Tuners, Chips, and Programmers

Soon after buying a car, the owner will definitely want to improve its dynamic characteristics. In this case, an experienced car enthusiast is reasonably fearful of engine acceleration, which can lead to a car’s shorter lifespan.

In this situation, special chip tuning equipment will help you monitor, change, and improve the performance of your car from the inside. After all, as in the case with people who have skin problems, it all starts from the inside.

It’s not a secret that almost any engine has a certain power reserve, which can be “addressed” by reprogramming the engine control unit. You can, of course, try to improve performance by installing aftermarket exhausts and cold air intakes, but your vehicle may simply be not “ready” for them, and such improvements will be quite superficial and risky.

A tuner, programmer, or chip will allow you to get a full picture of what is going on with your vehicle and improve its performance characteristics or fix specific details easily and with ultimate precision. Of course, you are free to choose the parameters you want to improve. These devices make your vehicle more efficient, obedient, and a better operating mechanism that perfectly suits your driving style.

Specialized programmers are used for reading or writing firmware data for vehicle control units. They allow you to connect to the onboard computer via the diagnostic connector OBD-II port or directly through the wiring harness.

Once connected, the unit loads specific programs (tunes) into your vehicle’s computer. Some chips/programmers/tuners also require a permanent connection to be able to read real-time information.

Each program has information on a specific date, model, and car make. The programs will then indicate the necessary adjustments for your engine – for example, it may be an increase in fuel pressure to improve its horsepower and, therefore, towing power. After that, the settings can be saved in your onboard computer’s memory, and then you can disconnect the device.

Car tuning is a process of turning a “stock” car, into a “beast,” aimed at changing the factory characteristics (an increase of power and efficiency of the engine, braking efficiency or suspension improvement, etc.). It means adjusting operation modes of electronic controllers by correcting the internal control programs using an electronic device that helps increase your car’s power.

Performance chip tuning devices allow for:

  • Customizing the car to suit your driving style;
  • Increasing engine horsepower and torque;
  • Adjusting various factory settings;
  • Clearing and checking diagnostic codes;
  • Monitoring engine functions (RPM, EGT, transmission temperature, throttle position, etc.)
  • Reducing fuel consumption;
  • Controlling air/fuel capacity;
  • Controlling tire size and tire speed rating;
  • Turning off the particulate filter;
  • Changing the operating speed range (raise the cut-off threshold);
  • Increasing traction elasticity;
  • Remove the speed limit;
  • Increasing throttle response;
  • Correcting odometer readings.

Programmers are available for an extensive list of car ECUs (Engine Control Units). The most convenient is ECU firmware loaders which are connected to the ODB-II ports (most programmers/tuners). No additional works are required for tuning.


Features and Configuration


For all gasoline engines – throttle response is improved, no more delays when you press the gas pedal. Additional torque is acquired in the low and medium RPMs, i.e., in the driving range itself.

For vehicles equipped with automatic transmissions, after adaptation to the changed engine program, there is a quick change of gears at both high and low speeds at sharp acceleration – the vehicle stops “thinking” at kick-downs for a long time.

For all diesel engines – dynamic performance over the entire speed range is improved. The throttle response is improved. No acceleration failures. In turbocharged engines, programmers eliminate all turbo lags.

Many programmers are supplied with a set of unique adapter panels for different versions of processor housings. Also, these firmware loaders have built-in code editors and programs for checksum recalculation. The use of devices for chip tuning may require in-depth knowledge of both motor and electronics principles, programming skills, and computer programs.

Vehicle odometer adjustment adapters may be useful in various situations, such as determining fuel consumption from a certain point or marking a starting point after an engine repair, oil change, or another spare part. If mechanical device readings can be changed manually, the electronic version will require automated odometer programmers for specific vehicle models.

What is a Tuner

A “tuner” and “programmer” are often interchangeable terms that refer to the same electric device for uploading “tunes” (automotive software) to vehicle board computers, upgrading vehicle’s performance, or adjusting its various settings.

Moreover, a “tuner” can also be a person that provides chip-tuning services and knows how to build an exclusive tune for your car after checking its computer parameters.

Most of the tuners (devices) can also get Wi-Fi updates, read gauge displays or flash drives, calibrate the speedometers, customize rev/speed limiters, and provide real-time data on the fuel economy. Some of them can also massively improve your vehicle’s horsepower and torque.

A tuner is a device that you will appreciate if you want your aftermarket parts to deliver some considerable performance boost, whether it’s your transmission, engine, or whatever. Because they know how to make it better for your vehicle.

Here dyno tests or tuning will help a lot – based on test information, tuners will be able to read your current vehicle’s calibrations and provide the best offer.

There are also tuners with stock tunes if you need to switch back to your factory parameters. Some tuners simply need to be unplugged from your board computer to get back to the original settings.

And of course, if you need your stock tunes again, you can always visit your local performance auto parts shop where a tuner (a person) will upload the necessary data to your vehicle or tuning device.

