There are many misconceptions about vehicle mapping or, to use the more common term, chipping. So, we headed to Dastek in Pretoria to learn more about the popular Unichip solution for those owners wanting to add a tad more oomph to their rides. Anton Willemse Jnr reports.
As with all things in life, there is more than one way to skin a cat or – in this case – chipping or mapping a vehicle. There are many tuning companies and tuning products on the market, but we opted to do our testing with Dastek and its ever popular and renowned Unichip. Our guinea pig for the test was a 2016 Land Cruiser Prado with its proven 3.0-litre D4-d turbo-charged fourcylinder engine. We met up with Cornell Jonker, Group GM of Dastek and one of the masterminds behind Unichip.
What is chipping?
To understand chipping, one must first understand the concept of tuning. Any petrolhead will instantly understand the concept of tuning an engine, but for the uneducated tuning concerns three critical aspects of the internal combustion engine namely fuel, compressed air and ignition. These elements are essential for the process of internal combustion.
In the old days the air/fuel mixture entering your vehicle’s engine was managed by a carburettor. You could adjust your carburetter manually by turning a screw, similar to tuning a musical instrument like a guitar or a piano. This would enable you to tune an engine to prevent it from running too lean (not enough fuel mixing in with combustion) or too rich (too much fuel and not enough air mixing in). In short tuning needs to be done to make the musical instrument or your engine work optimally. And that is basically what engine tuning is – adjusting these types of parameters to help your engine run in the most optimal and safe manner.
Since we live in a digital age, there is one major difference nowadays: computers. We no longer use record players or film cameras. Instead, we use our smart phones or laptops for both of these applications and the same applies to our vehicles. Instead of a carburettor, cars these days have an electronic control unit (ECU), which is essentially an onboard computer. This computer controls or manages a whole bunch of different parameters of your vehicle’s engine, some of the most important being the air/fuel mixture, the engine’s internal temperature and pressure, ignition timing, valve timing, the spool rate of a turbo, as well as the amount of air being inducted into the engine by the turbo itself.
A tuning company, like Dastek, can tweak these parameters and change the overall characteristics of your vehicle’s engine in two ways. The first method is reprogramming the ECU, known as mapping. Mapping a vehicle is when you change these parameters permanently to either improve performance or efficiency. A chip does the same thing but in a different way. Chipping is when you adjust the parameters to and from the sensors towards the ECU by utilising something called a fully programmable piggy-back computer. The first original piggyback computer – or chip if you will – was the Unichip, which Dastek has been developing for almost 30 years. So, instead of remapping the engine, the Unichip as the piggy-back will change the parameters for you and can be re-tuned as the vehicle ages or changes are made to items like exhaust systems that will change the parameters.
“When the Unichip is connected to your vehicle (wired in, X-Connect or with a EasyConnect harness) a skilled tuner will optimally tune your vehicle with the Unichip on a dynamometer whilst monitoring temperatures, emissions and power, to get your vehicle to be as light as possible on fuel when you drive calmly and to make as much safe power as possible when your foot is flat on the accelerator,” explains Cornel.
How does Dastek achieve this?
After speaking with Cornel about what it means to install a Unichip we brought our guinea pig to his workshop. The Unichip was installed into the Prado with relative ease and connected to the ECU via the vehicle’s harness. This is when we discovered the Unichip’s first party trick: it has a built-in immobiliser, designed to give your vehicle some extra protection from theft. The immobiliser activates when you power down your vehicle and remains active after start-up. You can deactivate it by entering a button sequence or by using your phone with the Unichip app.
So, after the installation of the Unichip we headed to the dynamometer to tune the ECU via the Unichip piggy-back unit. Dastek says that the only way to have your Unichip working optimally is to have a qualified tuner do the work and tune the chip and vehicle on a dynamometer whilst keeping a keen eye on the vehicle’s temperatures, pressures and such.
The goal of the Unichip is to extract the most out of your vehicle without damaging it. According to Dastek it can safely extract 10 to 15 per cent additional power without affecting the vehicle’s reliability. The owner’s manual for the Prado 3.0 D4-d lists a power output of 120kW or 161bhp. However, during our first “non-chipped” run at OEM spec the Prado had a peak power output of 86.2kW (115.7bhp) at 3 500rpm and 75kW (100.3bhp) at 4 000rpm. At the lower end (2 500rpm), the Prado had an output of 76kW (100.5bhp).
Obviously, there’s a huge difference between 120kW and 86.2kW, so what does this mean? Is Toyota lying to you? Well, no… The simple truth is that the figure of 120kW is the actual power output of the engine (normally measured on the flywheel whilst on an engine dyno), but that is not to say it reaches its wheels. Any normal car has a degree of mechanical resistance (or drivetrain losses) due to the energy travelling through the vehicle’s axles and gearbox. The measurement provided by the dynameter is the vehicle’s actual wheel power, which is the most accurate method of measuring a vehicle’s effective power output.
The baseline performance of the Prado was measured, and we
did another run on the dyno. The next runs were to improve the
vehicle. The name of the Unichip game is customisation.
Dastek and the Unichip have developed a multi-map
system for their chips which enables up to five
tuned maps for a vehicle:
• Map 1: Idle only (Immobiliser).
• Map 2: Standard settings (so you can feel how the vehicle runs without the optimal tune).
• Map 3: Eco or gear-control map for automatic transmissions.
• Map 4: Daily map or towing.
• Map 5: Power+ or “play time”.
Other functions include timer and temperature functions and CAN Bus monitoring, all adding to the fun factor but keeping engine safety the priority. These where the exact maps we installed on our vehicle. We got exactly what Unichip advertised on all accounts. The second test run on the dyno showed immediate improvement.
Our low-end performance (at 2 500rpm) came in at 85kW (113.5bhp). The map also changed the power band, allowing us to get peak performance earlier and hold it for longer. Our peak started at 3 000rpm, boasting an impressive power output of 107kW (143.7bhp).
We decided to take a drive to test the other features of the chip. The one I was most excited about was Map 3 (eco/gear-control map) since Toyota’s automatic gearboxes have a tendency to be slow to react to direct throttle response. I immediately noticed a change in how the Prado was choosing gears and how it shifted. The gearbox became much more logical about its shifting time and gear selection. I do believe this will translate into better fuel consumption as the revs are kept low, even when accelerating, which means the engine isn’t working as hard.
Overall, we were very impressed with the Unichip after installation and to date, it continues to impress. It can really transform your vehicle and allow it to be exactly what you need it to be. While the immobiliser certainly scores massive points considering the high rate of theft of Toyotas in this country, the extra power is certainly what most consumers would be after. However, that’s not all the Unichip is good for. If there’s a characteristic of your powertrain that irritates you, such as turbo lag or – in the case of the Prado some dim-witted gearing – Dastek and Unichip are sure to be able to rectify it. And for those who worry that the product might damage the reliability of a vehicle, Dastek is committed to making your vehicle as efficient as possible, as powerful as possible and as safe as possible.
*As with anything you add to your vehicle, it is important to do your research and consult with a reputable tuner while considering your options. Also check with your dealer and ensure you understand your warranty conditions. – Ed.
*See the video below: