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When it comes to fully customizing your car, one of the largest limiting factors is your car’s stock engine control unit, or as it’s commonly known as, your cars ECU. This is because your cars stock ECU is programmed with the stock values of each component of the car and uses those values when calculating the air fuel mixture in required. As soon as you begin to change parts in the engine, the actual details of the upgraded part is now different to the part the ECU is trying to calculate for, and this can cause the engine to run at less than optimum efficiency, or bring a series of ECU warnings
Benefits Over Chip Tuning
While tuning shops are able to change flash an ECU to unlock more performance or to compensate for different engine modifications, their functionality is still limited and requires you to use parts that are designed for an OEM fit. Installing a standalone software swapping unit, such as Cobb’s Accessport, gives you options of running stock and custom tunes. This is where aftermarket ECUs make all the difference, as they are fully customizable in terms of both software and hardware. An aftermarket ECU allows you to run a custom wiring loom, and can be programed to work with multiple accessories, allowing you to use a variety of boost controllers, gauges, data loggers, and fuel sensors.
The modifications an aftermarket ECU unlocks are endless. There is a trend of using an ECU to run a newer engine in an older car by using custom made adaptors to fit parts from newer model engines into older models. A popular example of this is with BMW E36 owners with the S50/S52 engine, using billet adaptors to fit fuel injectors and coil packs from the e90/92 S65 engine, along with a turbocharger system to create engines that are both high performance and reliable.
The Best Aftermarket ECU Options
When it comes to aftermarket ECU’s, the car community is split between two brands, Motec and Haltech, and for good reasons as these two brands represent the pinnacle of ECU technology. However, choosing the best one for you can be difficult, but hopefully this overview will help you during the decision process.
Motec is the market leader when it comes to ECUs. With their experience in motorsports over the last 25 years, they have gained the trust of a lot of top racing teams and tuners. This experience, coupled with the growing demand from race teams to have an ECU that meet the demands of newer engines, means that Motec has constantly pushed the envelope, and have been the first to introduce new technologies such as drive-by-wire throttle technologies, which led to the ability to retrofit luxuries such as cruise control and volumetric efficiency fuel modeling.
The downside of a Motec unit is that they are significantly more expensive than equivalent units from rival brands, and to gain full access to the full list of supported features requires you to purchase additional software packs. The way Motec has designed their software means that any changes to the ECU will need to be done by a trained Motec technician.
While Haltech may not have the same history or prestige behind them that Motec does, their approach to designing their ECUs have made them incredibly popular with tuners and owners. Haltech’s elite series of ECUs come fully unlocked, which means that if you have the supporting components, any of the advertised features can be used without the need to purchase additional software. Haltech has made their ECUs more attractive by releasing plug-and-play accessories such as Flex-fuel sensors and multifunction gauges that are user customizable via their official app.
Haltech falls short when it comes to available features. Luxuries that Motec owners have enjoyed for years are only recently being released on the Haltech ECU as they continue to develop the product. With Haltech’s emphasis on user friendly ECUs, when new features are released for their ECUs, Haltech releases a firmware update that can be flashed to your existing ECU via a windows computer. While this is great customer care on Haltechs side, it does require more maintenance than the Motec, which can be a huge deterrent for customers.
Choosing between the two is so challenging that we can’t seem to come to an agreement on which is better, as we have had excellent experiences and performance from each brand. If you’re looking to upgrade your cars ECU and can’t come to a decision, we at Foreign Affairs Motorsport will be more than happy to help you choose the best ECU for your needs.