“What does it do?” This has got to be the #1 question I encounter during car shows whenever people ask about the Unichip. Next up is “How does it work?” Which will be the focus of this article to explain in as simple terms as possible the how and why.
First of let’s start with the name, Unichip. The Uni part stands for Universal, and it is THE ONLY true universal module that works on any car, any brand, gas or diesel. It’s the same Unichip for your car, truck, minivan, roadster, gasoline or diesel powered, 4 cylinder, V6 or rotary. No other chip can make that claim. Which is the best feature of the Unichip. When it comes time to sell your vehicle, simply unplug it and we can transfer it to whatever next vehicle you buy. It’s really an investment that grows with you.
The Chip comes from well, a computer chip. And this is where the confusion sort of sets in. When most people hear the word chip, they automatically think of something like this:
But in reality, the Unichip circuit board is a lot more complex and contains a multitude of chips and processors, making it more similar to a computer’s mother board than single chip, like the one below:
So how does it make power?
All gasoline engines all over the world need 3 things to make power: Air, fuel and spark. Let’s take a typical 2.0L engine. The 2.0L denotes the displacement of the engine, which is the amount of air the engine sucks in every combustion cycle. Unless more air is introduced using a turbo or supercharger, there is nothing that can be done to lessen this amount.
Next is the amount of fuel. This, the Unichip can control. Think back to your high school chemistry class and the term stoichiometric ratio. Simply put, this is the ideal mixture of 14 parts air to 1 part fuel of (14:1) that theoretically ensures complete combustion with all of the fuel being burned away to produce the maximum amount of power.
But of course in the real world, this can never be, so almost all cars tend to run a richer mixture, with more fuel being injected than needed which results in a mixture of 12:1 or even 11:1 on some engines. Why is this? First off, a richer running engine is more forgiving and reliable for human error, mainly the lack of mind and maintenance by most non enthusiasts, who just put fuel and just drive.
So most of the tuning that we do with the Unichip is to actually reduce the amount of the fuel the engine gets. By doing so, the remaining fuel gets more burned completely, giving you more bang inside the engine and since we are taking away fuel, you get better mileage as a result.
The next component that enables combustion is spark. This is what most people tend to think of when the word spark is mentioned:
And they won’t be wrong. But there is a lot more to spark than just the sparkplug. When the spark actually fires in combustion process is also just as important. In almost all diagrams of the 4 stroke engine such as the one below:
Depicts the sparkplug firing when the piston is at the very top (2). In reality, the sparkplug fires way before the piston ever gets to the top. This is done because the air fuel mixture needs time to burn and combust, although it may seem like instantaneous to our eyes. The earlier you can fire the sparkplug in the combustion cycle, the more time the mixture has to burn completely which results in more power. Old school guys will remember this as advancing the distributor timing.
With modern distributorless engines, when the sparkplug fires is controlled by the ECU, which can be controlled by the Unichip. And unlike the old style distributor, which gives a blanket adjustment for the whole rpm range, Unichip can vary the amount of timing for every rpm, say 3 degrees more from1500-3500rpm, 2 degrees from 3700-5500rpm, and 1.5 degree from 5600 up to redline.
These two adjustments cover 80% off all engines in existence. So by changing the amount of fuel and when the sparkplug fires, this is how Unichip is able to make more power, more torque and get better fuel economy for your vehicle, and why it’s the best engine programming solution out there.
Reflash is the now prominent term when it comes to tuning, a purely software based solution that doesn’t involve any additional hardware, plugging of devices or wiring in of anything.
How it normally works is that software is used to Read the Ecu contents when the laptop is plugged into the car’s on-board-diagnostic (OBD) port, and then after the changes have been made, Write the contents back.
This method works on almost all cars, except for Toyota, whose ECU only allows a Write, but not Read. That’s where the conundrum lies. How can you edit something when you can’t get to it?
Well turns out we have to buy the base file from the reflash software provider, and they in turn have their ways of getting that base file from dealerships all over the world.
The file were talking about is the Software calibration file below:
Toyota actually doesn’t make the ECU, Denso does and they do it in batches, and each batch will have a different calibration file even if they’re going into the same car model. For example, the Fortuner 3.0L has over 50 different calibration files even though they all go into essentially the same car. And if we open it up, the contents are also the same. Why is it like that? Dunno.
