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Under new management: engine remapping in focus

By / 5 years ago / Features / No Comments

As controversial as it is sworn by, engine remapping offers impressive gains for minimal workshop time and has become a growing market for vans, with potential for job‐need cars too. With software at the root of the emissions scandal and manufacturers now less able to claim the high ground over remappers, are the rewards worth the risks?


Removing the grey areas

Remapping appeared with the first electronic engine management systems, which read information from under‐bonnet sensors and then adjust engine settings to suit. It was claimed that these factory‐designed ‘maps’ were designed to cater for varied driving styles, fuel quality, servicing schedules and climates. By fine‐tuning the software to remove grey areas, it’s possible to unlock extra performance or fuel economy without changing mechanical parts.

Standardised on‐board diagnostics ports mean it’s now possible to upload software into the engine management just by plugging the car into a computer, and wider use of drive‐by‐wire systems and turbocharging have opened new possibilities. Modern cars can have throttle sensitivity or control of the turbocharger altered by changing the map. In turn, it means vehicles can be set up to improve driveability for specific routes or uses, or to limit the speed, revs or power available, in turn reducing wear and tear and fuel costs.

From a market which was driven by performance gains initially, there's a significant and increasing shift towards offering economy‐tuned maps too – particularly for commercial vehicles.

Service providers now offer the service to customers. BT Fleet’s service was introduced after the company installed economy maps from Viezu Technologies across its 22,000 vehicles, said to offer a £4m annual saving on fuel.

“Very importantly vehicle weight and use are factored into our adjustments,” explains Viezu’s CEO, Paul Busby. “A heavy vehicle will usually be given a little more torque low down in the rev range, and then a little fuel and power is removed higher up the rev range, keeping emissions in balance. In other cases we can add throttle limiters in light load conditions and rev limiters too – in effect really controlling when and how a driver can use the vehicle’s standard power.”


A simple solution

One of the reasons why remapping is becoming more common is that it’s easy to trial. The software is uploaded via the on‐board diagnostic plug under the dashboard, or using a reprogrammable module which stays plugged in, and both take less than 10 minutes. Return on investment depends on the vehicles and the way they’re being used, but Viezu Technologies reckons customers can see savings within four‐six months.

Part of the gains are down to driver behaviour, of course. “The increased torque of the remap means drivers can change up earlier and drive in a higher gear so at lower revs,” says Dominic Meagher at Superchips. “Driver education and good monitoring and recording of data are vital. There is a risk that if we make the vehicles slower or unpleasant to drive, the drivers will drive them harder and thereby undo the benefits.”

Returning the vehicle to its standard map is no more difficult than installing one: “It is easy to put the vehicle back to standard at the end of service, it will be by the same method as for installing the remap,” adds Meagher.


The manufacturer perspective

Vehicle manufacturers are typically sceptical of the claims made by remapping companies, and advise against changing the factory software. It’s possible that, if it can be proved that the remap is wholly or partly responsible, a warranty claim on mechanical parts could also be rejected.

However, most remapping companies offer insurance to protect customers if this happens. Leased vehicles are also usually prohibited from being modified Paul Busby says there’s no need to be concerned: “It’s very common for companies to fit a speed‐limiter to their vehicles – some will use us to do this work – other drivers may want to fit a tow bar, light clusters, mobile communication devices or tracking systems.

These are common aftermarket fitments just like a remap. Your tow bar does not invalidate your warranty so why should your remap.”

Aftermarket tuning companies aren’t the only businesses to see the potential. Ford offers warranty‐backed Mountune performance upgrades for its ST models, through its main dealers, for example. A growing number of cars are also equipped with ‘eco’ and ‘sport’ driving modes, which change the sensitivity of controls and the driving characteristics of the engine at the flick of a switch. It’s a similar idea, but with the advantage that it’s manufacturer‐approved.

On the whole, though, the stance of manufacturers’ is clear. Steve Bridge, managing director of Mercedes‐Benz Vans, comments: “If the claims some of these engine remapping companies make were that easy without causing damage elsewhere, we as a global vehicle manufacturer across vans, cars and trucks, would have made them already…”


Emission impossible?

Rising concerns about air quality are filtering into the Type Approval process – the method by which new cars are certified suitable for sale. Since January, manufacturers have to test ‘real‐world’ emissions of pollutants from new models using a portable measuring system to assess conformity to laboratory results. From autumn 2017, newly‐tested vehicles will be required to show they can meet limits on the road.

Conformity already goes beyond the latest models. Manufacturers are required to show that their emission control devices are durable enough to withstand ongoing use – randomly re‐tested at 160,000km (around 100,000 miles) or five years for passenger cars, LCVs and minibuses. The SMMT points out that it is illegal to use a vehicle which does not meet Type Approved emission limits – remapping companies do not have to prove that their software can do so.

Steve Bridge says: “We would advise that operators should obtain written confirmation from the nominated convertor in respect to having obtained the necessary approvals from the regulatory authorities, to remain in compliance with the requirements of both European and local legislation, for the purposes of both Type Approval and in‐service conformity.”

However, there’s no indication that a remap would necessarily fall foul of these limits – improvements are possible and proven. TDI Tuning claims that the increased power and torque could mean drivers labour the engine less – a part of the rev range with high emissions, encountered in road use yet untested by the official cycle.

Viezu Technologies has in‐house testing facilities and carries out on‐road testing to prove it. The company also sought an independent test on a 2013 Ford Transit, which showed a 17% reduction in Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions compared to the standard map, as well as fuel consumption cuts, when run on the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC).

“We have always been very aware of the need to understand the impact on the environment from our tuning, all our services have always been emission tested,” explains Busby. “Due to the reduced fuel use the overall volume of all gases is reduced too – every litre of diesel not burned saves 2.68kg of carbon from being produced – that has to be a good thing.”

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.