engine loading is increased beyond that capable of an unchipped engine, for example driving up a long hill, and you need to change back a gear. This is if you don’t simply keep it in top gear and allow the speed to fall a bit. But under higher loads, higher revs can actually be more efficient. At higher loads friction becomes less significant and the thermodynamic efficiency of the engine becomes more significant. Peak thermodynamic efficiency occurs at around peak torque, when compression reaches its maximum. So being in top gear and minimizing engine rpm doesn’t necessarily mean less fuel under high engine loads. You may have heard people who tow reporting improved fuel consumption by towing in a lower gear. This is because at high loads top gear may not be most efficient. Dropping back a gear may be more efficient, in which case the chipped engine will use more fuel. Either way, any difference in fuel consumption would be offset by being forced to go slower up the hill with the unchipped vehicle which means less wind resistance and less friction losses through the drivetrain and tyres. For all other scenarios, engine rpm is going to be the same (or less because you accelerate slower) when running without a chip so the rpm argument is not valid.
Another way that chips may increase fuel consumption is by encouraging less efficient driving habits. For example being able to accelerate faster means you’ll often approach a red light, slower traffic or an intersection faster than what you would have been able to without a chip. This means the extra fuel you burnt accelerating the car is a complete waste – you send all that kinetic energy off to waste heat through use of the brakes. People with chips might be more prone to drive aggressively, for example overtaking only to have to immediately slow down in traffic. Again fuel is wastefully consumed heating up the brakes. In general driving faster also means higher losses through wind resistance and mechanical friction.
For ways of reducing fuel consumption that actually work, check out this article.
Leaning Out to Save Fuel
Some vendors claim chips save fuel by making the mixture leaner. On a diesel engine this is impossible. Diesel engines are not throttled through the air intake and are always running with excess air. Any claim of leaning out a diesel you can immediately dismiss. Actually chips make diesel run richer which reduces fuel economy and increases combustion temperatures and soot production.
What about petrol engines? Maybe in the old days there was some scope to lean out an engine. There was a large safety margin since fuel metering and instrumentation was crude. In a modern engine, with its myriad of sensors, sophisticated control systems and precise fuel metering, it comes out of the factory already as close to the limits as what the engine can safely run at. The manufacturer will not throw fuel away for nothing, especially given their billion dollar development budgets. They will exploit a lean fuel mixture as a way of maximizing fuel efficiency as best as can safely be done given the error margins and tolerances that can be achieved with the vehicle’s control system.
Is a Chip Safer on the Road?
Any study I’ve seen published on engine power vs mortality indicates that mortality rate increases with engine power. Similarly studies have found incremental increases in speed to be associated with incremental increases in accidents and death. This is why, in some jurisdictions, young drivers have restricted licenses which prevent them from driving high powered vehicles. This is why more powerful vehicles attract higher insurance premiums. If you think getting a chip is safer, you should see if your insurance company will reduce your premiums when you tell them you have a chip. I doubt it! When have you heard of a motor vehicle accident or fatality that was attributed to insufficient engine power?
Don’t use safety as an excuse to justify a chip!
If you want to be safe then drive slowly and patiently. Wait for long straight roads with no oncoming traffic before overtaking. Or even better wait for an overtaking lane or dual carriageway. Or even better still, drive slow enough so you hardly ever have to overtake. Not only will you be extremely safe but you’ll get rich from fuel savings too! And the difference in travel time is not much at all.
Chip vs Remap
ECU remaps change the software in the engine control unit. There is no hardware added. Remaps are becoming more common, often described with some marketing bullcrap like “superior technology”, as if technology is worth pursuing for it’s own right rather than for any tangible benefit that it may deliver.
If I wanted more power I’d go for a chip. I’d want the assurance that I can resort to factory simply by unplugging a bit of hardware. Remaps are not easy to revert when out in the bush or when diagnosing a problem. Remaps could also cause an issue interfacing to the vehicle manufacturer’s diagnostic software when troubleshooting problems.
Another problem with remaps is that they can be overwritten if a dealership uploads a later revision of the ECU software. So if you get a remap you run the risk of losing it or at minimum you forgo any software improvements that the original vehicle manufacturer has developed.
Driving fast doesn’t make me happy. Camping, fishing and being free in the outback makes me happy. Not getting a chip increases my capability of doing the things that make me happy. Without a chip I save money on the initial purchase plus I save money on a longer lasting vehicle. Plus I drive slower and save even more money on fuel costs and vehicle wear. This means more camping, more fishing, more beer and less working to pay for gizmos that don’t make me happy. So no chip for me. Ever. Even if it was given to me for free. It detracts from my ability to achieve my goals by increasing transport costs and reducing the life of my vehicle. Why would I want it?