Since most reflash software is made in Europe, it makes sense that the European spec vehicles are the first ones that get made and have the files available. Then it trickles down to the rest of the world.
And if your car came with a locally manufactured ECU, like the ones on our Vios below:
Only way to get a base calibration file is if you have contacts pretty high up inside the dealership.
Eventually like everything electronic, it will get hacked and cracked, just like people are now able to run Family Computer games on an old iPhone3. It’s just a matter of time. And that’s also another conundrum. The whole point of ECU reflash is that it doesn’t void the warranty period, but by the time the calibration file does become available, warranty period is over and you now have a other choices such as Unichip Computer or if you’re rich, full blown stand alone ECU.
“How much are Brembo Brakes?” I get this question often enough and the reactions are all the same when they hear the price, which is below
I mean, it isn’t hard when you do a Google search and every brand new Brembo brake package is at least $3995/pair (pair means two In case you forgot, and not 4) I mean it’s not magically going to be $1000 just for you (a price you still find expensive)
But for people who have done the research and are done with the initial shock, they know that these are simply the best brakes on the planet. And for Subaru owners, the only real hindrance is the price.
Subaru has made it in such a way that the Brembo brakes from the STI is bolt in affair for the lesser variants like the WRX, Forester and Legacy.
And this what this 07 Forester got, a complete set of 4 Brembo big brake which consists of the 4 piston calipers in the front and 2 piston calipers for the rear, along with the bigger brake rotors.
And how much tipid meals must you eat to afford this?
130k for a 2nd hand set of 4. And we lucked out on this set as it came with Endless brake pads which are still pretty thick and some unknown brand of slotted rotors.
Q: What is Reflash? A: Reflash, or Remap, or ECU Tuning are all one and the same thing. It is a process where we read the contents of your ECU, open it in with an editing software (like Photoshop) change some of the parameters and load it back into your vehicle.
Q: Why is it called reflash? A: Inside your ECU is a physical memory chip, the small back rectangle (usually) with lots of legs like a centipede, and it uses the same technology as the popular USB flash drive that you have, hence the term reflash.
Q: Why is it called Remap? A: When we read and download the contents of your ecu, the files contained inside are called maps, which control specific items of the engine, like sparkplug map, turbo boost map, timing map, etc etc. These look like excel sheets when opened up. Remapping is changing the values inside these excel sheets to get better performance.
Q: What is tunimg? Is it tune up? A: Newsflash, all cars made after 2004 don’t require “tune up” any more, as there is nothing to tune or adjust beyond the change oil and sparkplugs. Tuning is the process of adjusting. Same way a guitar or piano is tuned, the tuner makes small adjustments to the strings and cords until he gets the note correctly. Car tuning is the same process but changing things like the amount of air, fuel, spark, boost etc etc instead of the tensions of strings and cords
Q: What’s a dyno? A: Dyno is short for dynamometer, a big machine that measures power and torque of a vehicle. Think of it as treadmill for your car.
Q: What is dyno tuning? A: Tuning while on a dyno.
Q: Why doesn’t _______________(insert manufacturer) do this from the start? A: The answer for this can be many reasons, and here are some of the few. All automobiles made now are always over built and overspec-ed for their intended purpose. This is to make sure there is wide enough safety/reliability threshold to last years of use. There is also flexibility, like the Fortuner 3.0 and Prado 3.0, both cars have the same engine, same ECU, same transmission, but the Prado makes more power to be able to justify the higher price. Rather having two separate power systems, sharing a common power train architecture enables Toyota to easily tailor the power needed to their market segment. Another is because of the “arms-race” among manufacturers. When Toyota, first came out with the 3.0 Fortuner it has 150whp, quite high in the mid-2000s for a diesel. Then Mitsubishi came out with the Montero, which has 165whp, then Toyota came out with a more powerful 2.5L and 3.0L later in the life cylce but it still uses the same ecu. The hardware and software is cable of much more to “future proof” it against the competition by enabling manufacturers to be able to introduce an “upgraded” version down the line should the need arise.
