Nissan GU Patrol Diesel Chip

After I bought up my current common rail diesel (CRD) Nissan Patrol in 2008, one of the first modifications that I planned was the installation of a diesel chip. Diesel chips are piggy back Electronic Control Units (ECU) that can be programmed to override some functions of the factory ECU and improve engine power, torque and fuel economy. I’ve had experience with ECUs from my previous Di Patrols, which improved overall performance and fuel economy to some degree, so there was no reason why the same would not apply to the new CRD. The Di Patrol ECU only altered fuel delivery, so they weren’t overly sophisticated and sometimes introduced their own problems, and the CRD diesel ECUs were no different, as they too only adjusted fuel delivery. But then a new ECU came out offering much more and I was asked to do a test and review, which was something that I couldn’t refuse.

Chip It Installation Kit

Chip It Installation Kit

The ‘new’ diesel chip or ECU in question was the Chip It from Chip Tuning. The Chip It comes from the same company that I wrote about earlier regarding the electronic throttle controller and has been fully developed in Australia, including the software, which I understand was written by an ex-Mercedes systems engineer who had migrated to Australia. The ECU review that I did back in late-2011 took 39 pages and required several months of driving over all manner of conditions to provide a thorough understanding of how it worked and how it performed. To be honest, I was somewhat dubious about the claims of the Chip It but, at the end of the day, it really came up trumps. So after all these years, I thought I’d post a story about the Chip It and how its fared since those days back in 2011. I still have it and it still keeps performing as well as the day I installed it, actually better, but first a bit of history.

Chip It ECU in DIY Waterproof Box

Chip It ECU in DIY Waterproof Box

The Chip It that I received was one of the very first of their ECUs and provided control over both fuel and boost (air), which is critical for proper tuning. Simply increasing the fuel quantity is not ideal, as too much fuel increases combustion temperatures, as well as the production of NOx, the former which can be catastrophic for a diesel engine. High exhaust gas temperature (EGT) is an indicator that combustion temperatures are high because too much fuel is being fed to the engine and a further indicator is a diesel that blows too much smoke. A well tuned diesel should never blow smoke, except briefly and only lightly when the throttle is initially applied under load. Diesel engines work in the opposite way to petrol engines in that they don’t like too rich a mixture and can run at air/fuel ratios of 100 – 150:1 at light loads and typically a maximum of around 17:1 at full engine load. This is where the Chip It comes to the fore, as it allows you to adjust both fuel and boost to balance the air/fuel ratio so that you get optimum results across the entire engine load range. The newer versions have improved in many ways and now also allow control of injection timing for ‘fine tuning’ the fuel delivery.

Chip It Basic Tuning Software

Chip It Basic Tuning Software

My evaluation of the Chip It took many months of driving the same routes over and over again in conditions that were as close as possible to each other in terms of weather each day. I checked the weather reports every time before a test run, also recording images of the forecasts for each day that the testing occurred, so that I could be confident that I was being as fair and meticulous as possible. This driving involved hills, suburban roads and long stretches of open road each time, and I clocked at least 100km each test. As things progressed, I was pleasantly surprised with the improvements in both performance and fuel economy with the Chip It.

Chip It Testing - Melbourne Weather Conditions

Chip It Testing – Melbourne Weather Conditions

But after all of this testing, I’d reached a point where I knew that I was being limited by the basic tuning software that only allowed pre-set tunes to be installed (even though there was quite a selection). Having decades of experience with petrol engine tuning and getting into the aftermarket fuel injection scene when it started to develop in Australia, I knew that more could be achieved with this chip, especially after having done just that with systems like the early Wolf 3D in petrol engines. So I approached Chip It and they decided to supply me with the full tuner software that allowed me to precisely adjust the fuel and boost in increments across the engine load range. Every single engine that comes off a factory assembly line is as different as every baby that is born, no two are exactly alike or equally tuned. So while ‘canned’ tunes can provide engine improvements, nothing beats individual tuning of an engine and nothing beats actual on-road tuning.