However, you have to be careful if you want to adjust your fuel timing or shift points. Before you do, check the appropriate forums or Google the necessary information, especially if you are not sure about your vehicle’s abilities.

A trial-and-error approach here is not something you want to apply. Besides, be aware of faulty tunes (corrupted files) as they can result in severe damage. And sometimes, you might also want to manually fix the problem (if it’s physical) first, so your tuner can work properly.

What is a Programmer

A programmer is basically the same thing as a tuner. It’s an electric device with a rather small but quite readable screen that will (unlike chips) lock on to your truck’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) once you plug it in. The device is designed to keep your vehicle in the best possible condition, improving or monitoring its performance and parameters in real-time.

You can use this device to keep an eye on your vehicle alerts and fix any problems in no time, eliminating the risks of permanent damage or costly maintenance works. Some devices can also provide a synopsis for future problem areas to prevent possible damage in advance.

Programmers can also read DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Codes) from the sensors of your vehicle so that you can deal with the problem yourself with any dealerships. Some of the devices can even perform high-speed data logging, which eliminates the need for getting a scanner or additional software.

Not all programmers allow for custom tunes, though. Some of them will only use “canned” (programmed by a manufacturer of the device) tunes that match your vehicle’s stock settings. So watch out for this nuance when you buy an electronic device – find the one that allows for custom tunes to add them via WiFi or USB.

What is a Chip

A chip is a similar device as well but a more straightforward (and limited) one. First of all, you have to know that not all vehicles will allow chips. These devices will have to be tuned up first to match specific computer codes (ECM, ECU, PCM).

Otherwise, there is no sense in them. Chip installation will require direct wiring in the wire harness (not OBD-II port like programmers) to connect to the board computer.

Unlike programmers, chips can switch tunes as you drive. A programmer will require you to stop the vehicle entirely, turn off the engine, and wait for a couple of minutes to change the tune. A chip often has a special knob for a no-brainer switching from one tune to another.

However, some chips will also require the “burning” procedure first, and then you can only choose between those “burned” tunes. So you will have to connect it to a tuner first, get (burn) some custom tunes on the chip, and after that, wire the chip in the wire harness.

One more thing, after that burning procedure is finished, chips can’t take in new information anymore, so you will have to re-burn them if you want to change the data.

A programmer will let you make adjustments to settings like tire size or various ratios, so you have precise recent information.

Difference Between a Tuner, Chip, and Programmer

  • A tuner can be a person that knows how to load the tunes you need in your vehicle’s computer, based on your stock specifications. However, many drivers often call a “tuner” or “programmer” the same electric device for monitoring/upgrading vehicle’s performance (horsepower, torque, fuel efficiency, clear and check diagnostic codes, etc.).
  • Chips are more simple devices designed for both modern and older trucks. Programmers and tuners are typically designed for vehicles manufactured after 1996.
  • Chips are specially programmed devices that almost always require wiring in the wire harness of your vehicle. Programmers and tuners are usually plugged in the OBD-II ports.
  • Chips need to be programmed to match board computers, otherwise, they will not work. Some chips will also require a tuner to get custom tunes from it, so you can buy an “empty,” blank chip and choose a tuner to “burn” custom tunes that you need. Don’t forget, though, that not all programmers allow for custom tunes, so you will have to make sure that yours does in advance.
  • Chips allow for easy switching between the tunes while driving, while programmers need you to stop entirely, turn off the engine, and wait for a few minutes to “flash” (load) a new tune.
  • Programmers can fix diagnostic troubles codes. Chips can’t do that.
  • Programmers can take in new, up-to-date information. Chips, after they are “burned,” can’t do that, so you will have to “re-burn” them.
  • Programmers can do high-speed data logging.

FAQ


Can a tuner make my car faster?

Yes. A tuner can increase horsepower. Thus, the speed will get boosted, as well. However, the trick is to find the balance between power and fuel economy. Because the more the HP, the more fuel is needed.

How much horsepower can you get with a tuner?

Depending on your tuner and vehicle modifications (exhaust, CAI, etc.), a considerable amount of horsepower (up to 50 HP) can be added, provided you have the right tunes/programs and have tuned everything properly. For instance, some tuners can add 150HP and 250 lb-ft of torque for certain Cummins engines.

Is a tuner bad for your truck?

No, if you have the right, adequately adjusted tuner for your driving style and environmental conditions, and you know how to use it. It may take some time and effort. Qualified tuner and chip manufacturers are in the business for years, so they know what they’re doing.

You have to find a tuner for your truck with specific settings. You can search it online or ask the manufacturer or your local tuning shop.

Don’t buy a tuner and don’t do anything with it unless you know exactly what it does and what tunes you need for your vehicle. Don’t forget about corrupted files (faulty tunes), which may harm your engine as well. Also, sometimes a problem has to be fixed manually before a tuner can actually do something.

