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      05-21-2013, 10:55 PM   #1
westphone
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Growing concerns with ECU installs

A friend of mine is ordering ECU from Hartge or SuperChips for his M135i. I elected not order with him. Here is the reason, and I always like to hear what the forum has to say.

So there is ~relatively~ little engine tuning parts inside the bonnet. No one touches the turbo, no pulleys, cams, or some such for any 1 series. Not that they are required, they are either very hard to find or are simply nonexistent, at least compare to the BRZ (based totally on perception and could be different regionally). For the sake of this discussion, let's put the factory warranty aside or awhile.

These ECU units promise so much yet cost relatively little for the power gain they claim. One of the concerns I have is some ECU company claims their chip is superior than the factory one in every way, power, torque, and responses. Some even promises better fuel economy together with gain. If that is so, why did BMW not include in the car at least as one of the modes? I am very sure BMW would have the extra 20 hp simply for advertising when the A45 AMG hits the market. I just think there is some solid reason behind BMW not doing what the custom ECU companies do, and my personally feeling is that it might has something to do with reliability.

Most after market companies claim the increased in power and torque comes from "remapping the characteristics of the engine." It scares me talking about any remapping because all they have to play with really are fuel/air ratio and fuel injection timing? Does it not seem like the after market ECU is telling the factory system something different? (I don't want to say the after market ECU "fools" the factory system) I think BMW M performance division will probably know their performance curve better than anyone else, yet they do not do it themselves. It also worries me a little when they talk about power and torque increase, they never talk about when the peak value happen, or what range the peak value happen.

I personally would not go for any ECU upgrades; I am concerned about the secret sorcery that goes on inside. Would you go for an after market ECU if the price is fair?

Last edited by westphone; 05-21-2013 at 11:00 PM.
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      05-22-2013, 02:08 AM   #2
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You have some valid questions and I will try to answer them, based on my personal thoughts and little knowledge I have.

Firstly, there are 2 major tuning options (or schools if you like): Remapping the existing ECU or installing a tuning box, which in affect is another ECU working in parallel with the factory ECU. The remapping means that the engine map (i.e. Air, fuel, turbo pressure etc.) is changed to increase power and torque. The tuning box, in effect alters the singnals of the sensors feeding the stock ECU, so it alters the values of these. Both have the same effect and it depends on how good they are designed and programmed, in order to achieve the increase in power and torque without sacrificing the delivery of this power. For example it is uselles to gain +100bhp but only for a 1.000 rpm span...it is better to gain +50bhp, but be available throught the rev range.

1. There is no sorcery involved in the tuning boxes. Just plain programming...quie simple to do, quite difficult to achieve the desired results.

2. With turbo engines, it is easy to get an increase at bhp without changing anything in the engine, by just increasing turbo pressure and fuel burned. Up to a point is easy and quite safe, without any other changes. Above a percentage (%) of an increase, it is vital to upgrade other componenets as well.

3. BMW offers their own tuning solution, through M Performance products.

4. BMW cannot offer big power increase, mainly due to marketing since it may "steal" sales and prestige from the more expensive models.
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      05-22-2013, 02:18 AM   #3
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Thank you Fanis
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      05-22-2013, 02:41 AM   #4
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BMW and other manufactures sell the world over where fuel grades/quality vary. So they hold back on power outputs, to keep the engine safe. They also offer long warranties and the more load you put an engine under, the more chance it could fail.
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      05-22-2013, 03:08 AM   #5
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I had the ECU from Hartge installed 3 months ago. To date, the car is performing to expectation and I am thoroughly enjoying the drive.
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      05-22-2013, 03:08 AM   #6
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The price of power

Here are my 2cents on the subject.

Before a BMW comes to market it undergoes literally hundreds of thousands of hours of testing in a variety of climatic conditions, from a northern Swedish winter to summer in Saudi Arabia. BMW will often change their spec. according to the predominant climatic conditions. For example, cars destined for the Gulf may have different cooling capacities than those headed for Scandinavia.

The reason for the extensive testing is to duplicate all the conditions likely to be encountered by drivers and assure that the engines, drive trains etc. are reliable under all those conditions. This represents a huge range, from -40 degrees in a Finish winter to +50 degrees in a Dubai traffic jam.

Chip tuning companies are typically small outfits addressing a niche market. They do not have the testing facilities of BMW so by definition, their customers are mainly the ones doing the testing.

ECU tuning increases power output and torque and decreases fuel consumption, sometimes by fairly large amounts.....a 50 HP gain is not unusual. How is this achieved and what are the knock-on effects? Typically the biggest gains come with Turbo-charged engines, both Petrol and Diesel and the main way this is achieved is to increase the charge pressure by altering waste gate settings. Ignition timing and fuel/air ratios are probably adjusted to allow a higher cranking pressure without causing pre-ignition.

