A simple guide to car remapping

Car remapping is a technique used to help squeeze extra performance out of your car – and it’s growing in popularity around the world.

Here we explain the concept behind remapping a car, look at how it can improve your car’s performance, highlight problems that you may encounter and how it impacts car insurance.

It was once the preserve of drivers with well-equipped garage facilities and a desire to give their vehicles an edge. Now it’s available to just about anyone. But while remapping has become increasingly commonplace in recent years, what does it actually mean and is it worth having it carried out?

Remapping – sometimes referred to as ‘chipping’ – is the relatively straightforward process of enabling an engine to reach its full potential.

The technique enables you to access the Engine Control Unit (ECU) and override the manufacturer’s settings. As an aside, ECU also refers to electronic control units that look at various elements in a car.

This act of reprogramming the ECU could increase its power and torque. If it’s done correctly on a suitable car, the difference in performance should be immediately noticeable.

The good news is that remapping doesn’t require major surgery to your engine – or require buying high performance parts that cost a small fortune.

You also won’t have to spend weekends under the bonnet trying to figure it all out. There are plenty of auto tuning garages that specialise in this kind of work.

The ECU is central to the whole process. In fact, to properly understand what happens during a remap requires knowledge of its role in your car.

These small devices have been fitted as standard to cars since the early 1990s and are responsible for controlling a variety of functions. They’re complex and constantly being improved

The importance of the ECU in your engine can’t be overplayed. It’s effectively the brain that processes information from various sensors and controls factors such as fuelling and torque.

Manufacturers set the ECUs to allow a certain level of performance. This depends on considerations that include local regulations and fuel efficiency. The software in these ECUs affect various factors, such as ignition timing and the boost pressure of its turbocharger. The goal for remapping experts is to modify these operating parameters.

Remember, manufacturers don’t always want to optimise a car’s power. They’re looking to strike a balance between performance and longevity. Of course, such compromises are understandable – especially if a car’s primary role is for use on the daily commute, rather than tearing along open country roads.

The idea of remapping is to make alterations to the software installed by the manufacturer to enhance how the engine delivers performance.

The process involves reading the existing ECU and then adjusting various parameters that restrict important elements such as its torque and power.

In this way, it’s remapping by overwriting the engine’s existing map. This means it’s no longer restricted in ways that it had been previously. While remapping is relatively straightforward, it’s not something you should tackle yourself.

Leave it to the experts at a reputable remapping garage. If you have a go yourself – especially with a new car – and it all goes wrong then you could be left with a sky-high repair bill

The cost of remapping depends on the car. It’s also important to do your research as some garages won’t be able to carry out the procedure on every car.

The prices charged are also likely to vary. As a very general rule, it’s likely to set you back between £200 and £400. However, please do your research. There are a large number of tuners out there, and the important part is where does the software come from and who has written it. This is what will control how well your car performs after it has been remapped.

There are several kinds of remapping – but let’s deal with the most popular ones. Each one offers something slightly different and comes with its own cost.

  • stage 1
  • stage 2 and above

Stage 1 remapping involves optimising the engine using the existing components in the car without the need for additional hardware. The stage 1 remap cost tends to be around the £200-£300 mark.

Stage 2 remapping goes a little further, pushing the car’s performance beyond what stage 1 can achieve. Sometimes, aftermarket components are needed to make sure the car is stable. Stage 2 remap costs are at the higher end of the scale, at around £400. Additional hardware required to allow the car to be optimised with a stage 2 tune include:-

  • Uprated induction kit or air filter to allow more air into the engine quicker
  • Sports exhaust (Bigger downpipe/decat or sports cat and catback section) allows exhaust gases to exit the car quicker
  • Front mount Intercooler (Keeps engine cooling & intake temperatures under control)

Remember – Engine tuning – IS ALL ABOUT THE FLOW!

The number one advantage is increasing the torque and power of your car. This should make it more responsive with enhanced acceleration.

