Remapping – also known as tuning or chipping – your car’s electronic control unit (ECU) could bring many benefits, chief among which is increased power levels.
It could also assist in improving fuel usage, although this is largely dependent on driving style and the type of motor.
Regardless of the vehicle, remapping is intended to make the engine perform to the best of its abilities by altering the standard factory software.
The default software settings, also known as maps, are not necessarily set up in the most efficient way as many manufacturers sell cars around the world and have to take into account the varying climates, quality of fuels, and regional laws in these markets.
As such, remapping the engine will set it up for local conditions and it could be tuned to be more powerful, more responsive, more efficient, or to your personal preferences.
“When your vehicle is remapped, the altered software is plugged into your car’s serial port (or OBD port) which then overwrites the engine map with the new version to enhance engine performance,” according to TurboWorks Centurion.
“If the remapping is successful, you should notice an immediate improvement in the speed and power of your vehicle.”
We spoke to three local vehicle insurers to find out how remapping your vehicle’s ECU could affect your car insurance policy.
At application stage, Discovery Insure asks a client if there have been any modifications made to their vehicles, and if there were, the applicant must complete a questionnaire that lets the company accurately assess the levels of risk associated with insuring the vehicle, said Precious Nduli, head of marketing and technical marketing.
However, if you perform an ECU remap after insuring your vehicle at Discovery you must notify the insurer of the modification so that it can reevaluate the levels of risk.
“The premium is calculated based on the nature of the risk that the client has, and so when ECU remapping or chipping is done, we will quantify the nature of risk and assess whether the car can be insured,” said Nduli.
If the modifications disclosed to Discovery are not accepted, such as in the case where the increased power levels exceed a certain threshold, the vehicle will be regarded as uninsurable and the existing cover for it will be cancelled.
“It is important that the insurer has this information because in some cases, ECU remapping is regarded as a modification because certain parts of the vehicle, such as the engine, need to be modified to cater for the increased performance in the vehicle,” said Nduli.
On the other hand, if the enhancements are accepted, Discovery clients can expect their premium to increase due to the increased power-to-weight ratio of the vehicle, she said.
Additionally, if you are to claim, the ECU tuning will only affect the claim if it is found that it was done to “such an extent that we would not have accepted the client’s vehicle in the first place.”
“It is important to say that each claim is assessed on its merits and circumstances,” said Nduli.
King Price client experience partner Wynand van Vuuren said under this insurer’s policies, a car will still be covered if an ECU remap “doesn’t enhance or change the mechanical performance.”
It must also be professionally done to avoid any electronic damage, and King Price clients should inform the company of any changes made to a vehicle to ensure that the risk is correctly underwritten, he said.
Anything you do to change the vehicle’s performance will also influence your risk to be insured and that may have a knock-on effect on your monthly premium.
“There’s a clear onus on a client to inform their insurer of any modifications made to a car, as this may affect the risk and the premium payable,” said Van Vuuren.
“If an ECU remap also increases the value of your car, then it might have an influence on your monthly premium or acceptance of the risk depending on your insurer’s underwriting model.”
Naked Insurance said its car insurance does not cover vehicles with any performance enhancements or modifications.
The reason for this is that the insurer uses a fully-digital quoting and buying process where policy pricing is based on the performance and value of the particular vehicle as per factory specifications, without human risk assessment involved.
“In keeping with our core principle of simplifying our process as much as possible to accommodate mainstream customers, for the sake of user convenience and lower premiums, we don’t perform any human risk profile assessments,” said Ernest North, Naked co-founder.
“Customers should declare all improvements and modifications to find out if they will impact their policy and to avoid issues if they ever need to claim.”
North said insurers would usually be reasonable when evaluating claims, and if it’s clear that an incident was not a result of performance enhancements then the modification will not have an effect on the claim.
“For example, if someone forgot to mention an enhancement, and reversed into another vehicle in a parking lot, it would be clear that the accident didn’t have anything to do with an enhancement,” he said.
He added that most manufacturers may see ECU remapping as grounds to void a warranty or service plan if the vehicle is still under such an agreement.