That doesn’t mean you should not consider a performance chip. They are good products and they definitely increase power – that is easy to measure and prove. They aren’t going to blow up your motor in 5 minutes – they wouldn’t exist if they did, and many people have experienced long living engines with performance chips installed. If more power makes you happy then get a chip and acknowledge that the happiness comes at a cost. To minimize that cost, service your vehicle regularly, drive it nicely, use the lowest tune you’re happy with, minimize rpm, avoid short trips with a cold engine, get a chip that can be easily turned off when not required, keep its use to a minimum, drive very gently when not up to operating temperature and only tap into the extra power when you need to. Then your chipped vehicle should last a long time, even if it lasts less than it would have without the chip.
The purpose of this article is not to instruct people not to get performance chips. It’s to explain why more power means more wear and debunk the myth that extra power can be obtained risk free. You can’t get something for nothing. Chips do increase wear and run the risk of contributing to eventual failures. More power will be of greater value to some – for example those who enjoy fast acceleration or those that tow a heavy caravan. The benefits of a chip are greater under high load such as when towing, however the risks are greater too. I would definitely not recommend a chip to help tow something heavy. You run great risk of blowing up the engine. You should have purchased a car with a bigger engine or even better tow a smaller van or nothing at all. But it’s up to the individual to decide their vehicle setup and whether a performance chip is worth the risk. For me I am happy chugging away with my slow but hopefully long living 4WD.
Prior to my illustrious career as a mechanic, engineer and leader, I knocked around a bit in the Australian outback. From shearin’ sheds to drillin’ rigs to sewers and shovelin’ shit. I’ve been there, seen it, done it all and sometimes I’ve done it twice. It was during this time that I honed my fine motor skills and extraordinary ability to find ingenious solutions to difficult problems. Growing tired of life in the bush and my uninspiring peers, I decided to join the Australian army. I completed my heavy duty diesel mechanic apprenticeship back in ‘nam in 1969. It was there that I earned my first honourable award, the Medal for Gallantry, for simultaneously disarming a bomb with a sharpened bamboo stick whilst using pho noodle soup to replace coolant on a vehicle I used to rescue women and children from an ensuing attack from the viet cong. From that point I rapidly accelerated up the military ranking system, proving that I’m successful, capable and deserving respect. I served a further 17 years as a distinguished major in the armed forces before deciding to return to the far less dramatic life of an ordinary civilian, where I obtained my mechanical engineering degree at one of the most prestigious education institutions in the world. During my academic career I was awarded the noble prize for physics for finding a way to make diesel exhaust smell like bacon whilst improving fuel efficiency 400%. More recently I was inducted into the Order of Australia for my efforts on educating children on the importance of installing after market accessories onto vehicles.
“If you need to invoke your academic pedigree or job title for people to believe what you say, then you need a better argument” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
Originally I didn’t have a credentials section in this article even though people asked for it. Using credentials to validate one’s position comes from ancient hierarchical systems where people inherited status and respect based on their position in the hierarchy. I don’t think it’s useful in helping to explain how chips work. Eventually I obliged and put in a credentials section. Later I thought I shouldn’t be playing this dumbass game of credential badminton. I considered removing the section completely. Instead I decided to have some fun and leave it in. I guess its ok sharing credentials if people don’t take it too seriously or expect special allowances for dumb arguments. Here is the original section:
In my personal experience within science and engineering, it’s rare to ask for someone’s credentials when discussing a topic. It’s unusual to start a discussion advertising what your credentials are. Logic and science are used to substantiate one’s position, rather than some story of working in the field for xx years or some other rambling anecdote. However in some circles it seems credentials are important so I added this bit to the article. This is not an invitation to start an unprovable argument on whether my credentials are valid. It is for your information only. I’m an electrical / process control engineer with experience in process control design and optimisation. This involves designing control systems to control processes and optimising control systems to make processes perform better. By processes I mean physical and chemical processes and not those so called processes to do with running and managing a business. My expertise is in industrial process control (for example gold or iron ore processing facilities) and not in engine control. However the theory and philosophies related to process control and control system design are the same for any control system. The design process and concept of design tradeoff / compromise is also similar. I face the problem of design compromise every day and understand its universal prevalence in all facets of design. Processing plants are always juggling the compromise between plant throughput (pushing equipment harder to process more material) and plant availability / maintenance costs. Often plant optimisation involves cranking up rate setpoints on equipment and therefore load which is equivalent to cranking up power in an engine.
Notice on commenting
I encourage free and unrestrained commenting. However this article has attracted some silly comments. I have said my bit and will try not to respond to new comments unless something new is brought to the table. I will delete comments that subscribe to any of these points:
- Personal attacks.
- Unsubstantiated claims of a magical chip that can simultaneously improve reliability, reduce failure rate, reduce fuel consumption, improve power output, reduce emissions, make the exhaust smell like roses and solve world hunger. Information that is obviously misleading will not be not permitted.
Claims backed by explanation whilst adequately addressing areas in conflict with this article will be permitted. Pleasantly expressed comments regarding personal experience will be permitted. Jokes about the dumb arguments that some people post will be permitted.