Q: What is being changed when you reflash? Are you introducing new software? A: When the ECU data has been downloaded, think of it as a notebook binder, same ones you used in college. There is a table of contents and pages inside. The whole notebook is downloaded, and the same notebook is uploaded, but the contents of some of the pages have been changed. Now new software is introduced, no new pages are added, the file structure itself is also the same, it’s just the numbers inside some of the files have been changed, say from 56.4 to 60.5.
Q: Do you have sample of a reflash? A: Reflash isn’t a physical product that you can hold In your hand, much less see and touch. At the most you’re able to see is a laptop connected to your car’s OBD port.
Q: How do I know if it really makes power? A: We have a dyno. Like the treadmill, it can calculate how much power your car makes by how much load is applied and how fast the wheels turn.
Q: How do I know your numbers are correct and you’re not just making it up? A: First of, our dyno software doesn’t allow us to change values by manually entering them. The only way the dyno gives out is through the input of the car wheels spinning. It’s the same way with a weighing scale, it’s all locked in and you can’t change it. Secondly, its counterproductive for us to do so cause aside from fooling you, we’d be fooling ourselves, and in this day and age of the internet, posting fake numbers is easily called out by other people.
Q: Will this lead to more wear and tear of the engine? A: No
Q: Huh? It makes more power but no additional wear? That sounds illogical? A: Let me explain. Let’s use you the human as an example and beer. Say right now, you can drink 5 beers before you pass out drunk. After reflashing your brain, you can now drink 10 beers before passing out. But you won’t be drinking 10 beers all the time, majority you will have maybe 3 before you have tama and have had enough for the night. But on the rare occasion like your bro’s stag party, you can last with the rest of boys with your 10 beer limit instead of being a KJ after 5 beers. Same thing with the engine, we are raising the LIMIT to enable POTENTIAL performance. Like boost level in a diesel SUV, we raise it from 14-20psi. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be driving with 20 psi all the time, realistically if you take the total mileage of your car, only 1% or even less will be spent driving at maximum power. The other 99% is spent driving as your normally would, which has the usual maintenance and wear and tear even before you had a reflash.
Q: Will my fuel consumption be affected? A: Yes, drive NORMALLY, and you will see 9-10% better mileage. Why? Because before you step on the pedal 20% to get 50hp, now you only step 10% to get that same 50hp. Less pedal pressing means less consumption. And herein lies the human conundrum, you’re tendency is to step on it MORE than your usual 20% and you do it more and more often, and more pedal means more consumption. So to answer the consumption question, it all depends on your right foot.
Q: Will the casa know it’s been reflashed? A: No.
Q: Does it void warranty? A: Also no. Remember the notebook analogy? It’s still the same notebook, from the table of contents to the number of pages, to the separators between pages, it’s still the same file. So when the casa plugs in their diagnostic machine, it will read everything exactly the same as stock . Q: Can you reflash it back to stock? A: Yes P1000
Q: Does it have warranty? How long? A: We mentioned that it’s software, and as long as the hardware can run it, then that’s the warranty. It’s like an app on your phone, when downloaded, it either works or it doesn’t. Same with the ecu files, it either works or it doesn’t from the get go. But let’s say, suddenly your touchscreen begins to malfunction, then obviously, you’re app won’t work correctly.
Q: Will it have a check engine light? A: Check engine light are caused by sensors in the car reading wrongly. A car sensor normally operates within a 1-4v range, if for some reason, it suddenly sees 4.5v, a check engine light will appear, or the sensor itself is on the verge of failure, giving wrong readings because of wear and tear. When we reflash, we always assume that your car is working 100% correctly, we don’t know what the exact condition of the car is, what maintenance has been done, how it’s used, etc etc. Suffice to say that if a check engine light does come up, don’t panic. A check engine light can mean many things, and we have to know the exact error code to be able to find out how to solve it, I suggest you buy an OBD scanner in here in Lazada, scan the code and take a picture of it, then bring it back to the shop, so we can make a few adjustments to the values IF THAT IS THE CAUSE. Messaging “May check engine, ano problema” question will not get you any answers aside from “bring it to the shop”. Take note. Reflashing doesn’t cause check engine lights, sensors readings do, and it happens to completely stock vehicles.
