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Remapping: what you need to know

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February 18, 2021
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Remapping your car engine is one option for consideration when you’re trying to squeeze a few more mph out of it, but what is remapping, what does it cost, what are the benefits and does engine remapping affect your insurance? 

What is remapping?

Remapping a car is a quick and fairly cost-effective modification to the microchip in your car’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU), to overwrite the manufacturer’s factory settings. This enables your car to perform at its optimum potential.

What is an ECU?

An ECU is a computer in your car that governs the power of your engine. At manufacture, the ECU is set to limit your car’s performance capabilities to preordained levels aiming to extend the life of a car.

Two decades ago manufacturers began building on-board diagnostic (OBD) ports into ECU designs. These allow mechanics to connect an external computer to the ECU to analyse problems. The OBD port is also used for remapping engines.

What are the benefits of remapping?

The main reason drivers get an engine remapped, is to boost speed and power. There are, however, other benefits of car engine remapping:

Economy

Remapping should increase your car’s miles per gallong and overall fuel economy. You’ll also be reducing your carbon footprint.

A better ride

With an enhanced accelerator and engine response, your car will feel smoother and easier to drive.

More pulling power

If you use your car to tow, remapping will give it extra power, meaning it won’t have to work so hard when climbing or accelerating.

Are there downsides to remapping?

Only turbo engines will fully benefit from a remapping. If your car isn’t a turbo, a remap with deliver negligible improvement in bhp. There are other remapping issues to consider:

Power gain, more strain

The car’s increased power after remapping will likely put extra strain on the engine, gearbox and other components, such as the clutch. This means you may be at the garage for servicing and repairs more frequently.

Upgrade your top-up

You may need to buy higher octane fuel following remapping. This is generally more expensive than regular fuel. 

Warranty issues

Your warranty may be invalidated if you get your engine remapped at a garage that isn’t approved by the manufacturer or an approved dealership.

Watch your speed

With a higher powered car comes temptation and a greater risk of drifting over the speed limit!

Insurance implications of remapping

Remapping may increase your insurance premium, but you can find a good deal by using a specialist insurer like Adrian Flux, who offer insurance tailored for owners of modified cars.  The team of brokers at Adrian Flux are confident that they could provide you with a more suitable quote on your insurance, especially if you have previously been quoted in excess of £2,000. You must declare that your car has been remapped regardless of the insurer you choose (or your policy could be invalidated).

Is remapping a DIY job?

Unless you are a mechanical genius, it’s probably safer to take your car to a qualified expert for remapping to avoid the risk of engine damage. Remapping is becoming more popular because it takes less than an hour and you will probably notice a significant improvement in performance almost immediately. 

You can find a guide to other popular car modifications through the decades here.

How do I know if my car has been remapped?

If you suspect that second-hand car has been remapped, but the previous owner nor paperwork mention it, then it can be hard to tell for sure. Although some remapping services leave a sticker on the ECU, this is the only visual clue that changes have been made.

You could refer to your car’s user manual and compare the acceleration and performance of your car currently with the figures in the booklet. However, if you really feel like the ECU could have been altered, you should take it to a remapping service or manufacturers’ garage where someone can review the software. This will likely cost you money, but if you’re in any doubt, it’s worth doing – if you don’t declare remapping to your insurance provider it could affect any claims you make if it’s later found to have been tuned.

Is remapping the same as ‘chipping’?

‘Chipping’ and remapping are both methods used for improving a car’s performance. Much like the inside of your laptop or mobile phone, an ECU comprises a motherboard and microchips. While remapping changes the software that the unit runs, ‘chipping’ involves physically replacing the main computer chip with a new, pre-programmed one.

Around 2000, cars were becoming more computerised and manufacturers started to include an access point in their ECU designs. The access point, known as an on-board diagnostic (OBD) port, allows mechanics to connect an external computer or device to the ECU and investigate why certain systems aren’t working as they should. The OBD port is also used for remapping engines.

‘Chipping’ is a more risky process than remapping as it requires the mechanic to open the engine control unit, leaving it vulnerable to damage. Since OBD ports became mandatory in Europe for petrol cars in 2001 and diesel cars in 2003, ‘chipping’ is usually saved for models that pre-date this era.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the nine top car modifications and how they affect your insurance or our top 10 cars to modify.




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