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High fuel costs drive motorists to modify engine control units in cars to save on petrol

Motorists are now remapping their vehicles’ engine control units or ‘chipping’, as it’s commonly known, to get more power or save fuel. Picture: Itumeleng English

Motorists are now remapping their vehicles’ engine control units or ‘chipping’, as it’s commonly known, to get more power or save fuel. Picture: Itumeleng English

Published Aug 3, 2022

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Despite gaining some reprieve with a cut in fuel prices this month, the reality is that motorists are still paying a lot more for petrol when compared to what they did a year ago.

Official statistics show an astronomical year-on-year increase of 38%, from R18.11 on August 4, 2021 to R25.42 on August 3, 2022.

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Soaring living costs in South Africa have pushed consumers to the brink of despair, with some saying the only way they are able to get the most out of their income is if they skimp on their monthly groceries.

A growing number of car owners have come up with another way to try and save on rising costs.

Motorists are now remapping their vehicles’ engine control units (ECUs) – or “chipping”, as it’s commonly known, to get more power or save fuel, according to insurance group King Price’s client experience partner Wynand van Vuuren.

Will modifying your car affect your insurance cover?

Van Vuuren said that chipping your car should not affect your ability to get insurance, however, you should always disclose any modifications to your insurer.

“In insurance terms, chipping your car is considered a modification, even if it’s one you can’t see. Anything you do to change a vehicle’s performance will change your risk, and as such, you should tell your insurer about these changes, as they may affect your monthly premium,” Van Vuuren said.

Remapping was becoming increasingly common. That was why a car would still be covered if a remap does not enhance or change the mechanical performance of the vehicle. The remapping must also be professionally done to avoid any electronic damage.

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Most modern car engines were controlled by a tiny computer, known as the ECU.

The ECU controls numerous operations of the engine, and adjusting these settings can change either performance or economy, or both.

When you remap your car, you are basically installing third party software on to the ECU to replace the manufacturer’s default software.

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This new software has customised settings to get the most out of the engine, and can increase horsepower and torque significantly in some cases.

If this makes your car more valuable, or increases its performance, your insurer must be told. If you were to be involved in an accident and found to have done a remap without notifying your insurer, it could affect your claim.

Van Vuuren said there was clear onus on a client to tell their insurer about any modifications made to a car, as this may affect the risk and the premium payable.

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“A simple rule of thumb is to tell your insurer about anything that doesn’t come standard on your car. This way, you’ll know what’s covered and what isn’t if the worst happens.”

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