Q: What cars can be reflashed? A: As a general rule, cars after 2007 can be reflashed with either one or 2 methods, through the OBD port, or physically opening up the ECU and reading the data directly from the memory chip. So if you have a car older than 2007, the short answer is no, it can’t be done. For that we have Unichip.
Q: How long is the process? A: If it’s through OBD port, 2-3 hours with the dyno included. Sometimes the file we get from the ecu is encrypted, and needs to be sent abroad to Europe for them to decode and then mailed back to us. So this adds either a few hours or a day to process.
Q:What if I have modifications like intake and exhaust? A: We take these things into consideration when we tune.
Q: What’s the maintenance for a reflash? A: Same as your normal maintenance schedule of change oil and other consumables.
Q: Do I have to have it regularly reflashed? A: Ideally once a year. Let’s use human analogy again. Normal you is slow and lazy, reflashed you is a more powerful ready-for-marathon you. And marathon you wants to keep in shape so you have general executive checkup once a year to make sure you are in peak condition. But you get older every year and obviously your peak performance now might not be the same as a year ago. Same with cars, and in that one year, filters may have been more clogged than usual, fuel pressure it’s as high, etc etc. Good thing we can buy new parts for cars, unlike humans.
Q: What power gains can I expect? A: Each car is different and will depend on the engine. But here’s a rough ball park. 2.5-3.0L Diesel SUVs easily 40-60hp, 1.3L-1.8L gasoline cars 8-13hp more, turbo gasoline cars 30-50hp.
Q: I live/work near Metrowalk Pasig, do you have a dyno there? A: Our main branch in Banawe has the dyno. You can leave your car in Metrowalk and we will take care of bringing it to the main branch, and bring it back since we are open up to 7pm in Metrowalk. The drive also serves as the road test to make sure everything works perfectly.
Q: How long does it take? A: If he car is OBD Reflash compatible, 2-3 hours including the dyno. Certain cars need the ECU to be physically opened in order to access the data, this is particularly true for Hyundais and some older Toyota diesels, in which case we need 2 days as its not easy to open and trace the small connectors to read the data.
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I’ve been writing most of my life but this blogging thing is a bit new for me. Sure I’ve read blogs and while its mostly personal stuff and travel and food and other trivial things, not really for business and as a repository of knowledge. Which is what I plan to do with this one, along of course with personal thoughts and everyday experiences in running a performance car shop, the good, the bad, the frustrations with both the hard jobs and customers.
What prompted this whole blogging thing is that the primary shop Facebook account got hacked, and I lost access to 120k likes that it has. I’m not so concerned about the actual content as that I have a duplicate backup copy of, but the people who contact me on a daily basis, who now have their questions unanswered because of these hacker pricks. So lets start of by showing the link for the new site below:
That’s the new and fresh FB page that is starting from scratch. Of course it sucks to have what you’ve built up taken away from you, but after a week of mopping around, I figured a fresh start isn’t too bad. I do still have access to the old page and the spam videos now being posted are being liked by a bunch of names I didn’t recognize and they’re mostly Indian or Middle Eastern, people who will never come to my shop or ever be my customers to think of it as a purge for all these useless people.
Lesson One, you shouldn’t rely solely on Facebook, better spread your digital assets around like a separate blog, a youtube channel, a good website. The lost of a Facebook page shouldn’t signal death for business.
Lesson 2, FUCK YOU FACEBOOK. They do absolutely nothing to help you get your page back if it does get hacked. NOTHING. Never mind that you have spend $$$$ with them to advertise, they don’t even respond or take care of their customers, big or small.
Lesson 3, it’s not the end of the world. It’s only Facebook, it’s absolutely no reason to make a video and cry for the world to see, as some people do, that’s just pathetic.
So what can you except from me personally blogging? Insights, knowledge and mostly tech stuff and what works and what doesn’t. I personally have no qualms about calling out other shops by name if they do something wrong or if they selling products that don’t work. And it’s time I got into making youtube videos, hey a little late to party but better late than never. So click and subscribe below