Chip tuning or Powerbox?

If you have already decided to modify your car and increase its power and torque, then you are faced with a dilemma whether to install a new program in the engine control unit (i.e. popular chip tuning) or go for an additional external digital controller that is attached to the wire harness of a car (i.e. tuning box or powerbox).

Each solution has its advantages and disadvantages, and since our company manufactures both tuning programs and powerbox for diesel and petrol cars, below we will try to present each solution as objectively as possible.

Chip tuning – reprogramming the ECU

The modification consists in changing the setpoints (maps) in the ECU (Engine Control Unit). It can be performed via the diagnostic socket (OBD) without any physical interference with the ECU, or if the driver does not allow for this solution, by disassembling and opening the control unit followed by connecting to it from the inside and reprogramming the memory. In both cases, the outcome is the same: new maps modify both the performance and the parameters of the engine.

Chip tuning changes the following basic parameters: turbocharger boost pressure (if existent, as chip tuning is also possible in cars without turbo); the fuel dose and/or the fuel injection pressure; the injection angle (diesel) and ignition timing (petrol). It is possible to introduce more subtle changes, but these three main parameters (the fuel dose, the boost pressure, and the ignition timing) determine the vast majority of the power increase.

The advantages of chip tuning: no additional equipment; the capacity to impact all three main parameters that determine the performance; the opportunity to make additional changes, such as setting the idle speed, the start-up doses, turning off the DPF or FAP or the change of speed and turnover limiters.

The disadvantages of chip tuning: the owners of cars that are still under warranty risk losing the manufacturer’s free support due to amateurishly performed tuning, especially if the manufacturer’s authorised service detects the alteration, and there are interferences in the car performance, and the chip has not been correctly written and customised for the car. There is no possibility of rapid “withdrawal” of the chip and restoring the car to its original delivery state. Also, after updating the driver software, an activity executed on a regular basis while servicing the car, the modification will be erased and the car restored to its delivery condition. Finally, the existing chip tuning cannot be mounted into another car, even of the same make and with the same engine.

Powerbox - the external tuning controller

The modification consists in changing the parameters read by the sensors of the car so that the engine control unit introduces a correction of boost pressure and the dose (or only pressure and, indirectly due to this, the dose) of fuel. The powerbox then changes two basic parameters (chip tuning - three). Sometimes an indirect way of changing parameters is called “tampering with the measures” and is presented as a proof of the superiority of chip tuning over the powerbox, but from a programming point of view, for achieving the final effect is irrelevant whether the new parameters are entered directly into a map, or obtained in an indirect way, provided that they are well programmed. The powerbox has its own map corrections of the two parameters listed above and implements them according to the engine load and its speed, the same way the chip does. When driving it is impossible to recognise if a car is equipped with a powerbox or a chip, though a well-executed chip tuning will give stronger effects (slightly more power and torque), due to the modification of one additional factor and larger opportunities to influence the fuel quantity.

The advantages of the powerbox: it can be remotely switched on and off (using a remote control or an Android or an IOS device) you can reinstall it in another vehicle, even of a different make (though you may need to change the wire harness for one fitting another make and change the tuning map in the powerbox system). The tuning box can also be removed from the car before the manufacturer’s servicing; it is quite easy because the wire harness of a powerbox has original plugs that can be plugged in and out easily.

The disadvantages the powerbox: it modifies only two of the three main parameters (boost pressure and fuel quantity) and cannot influence the injection / ignition angle. Furthermore, due to the car construction limitations, it cannot impact the fuel quantity to the extent chip tuning does. Thus the performance gain with the powerbox will be smaller than after chip tuning. Sometimes, however, chip tuning a particular model is impossible or impracticable, and the only solution is a powerbox.