3 Fundamental Types of Performance Chips

BY MICHAEL D.

If your vehicle predates the modern era of computer-controlled autos, your path to horsepower and torque gains is easily attainable – all you’ve got to do is plug in a performance chip or programmer. The difference is only a few keystrokes away, but determining which one is right for your application isn’t all that simple. In this article, we break down the most important features of the three types of performance chips there are to choose from – control modules, power programmers and engine management systems.

1. CONTROL MODULES

  • Plugging directly into your under-hood electrical system, the control module delivers accurate, immediate tuning for your engine because it’s always plugged in and constantly reading and interpreting data from your sensors. It’s designed to intercept the data from your various systems before it has a chance to reach the onboard computer. When it analyzes the information, the module then determines the proper adjustments to the air/fuel ratio, ignition timing and other functions, and sends the commands to the computer.
  • All control modules are custom-programmed for optimum efficiency, but every individual device offers a unique power level, allowing you to select the right amount of power to suit your driving style. Diesel modules offer optional in-cab performance monitors that display readings of critical info – like turbo boost, engine gas temperature and RPMs – up to the second.
  • Installation’s a snap, lasting no longer than 15 minutes. Thanks to an integrated, heat-shielded wiring harness that plugs right into your onboard computer, modules require no soldering, splicing or drilling.

2. POWER PROGRAMMERS

  • Power programmers operate a little differently than control modules, although they’re both designed to reconfigure your onboard computer. Unlike control modules, which are permanent electrical system installations, programmers are meant for plug-n-play use.
  • Power programmers connect to your OBD-II Port – the system that monitors and controls your engine, handily located right under the dash. Once you’ve answered a series of pre-loaded questions based on your specific vehicle, possible upgrades you may have made or the kind of power gains you’re looking for, the programmer will then upload a new set of operating instructions to your vehicle’s computer. This step should take no longer than 10 minutes but best of all, it only needs to be done once.
  • At the end of the day, power programmers give you greater control over system-tuning. You can recalibrate your onboard computer to any changes in tire size, speed rating and even rear-end gear ratio. Your computer doesn’t know to recalculate unless you use a power programmer, and your performance will never be the same.

3. ENGINE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

  • An engine management system (EMS) does just what its name implies – puts you in complete control of your vehicle’s control system. Compatible with cars, trucks and SUVs, it helps you manage everything from the fuel injector control to the idle speed.
  • The EMS mounts inside the engine compartment. Upon installation, the next step is to unplug the wires from your old computer and plug them into the new one. The wires immediately sync the EMS with all of your vehicle’s sensors, the readings from which help deliver peak-level engine performance.
  • Another interesting tidbit is that you can hook up your engine management system to your laptop to tweak the settings, view the performance data – anything you want to know or understand better, it’s only a couple clicks away.

No matter what you’re looking for to help you get the most out of your setup, we carry a wide range of products from some of the winningest brands in the industry – including tuners from Bully Dog and power programmers from DiabloSport and Hypertech. However you choose to invest, do so wisely – your ride will definitely thank you in the long run.