If it’s done correctly, the car should feel smoother and easier to drive. Remapping garages also suggest overall fuel economy could be improved once the engine’s running at optimum efficiency. Having extra power also means it’s less likely to struggle and work so hard. A more responsive accelerator means you won’t have to put your foot to the floor to get a response.

This could be particularly useful when you’re accelerating away, towing a trailer, or making your way up a particularly steep incline.

Of course, there are always potential downsides to consider. The first is that you might pay out hundreds of pounds and find that it hasn’t worked as expected.

Generally speaking, if your car isn’t turbo-powered then you might not see much of a difference in performance. That’s why you need to do your research before spending your money.

There could also be longer-term costs. One of the reasons a car’s manufacturer put in these limits was to enhance the working life of its various moving parts. Changing these may well put more strain on everything. This could mean having to get the car serviced more often and, potentially, replacing parts on a more regular basis.

There have been reports of engine damage from ECU remapping. However, this is believed to be rare, especially if carried out by a reputable auto tuner.

Yes, it could affect your car insurance policy. This largely depends on your insurer’s attitude towards modifications, meaning you might need to take out a new modified car insurance policy. Some might be more relaxed about it, others baulk at any changes.

It would be wise to check with them before you have the procedure carried out as you might find they refuse to provide cover. Hopefully, they agree immediately or ask you for a slightly enhanced premium. If you’ve already had the car remapped then you also need to come clean to your insurer immediately.

You might be tempted to keep your trip to the remapping garage to yourself. While your insurer probably isn’t in the habit of popping round to make spot checks, you don’t want to run the risk of them finding out that you’ve misled them.

Failing to declare modifications won’t go down well. It could also invalidate your insurance, meaning they refuse to pay out should you be involved in an accident. The choice is yours, but please think about it. Is it worth the risk?

Remapping the ECU won’t take long at all.

Generally, it can be completed in less than an hour. In fact, a qualified specialist should be able to remap the engine in about 45 minutes, however good practice is to have a full health check carried out on your car before and after remapping to ensure everything is in order.

Yes, it’s regarded as being safe.

While nothing is 100% guaranteed, reports of damage to engines are extremely rare.

An expert should be able to tell you whether a remap will actually work for your vehicle and the likelihood of you noticing any difference after it’s been carried out. Given the number of enhancements that remapping can make, there’s no one-size-fits-all list of cars that are best suited to remapping.

Having these could mean you benefit more from engine remapping:

  • A newer car – Some older models can’t have remapping at all. But more modern cars have greater potential to be optimised.
  • A turbocharger or supercharger – This could help you get the most out of your engine’s performance when remapped.

Remapping is a growing industry

It’s not just professional race car drivers or devoted fans of the popular Fast and Furious movie franchise that have been getting involved in remapping. The scene has gone mainstream around the world as the new tech-savvy generation of owners start to embrace the technique and improve their car’s performance.

In fact, the global car tuning and engine remapping market is predicted to grow at a 6.3% compound annual growth rate for the next decade according to Future Market Insights.

The company’s study discovered that owners are becoming more aware about the perks of engine remapping and are actively seeking high powered diesel engines. Such tendencies, pointed out an FMI analyst, are driving the performance tuning and engine remapping service market demand.

“Soaring popularity of chip tuning among automotive enthusiasts and racers in developing nations is encouraging market players to collaborate with regulated remapping service dealers in developing countries,”

Some more Car remapping FAQs

Is car remapping bad for your engine?

No, it shouldn’t be bad for your engine – as long as it’s been carried out by someone that knows what they’re doing. However, remapping is likely to put an extra strain on your engine

Can any car be remapped?

No, not all cars can be remapped – largely due to their age – although the vast majority of modern vehicles are equipped with ECUs. Also, not every vehicle should see the benefit of engine remapping.

Will I have less fuel efficiency if my car is remapped?

Opinions vary on this point. In theory, remapping should increase your car’s fuel economy. However, as it should result in increased power, whether it ends up guzzling more fuel depends on how it’s being driven.