So what are the effects? Firstly and most importantly, more heat; so the cooling system is under substantially more stress and will tend to run hotter. Since there's no temperature gauge, this is of no concern
It does however mean that if you drive to Rome in the middle of summer you may enjoy the drive there more than the drive back.
Second, the increased performance makes the car a lot faster, working the brakes a lot harder, which directly correlates to higher insurance premiums because insurance companies know that accelerating a lot harder while decelerating at the same rate means you reach the scene of the accident going a lot quicker, which is typically more expensive.
Then there's the increased power and torque's effect on the drive train. Is the clutch and gearbox built for so much more power and torque?. Apparently so, as hundreds of testers errrrr customers will attest to. The fact that the manufacturers don't agree and suspend the warranty is a minor irritation, but what would they know? Clearly their engines are highly tuneable and no one's posting about blowing gearboxes or clutches, proving conclusively that the tune is safe.

Of course there is another side to the coin. Manufacturers will alter the output characteristics of a motor to fit a car into a certain market slot....look at the 325d as an example. But I find it significant that when BMW released an M Performance tune for the 335i, it involved uprating the cooling system....and that was only 20BHP!
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      05-22-2013, 03:41 AM   #7
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I agree with what SteveC wrote, and want to add one more point. Many of the F20 models are actually detuned engines. The 114i and 116i are detuned versions of the 118i. They have the same cooling capacity and brakes. All they miss is some exhaust bits and software. In this case, it should be rather safe to tune them back up to 118i level.
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      05-22-2013, 04:09 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveC View Post
He.look at the 325d as an example. But I find it significant that when BMW released an M Performance tune for the 335i, it involved uprating the cooling system....and that was only 20BHP!
The 335i was the same. It could go into limp mode while being driven moderately around a track in hot climates.
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      05-22-2013, 04:24 AM   #9
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I have the Hartge unit on my F21 and am very pleased with the results. Even more so now with the M Exhaust. 375 HP and 400FtLb of Torque. Pretty awesome to drive and not in the least ruined.

I would add to the comments above that BMW has to slot in the M135i in a niche so it doesn't disturb their range or threaten M3 sales. But what they've actually delivered is a modder's dream.

To my mind the M Performance range is almost an invitation to modify. No constraints about using turbos, so no argument from the M purists. Big engine, little car. Lots of accessories if you want. And starting at a price that is surprisingly reasonable for the badge, the engine and the toys.

To make this all work what they've done is bake in lots of potential. It's up to the owner to decide whether to unlock this or not.
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      05-22-2013, 04:30 AM   #10
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Generaly, I agree with your points Steve. I have a slightly different view on a few subjects...however, I still agree with you, that if you want the outmost reliability of your car, then you should not tune it!

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveC View Post
Chip tuning companies are typically small outfits addressing a niche market. They do not have the testing facilities of BMW so by definition, their customers are mainly the ones doing the testing.
True, though some well known names are a bit bigger and do perform tests, before they release their products.

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Originally Posted by SteveC View Post
So what are the effects? Firstly and most importantly, more heat; so the cooling system is under substantially more stress and will tend to run hotter.
True again. However in most cases the cooling system is the same accross a range of engine, so for example the 116i has the same system as the 118i and thus can cope with the increased performance. Also, most repoutable tuning boxes do 2 things: a) they work only on over 80% of throtle opening (so they do not work all the time to increase heat in traffic lets say) and b) they monitor through the sensors the cars vital temps and cut off, if they increase above a certain limit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveC View Post
Second, the increased performance makes the car a lot faster, working the brakes a lot harder, which directly correlates to higher insurance premiums....
If you inform your insurance...if not, then there is no premium.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveC View Post
Then there's the increased power and torque's effect on the drive train. Is the clutch and gearbox built for so much more power and torque?. Apparently so, as hundreds of testers errrrr customers will attest to. The fact that the manufacturers don't agree and suspend the warranty is a minor irritation, but what would they know? Clearly their engines are highly tuneable and no one's posting about blowing gearboxes or clutches, proving conclusively that the tune is safe.
True again, but again many components are that same accross a range of models. Thus, the auto box of the 116i is the same as the one in the 118i and 125i and it can cope with the increased power and torque. Of course it is not always the case, so you have always to check the gearbox specs. Also, the reputable tuners offer a warranty to cover all engine and drivetrain failure, if BMW refuses to do so, because of the tuning.
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      05-22-2013, 04:33 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by creepy coupe View Post
The 335i was the same. It could go into limp mode while being driven moderately around a track in hot climates.
The highly strung 123d kept going into limp mode due to overheating on track days in Norwegian climate.
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      05-22-2013, 05:11 AM   #12
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Tuning cars should always be about more than just a tune, whether via a flash, or a piggyback ECU. It seems to me, having come from the VAG world, that the BMW community is rather conservative. Of course a tune increases stress and heat; that's a given. But, done properly, you can accommodate these within reason, with cooling improvements, as well as adding big brakes, suspension, etc. That's what keen car fans do...isn't it?

