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Chipping a Turbocharged Car

Jul 25, 2008
Turbocharged cars are interesting creatures from a performance perspective. In stock trim from the factory, they often run a very conservative level of boost and fuel delivery. These cars make good amounts of power, but there is a vast reservoir of potential lying there, completely untapped. This is largely because automakers are afraid of the warranty issues that could be associated with turbocharged cars running at their absolute peak. These extra safety margins are built into the engine management software so that power is produced, but not to the point where stress might reach a dangerous level.

If you own one of these turbocharged beasts, such as the Dodge SRT-4 or the Cobalt SS, it can be frustrating to find out that your car's engine has been holding out on you. Many people, when they find out about how their engine computer is programmed, wonder if there is a way to bypass these restrictions and get the most out of their ride.

The answer is yes. Since modern engines are managed via computer software, the simple answer is that by reprogramming the engines computer or ECU, it is possible to wring every last ounce of power out of the engine. This is a lot easier to say that it is to actually do, however. Not all car companies are open about how their engine management is coded, and many of the tuners who work to decode these systems can find themselves spending a significant amount of time just figuring out basic ECU operations. However, given a large enough market, and enough time, even the most complex management software is analyzed and improved upon by performance companies.

How do these companies reprogram you cars computer? Once they have a firm understand of the vehicles software, they can then start to tweak it to test out the limits of the engine. There are quite a few different factors that can be played with in the pursuit of more horsepower and better performance: boost level, throttle response, the ratio of air to fuel at every given engine speed, and ignition advance, to give a few examples. This type of tuning is not only about peak power it is also about increasing the power band so that there is more power available no matter how fast or slow the engine is turning. This can really improve the drivability of your vehicle, and help reduce some of the lag experienced with the turbocharger.

Once everything has been figured out and tested, it is coded onto a computer chip. Some companies will send you the chip so you can install it yourself, (it usually just snaps in and out of the ECU), while others will require you to ship them your ECU so that they can install it for you.

Chipping a turbocharged car can be a great way to unlock its hidden power. However, doing so will often times void your warranty, and could put your engine and other parts of your drive train under more stress than they is used to. Make sure that you get the whole story from whichever chip company you are considering before you install the new part in your car.
About the Author
Justina Mathews writes issues that currently affect the performance car enthusiast. She also writes about issues that affect the street tuner industry, as well as import scene lifestyle. She's a staff writer for s max intercooler.
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