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5 Benefits of Reprogramming a Car's ECU/ECM

With the proper updates, reprogramming your engine control unit/engine control module (ECU/ECM) can improve your vehicle's all-around performance, resolve engine issues, and optimize the vehicle for your specific needs. Whether you're trying to push out more power, increase fuel efficiency, or simply get your check engine light turned off, reprogramming your car's computer may be the answer.

If you’re curious about how reprogramming can improve your vehicle’s performance, this article will help. In it, BenchForce, an ECU Bench Programming resource for OBD-II Vehicles, discusses the five benefits of reprogramming and where you go for starter kits, harnesses, and additional information.

*Important Note: The following content is for educational purposes only. Please see a professional tuning service for help updating your vehicle's computer. Remapping can void a vehicle's warranty.

Different Names for the Same Thing

Reprogramming goes by many names. Automotive enthusiasts often use flashing, reflashing, mapping, remapping, tuning, chipping (for pre-1996 vehicles), and reprogramming interchangeably. But really, they're all describing a tuning technique that aims to improve engine performance by changing a variety of ECU/ECM parameters.

Car computers use data to determine how to work appropriately and ensure the engine operates within its capacity. However, when engineers and designers are testing a vehicle, they're doing so in highly controlled environments. Therefore, you may have to reprogram your engine to perform how you want it to in a given situation.

The ECU/ECM regulates fuel, electrical current, power, and torque. As you press on your vehicle's pedals, your ECU/ECM will receive data from sensors. Using this information, your ECU/ECM will send signals to the rest of the vehicle to operate appropriately.

Many people who are new to reprogramming start with small software changes. That said, many seasoned professionals and auto enthusiasts continue to swap out hardware and upgrade different parts of the engine, progressing through more complex reprogramming processes.

By changing the factory-set parameters of your vehicle, you're reprogramming it to respond differently to the signals it receives and sends. Most people who are interested in reprogramming are looking to improve their vehicle's performance in some way. Some of these benefits may be:

1. Keeping Your ECU Up-to-Date

To make sure the computer in your car is operating properly, you should keep the ECU up-to-date. Doing so will typically result in improved fuel efficiency and increased power output, and it can fix any bugs in the factory settings. These updates will be provided by manufacturers, especially in the case of a recall. If you need clarification on whether your car requires an update, reach out to a local service center or dealership.

2. Tapping into Your Engine’s Full Potential

Manufacturers intentionally govern performance to meet specific emissions regulations, improve vehicle safety, and ensure an engine runs within its capacity. However, after reprogramming their ECUs, many drivers are able to boost horsepower and torque by 10 to 20 percent. This could result in a 275HP engine with 325LB FT of torque gaining up to 55hp and 65LB FT of torque.

3. Improving Fuel Efficiency

Look to manifold pressure, air-to-fuel ratio, and ignition timing in your reprogramming efforts to improve fuel efficiency. By optimizing your vehicle's parameters, you can typically realize about a five percent improvement over factory settings. But, it's important to note that many factors affect fuel economy, such as but not limited to, the:

  • Shape of the vehicle / Aerodynamics
  • Time of year / Temperature
  • Driving patterns
  • Driving style
  • Engine size
  • Vehicle size

It's for these above factors that reprogramming isn't a silver bullet solution for improving fuel efficiency. However, during these times of record-high gas prices, every little bit helps.

4. Increasing fuel Compression

For cars with turbochargers and superchargers, reprogramming can further optimize fuel compression to allow more fuel to fit inside the cylinders. With increased fuel comes improved power. Interestingly, it's actually more fuel efficient to increase power through compression than it is to increase the engine size. Further, turbochargers and superchargers can actually lower emissions.

5. Securing Your Car

With a remap, people can set up valet and immobilizer modes in their vehicles. Valet mode limits performance and top speed, which is perfect if you're concerned about another person driving your car. Immobilizer mode actually shuts down the ability to drive the vehicle, even if a person has stolen the keys.

Downsides of Reprogramming a Car’s Engine

When correctly remapped, you can realize some significant benefits. But keep in mind, there are three main drawbacks that need to be considered:

  1. You may impact the engine's lifespan: Even with careful maintenance, the extra stress on an engine can minimize long-term reliability and longevity.
  2. You may invalidate your car's warranty: Always read through your car's paperwork to know what you're getting into.
  3. You'll need to mention modifications to your insurer: To ensure you're covered, be transparent about updates to your car.

Where to Get Supplies and Support

Whether you’re looking to reprogram your car’s ECU on the bench or want to break out into the mail-order tuning business, the best place to get started is BenchForce. BenchForce provides the highest-quality automotive laptop interface kits (OBD-II, J1939, LS-Series), PowerBlocks, programming harnesses (PCM/TCM/FICM/ECM/ECU), pass-through harnesses, adapters, and power cables.

At BenchForce, we strive to add as many harnesses as possible for our current and future customers. Please reach out if you have any questions or suggestions for additional harnesses.