Chip It Tuning

Chip It Tuning

After I received the tuning software, I started a second series of testing, pretty much repeating what I’d done previously, but this time modifying the ‘best’ tune to see what I could get by ‘personalising’ the tune. The results were immediately obvious and once I got a feel for the changes, from both the actual data readings of EGTs, boost and fuel economy, as well as my own seat of the pants feel, I knew I was getting somewhere. It didn’t take long to improve the results quite significantly and, after I moved to Mirboo North, I continued the testing and adjusting in our hilly terrain until I’d achieved as close to an optimum result as possible. By that I mean I now have excellent power, torque and great fuel economy, achieving 13lt/100km around our local hills (and no smoke) and on the highways I get around 10lt/100km, not bad for a 3t 4WD. And towing a 2t trailer full of wood on those same hills was not a chore at all.

2t Trailer and Wood

2t Trailer and Wood

Jamieson-Licola Road - Mt Skene Victoria

Jamieson-Licola Road – Mt Skene Victoria

So back to more or less the present. Last year I was asked for help from another CRD Patrol owner with a Chip It, as they weren’t fully satisfied with the results they were getting from the standard tunes (different engine from birth again). So we started a tuning exercise remotely (the owner lives in Western Victoria) and by sending tunes via email and getting the owner to drive and record data for me, it allowed me to make adjustments and perfect the tune for their Patrol. The owner then did some exhaust modifications and we repeated the testing. The owner is now over the moon with the way it performs and even others think that it’s a different vehicle.That’s one of the beauties of the Chip It, you can do tuning remotely, the owner will be able to apply those tuning adjustments themselves and immediately see the results, then provide feedback for further adjustments as necessary. No other aftermarket ECU (that I know of) allows such an option.

Mitta Mitta River - Taylors Crossing Victoria (source: Grahame)

Mitta Mitta River – Taylors Crossing Victoria (source: Grahame)

I keep reading about the latest technology where diesel engines are having the factory ECUs reprogrammed, something that’s been available for years for petrol engines, but things don’t always seem to work out. Owners are sending in their ECUs, having them reprogrammed with a generic tune and then finding that the outcomes aren’t quite what they expected or problems arise. The reality is that canned tunes can be hit or miss and the only way to get it right is to individually tune the engine on a dyno or by on-road, real-time, adjustment. So owners are left with solutions that may or may not work satisfactorily. I’m not suggesting ECU reprogramming doesn’t work, but you need to understand and/or accept the limitations of canned tunes. Anyway, I certainly look forward to years more enjoyment from my Chip It and Patrol.

3 thoughts on “Nissan GU Patrol Diesel Chip

  1. Shawn K.

    Pretty cool of the Chip It folks to allow access to their software like that. From my limited experience, fully functional tuning software is locked down to keep customers coming back to the shop for adjustments.

    At some point, I wonder if an OEM will ever allow direct tuning by the end user. Modern vehicles have all manner of telemetry, and it’s already common for performance oriented engines to have different, canned settings available. They could still keep some hard limits in place, but opening up a range of canned options or more would be beneficial, even if the OEM made it clear that the warranty could be impacted by adjustments.

    In the case of my truck, I suspect there’s additional fuel economy to be had, but there’s no easy way to experiment. Something as simple as adjusting the throttle tip-in might yield positive results around town, and it could also be beneficial when creeping through a rock garden.

    Reply
      1. Shawn K.

        There are some products around, such as the Banks tuners. Sadly, light diesel engines got a bad reputation in North America during the ’70s & ’80s, and the recent VW scandal set back progress. Forced Induction is becoming popular here as a way to get more power from less engine; Ford’s EcoBoost experiment may pay off.

        As for OEM software, they seem too greedy to allow access. Even service manuals are having every cent squeezed out of them with online subscription models. The OBD-II protocol has been corrupted with additional codes outside the specification, so the OEMs are slowly screwing that up, too. I’m irritated that nearly every modern vehicle has an alphanumeric display, yet the OEMs can’t manage to display diagnostic codes on them.

        Reply

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