How to Make a Vehicle Your Own With Car Tuning

For most drivers, a tuned car is one that has been serviced according to manufacturer specs and runs acceptably well. But many car enthusiasts want something more than a normally tuned car. To them, car tuning refers to modifications that enhance vehicle performance and drivability. There are several ways you can improve your car's performance, but in most cases you should start with tuning the engine so that it delivers more power.

Optimising the fuel combustion process is the key to getting more horsepower and torque from your engine. Back when cars were built with carburettor engines, tuning an engine was a mechanical procedure. You had to adjust the spark timing on a mechanical advance until you found the fuel/air mix that produced the most complete burn cycle and resulted in the most efficient fuel combustion.

But these days, virtually all new vehicles have fuel injection engines that are electronically controlled by the ECU (engine control unit). This small computer is central to the fuel combustion process. The software in the ECU controls all aspects of fuel delivery and timing, so modifying the software is the logical place to start if you're trying to enhance engine performance.

When you are tuning the engine in a pre-2000 model year car, the only way to modify the ECU software is to replace the EPROM chip in the ECU. However, newer vehicles have an ECU with built-in software and no removable chip. For these vehicles, ECU reprogramming -- or ECU remapping, as it's more commonly called -- can be done through the On Board Diagnostic port without handling the delicate engine components.

Vehicle manufacturers are usually conservative in the way they tune their cars. They program the ECU to limit engine performance to something well below what the vehicle is built to handle. This means that modern engines hold a surprising amount of untapped potential that is just waiting to be released. Remapping the ECU is an effective and safe car tuning method when done properly by a skilled professional -- and the words "skilled professional" cannot be overemphasised!

Turbo diesel cars are the best candidates for ECU remapping. The benefits can be impressive: power gains of up to 35%, fuel savings of up to 20%. In driving terms this means faster throttle response, better acceleration, fewer gear changes, smoother driving, and extra money in your pocket. ECU remapping can also be worthwhile for normally aspirated and petrol-fueled cars, but the gains vary and it's best to weigh the benefits on a case-by-case basis.

Whenever you make performance enhancements to your car, you should advise your insurer of the change. If you fail to do this and you get into a crash, your insurance could be invalid -- and that's a risk you don't want to take. Will you have to pay more to insure the car after the modification? Not necessarily. Some companies will insure your modified vehicle for the same premium as the unmodified version. If you're very concerned about expense, talk to your agent about the possibility of a premium increase before undertaking any modifications.

In the grand scheme of things, car tuning can be a great investment. The sheer pleasure of driving a fully powered, responsive vehicle is worth the cost, many would agree. What's more, car tuning can produce significant fuel savings over the life of your car. You know, some drivers justify the cost this way: you can spend a few hundred quid to remap the ECU in your current car, or you can spend thousands of pounds extra to buy a new vehicle. Which option would you prefer?

Car tuning is a popular way to customize a vehicle to your driving style and your performance expectations. Whether you're craving faster acceleration and more pull from your car, or you simply want better fuel economy, you can usually get exactly what you want.

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