In addition, car manufacturers are conservative. They have to be. As owners, we can choose to be less conservative, although everyone's appetite for risk varies. For example, my preference with a car like M135i is for a very mild, hopefully flash-enabled tune, which merely gives me back the manufacturer's very conservative margin, and which provides a tune that takes advantage of available fuels. I'll not rush into this; I want to see these products become available, and to get a sense of their effect and suitability. I doffs me hat to those who are on the bleedin' edge
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      05-22-2013, 05:22 AM   #13
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Most of my car enthusiast friends would be a lot more happy with a 100 hp car they had tuned to 120 hp, than a car that had 130 hp directly from the factory.

I used to be like that as well. I wanted to modify everything. I have changed over the years to appreciate a good stock setup. I don't want to mess with it anymore, only adapt my own driving skills to it.
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      05-22-2013, 05:29 AM   #14
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Dangerous strategy

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Originally Posted by Fanis View Post
If you inform your insurance...if not, then there is no premium.
With respect, that's a truly dangerous strategy. By not informing your insurance company, you risk invalidating your policy...meaning no cover in the event of an accident, with all the financial and legal ramifications that entails.

If your insurance company asks a clear question regarding whether your vehicle is modified and you answer no when in fact it is, you really have no leg to stand on in the event a claim is refused, your policy voided and your premium returned.
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      05-22-2013, 07:05 AM   #15
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Quote:
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With respect, that's a truly dangerous strategy. By not informing your insurance company, you risk invalidating your policy...meaning no cover in the event of an accident, with all the financial and legal ramifications that entails.
You are probably right, at least in UK. Here in Greece, at least up to now, no insurance company asks about these things, even the big multinational ones like AIG. So, there is no legal risk (I agree that a tuned car should also be ugraded in other areas), at least in Greece. Having lived in the UK for a couple of years, I know things there are stricter (and rightly so!).
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      05-22-2013, 08:03 AM   #16
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Surely one of the main issues manufacturers face is having to meet emissions regulations? Obviously tuners dont have to worry about this when they increase fuel pressure or boost. Stu
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      05-22-2013, 08:16 AM   #17
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Surely one of the main issues manufacturers face is having to meet emissions regulations? Obviously tuners dont have to worry about this when they increase fuel pressure or boost. Stu
But if the tuners are right in their claims about the engine being less thirsty after the upgrade, that would also lower the CO2 emissions.
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      05-22-2013, 09:36 AM   #18
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A very useful discussion - which applies to all models I would suggest.

For my input I would suggest if you are using one of these then a bluetooth OBD unit linked to an android phone with the "Torque" App is very handy. (sorry if thats repeated elsewhere)
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      05-22-2013, 11:42 AM   #19
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Only thing I'd be worried about with tuning the M135i is the gearbox. Both the manual and auto are rated for a continuous 450NM which is the standard engines output.
The manual was used in the 1M which could output 500NM on overboost but this was only in certain gears, when meeting specific parameters for short periods of time.
I've seen some modified cars outputting 550NM.

Some models are not an issue though, it's been mentioned before but the 116i is the same as a 118i except for the software and a small 250 exhaust section. The manual gearbox is the same but has slightly different final drive ratio, the auto uses the same box as the M135i so no issue there.

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      05-23-2013, 04:08 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ovekvam View Post
But if the tuners are right in their claims about the engine being less thirsty after the upgrade, that would also lower the CO2 emissions.
Tuners claims in this area may well be accurate but only if you drive your car in a very conservative manor. Who tunes their car and then drives round like this? In simple terms more power=more petrol.....unless the laws of physics have changed
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      05-23-2013, 04:17 AM   #21
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Whilst it is true that with my Hartge ECU mod my mpg has dropped by 1, the Air-to-Fuel results from my dyno sessions would also suggest that at higher revs the car is more efficient than it was before for a significant chunk of the meatier rev range.

And yes of course I am flooring the throttle when I can because fuel economy is not my primary concern.

If anything my car's range on a full tank is stretching a bit further still since I had the mod done. It now estimates 400 miles at 32.5 mpg with an average speed of about 43mph. Whereas it used to be no more than 350 about 1,000 miles ago.
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      05-23-2013, 05:47 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Verglas View Post
Tuners claims in this area may well be accurate but only if you drive your car in a very conservative manor. Who tunes their car and then drives round like this? In simple terms more power=more petrol.....unless the laws of physics have changed
It is not uncommon to get better real life mileage from tuned turbo diesel engines. In some cases it would perpaps work even for petrol turbo engines?
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