Competent chip tuning has no real impact on engine life. Moreover, a motor running in a more optimal mode will last longer. For example, by replacing a depleted mixture with an enriched one, you will reduce the temperature of the exhaust gases, thus reducing the risk of burnout of the exhaust valves.

Problems arise either after the intervention of amateur, unprofessional tuners, thoughtlessly re-writing the fuel cards, or due to the fault of the car owner. Powerful firmware doesn’t mean you can press your gas pedal harder all the time unless you want your engine wear out faster.

It’s hard to notice a certain reduction of the catalyst resource in practice – low-quality fuel will “kill” it faster than the correction of fuel cards. It is not without a reason that catalysts often crack the most on factory firmware, don’t they?

Are truck tuners worth it?

Yes. If you know how to use them and if you really need them. Let’s say you tow heavy loads, climb hills or travel long distances often – then a proper tuner with custom tunes can be your friend.

In other cases, when you feel the improved power of your truck, it becomes more challenging to keep your foot off the pedal, which may quickly result in increased engine wear and transmission/drivetrain overload. So think twice.

Do tuners work on gas trucks?

Yes. Gas tuners can re-adjust tuning by rewriting vehicle’s software to satisfy individual needs. You can expect better acceleration, additional HP, torque, as well as improved MPGs. Moreover, you will also be able to calibrate your tires/gears.

Does tuning your car make it louder?

Tuning may change the “vocals” of your vehicle, the exhaust note to be more specific. But it won’t do anything if you have a stock exhaust or if you didn’t replace your stock air intake. The sound will get louder but not much, more like changing to a more aggressive tone due to the power/cylinder pressure increase. More air means more power, and consequently, more exhaust noise.

Can performance chips increase mpg?

Yes. 1-4 MPGs on average.

Does tuning reduce engine life?

It depends on the tunes and how you use both the device and your vehicle. It’s not supposed to hurt your engine unless you slam down on your gas pedal too often. If you have your truck professionally tuned, followed the instructions and advice of your tuner, nothing bad should happen.

Any serial firmware not only meets the requirements of environmentalists but must also run on any car in the multi-thousand batch (and the range of engine parameters can be significant). Tuning firmware rolled on one motor and showing excellent results can show worse on another, though outwardly it is absolutely the same.

Small differences in combustion chambers’ geometry, inlet manifold, etc. will give a clear difference in real air filling of the cylinders with respect to the one for which the firmware was written. That’s why, by the way, decent masters of chip tuning give a guarantee for their work if the client is not satisfied with the new.

Does tuning void the warranty?

Typically, no. But there were certain issues with Ford back in the days (blown head gaskets, namely) that blamed power chips for the failure. So, carmakers can prove everything. However, additional power provided by a performance software tuning is simply not enough to cause any warranty violations.

If something goes wrong with the car, the dealership has to prove the aftermarket part, or a tuner has caused the failure.

You are also protected by the Federal Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act and you can always turn to SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) to help you with protecting your rights. If your tuner is a high-quality and safe-to-use product, you can be sure it will not cause any warranty/law issues.

In California, they also have their own regulations for emissions, so you have to make sure all your modifications are CARB-approved.

Will a tuner help with towing?

Yes, it may help.

Does a tuner have to stay plugged in?

It depends on the device model. Some programmers have to stay plugged in to read the ongoing data and provide real-time reports or make adjustments.

What does a programmer do for a gas truck?

The same it does for a diesel truck – improves its performance.

When should I get my car tuned?

Every 70.000 miles or so. In fact, this may happen anywhere between 30.000 and 100.000 miles with newer cars. You should pay attention to your vehicle all the time – whenever you start to experience troubles like bad gas mileage, frequent stalling, bad engine start, knocking, etc. – you may need a tune-up. Also, check your manufacturer’s recommendations.

How do I install a performance chip?

Installation instructions should come with your purchased performance chip. You can always address your local tuning shop which will ask from $400 to $700 for the job, depending on your vehicle type. You should install it into the dashboard by opening the glove compartment and unscrewing the panel.

After you will have access to the ECU box, unclip the stock unit and fasten your new chip in its place. The whole process should not take you more than half an hour.

In more complex cases, you should first lift the hood of your car and plug in the fuel injection adjusting clip to the engine, then take the programmer plug-in chip and connect it to the wiring harness in the previously mentioned way.

What is engine tuning?

Engine tuning means the implementation of a set of technical measures for engine tuning and improvement to increase its horsepower, torque and increase maximum RPM, increasing the efficiency of the engine.

Why do you have to tune your car?

You don’t have to. But a programmer/chip can make your vehicle show everything it can do by increasing its power output, handling, and speed. Tuning means you can calibrate and adjust your car for your desired purpose. However, unprofessional installation may damage your engine, transmission, etc.

So be careful and make sure you know what you are doing. If you’re in doubt, turn to your local tuning shop and find a qualified expert tuner for creating custom tunes for your vehicle.

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