What do performance chips do?

By July 13, 2020October 18th, 2020Does It Add HP?, Performance Modification

Have you ever heard the term ‘tuning your car’? We all know it’s meant to increase performance – but how does it work? A performance chip is the easiest way to tune your car in hopes of gaining extra horsepower.  

In simple term, a performance chip is a tool that you plug into your car – which will modify the factory settings of your car’s computer (ECU). The settings change aim to increase performance without much regard to emission and fuel consumption. Settings changes typically include: raising the restriction on top speed, raising rev limit, changing launch control settings and adjusting the air/fuel ratio. 

Let’s get into more details. While also keeping it simple, of course.

Summary

  • Performance chip change the settings of your car’s computer to improve performance
  • To install a performance chip, simply connect it to your car’s OBD2 port and restart
  • Commons settings that could be changed include: raising top speed, raising rev limit and lower air/fuel ratio.
  • Performance gain is not guaranteed. Will more likely work on higher end cars that are limited by factory settings
  • A performance chip is relatively inexpensive. Here’s one on Amazon at $69.95

How Does A Performance Chip Work?

Every car comes with its own computer – configured with factory settings. These factory settings are designed to provide the best performance and fuel efficiency – while also following government regulations. 

A performance chip changes these settings with only performance in mind (Who cares about fuel economy?!). To install a typical performance chip, all you have to do is plug the performance chip into your car’s OBD2 port for a few seconds and simply restart your car ;). Every car comes with an OBD2 port – usually under the passenger dashboard. It’s a standard port, so don’t worry about it. 

Image of OBD2 Port

 

History lesson: In the early 80’s installing a performance chip means replacing the existing chip with a new one – where the software is pre-installed with performance settings. With the introduction of standard OBD2 port in 1996, we just have to reprogram the existing chip. 

Below are the typically modified settings by a performance chip:

 

Raising Top Speed

For the driver’s safety and also to follow government regulations, a car’s top speed could be capped. For instance, all German cars are capped at 155 mph. A performance chip could remove this restriction with a simple settings change. Although this is illegal, if you promise to only go top speed at the track, then you should be fine… :).

 

Raising Rev Limit

The maximum rev on cars are usually capped to ensure the longevity of your engine. The higher rev you go, the more heat is produced by your engine. This can cause negative impacts such as horrible fuel efficiency and faster wear and tear damages on your engine. . To prevent this, car’s ECUs usually come pre-programmed to limit the maximum rev. Though not anymore – if you install a performance chip. 

 

Lower Air / Fuel Ratio

The air/fuel ratio determines how much fuel should be injected into the combustion chamber for a given amount of air. Remember, combustion is what delivers power into your car wheels – and a combustion requires both air and fuel. Lower air/fuel ratio means that you are injecting more fuel for an amount of air. This ensures all air in the combustion chamber is used up – which in turn ensures that the combustion is always at its peak. On the other hand, a lower air/fuel ratio will increase the amount of unused fuel after every combustion – resulting in a worse fuel efficiency. 

 

Lower Shift Times

This only applies to cars with automatic transmission. A performance chip could decrease the time between each gear shift – resulting in a much more firm feeling. This will not increase horsepower. But the driver will surely feel the car becoming more aggressive. 

Pros of Performance Chip

Potential Increase In Performance

An increase in horsepower and torque is not guaranteed. However, you will likely feel a difference. It could be from the higher rev limit or lower shift times – without an actual increase in horsepower, you could feel that the car is more powerful and aggressive. This really depends on the performance chip you purchase. Make sure to read the reviews before purchasing it!

 

Plug And Play

A performance chip is extremely easy to install. Just plug it into your car’s OBD2 port and start feeling the change. Note that the installation depends on the performance chip you purchase. Some require you to unplug the car battery overnight – this allows the car’s ECU to be reset. Allowing you to start your car without any prior driving data. I cover more on ECU and car batteries in this article

 

Relatively Inexpensive

A performance chip is relatively inexpensive – if compared with other performance modifications available. An ‘Innovative’ performance chip sells for $69.95 on Amazon. If you believe your car is limited by factory settings, then you could give it a go. 

Cons of Performance Chip

Reduce Engine Longevity

Settings change like raising rev limit and lowering shift times allow the engine to operate under more pressure. For instance, the higher the car revs, the more heat is produced. If this is constantly abused, the car engine will wear out much more quickly – causing it to degrade and break down. 

Non-Compliant To Regulations

Settings like changing top speed and lowering air/fuel ratio could go against the regulations and get you in trouble. The increase in top speed should be fine if you don’t abuse it on the street. On the other hand, lowering air/fuel ratio will result in more emission. If your jurisdiction does not conduct a regular emission test – then you are fine. Ensure to check this regulation before you install a performance chip. 

Bad Fuel Economy

When a performance chip reduces the air/fuel ratio, more fuel is injected for a given amount of air in the combustion chamber. This ensures the combustion to deliver power is always at its peak. However, not all of the injected fuel gets used in every combustion – causing a wastage. These unused fuel will end up leaving your car through the exhaust pipe – in what usually looks like a black smoke. 

Image of exchaust with black smoke

Does Performance Chip Really Work?

A performance chip could be an easy way to increase performance – all you have to do is plug and play. However, without any real hardware changes, the increase in performance will most likely be limited or none at all. Higher end cars that are limited by regulations will see much more effects than lower end cars that are not limited by factory settings. 

Should I Install a Performance Chip?

If you have a higher end car like BMWs that are likely to be limited by factory settings, then a performance chip could help. Otherwise, you better spend your cash on some real and cheap hardware modifications like a cold air intake and then tune your car to work with the new hardware. I cover cold air intake in this article if you are interested to know.

From my opinion, I don’t think performance chips are worth it. The performance improvements are not guaranteed and I can’t be sure on what changes are made to the settings of my ECU. Not to mention I could also violate government regulations and get in trouble. Sounds like a bad deal for me. 

Ifandi S.

Ifandi S.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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