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What Is OBD Tuning And What Is Engine Tuning Via The OBD Port

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

What Is OBD Tuning And What Is Engine Tuning Via The OBD Port

Al Hunter
September 8, 2013


Today we're going to answer the question 'What is OBD?' and 'What is OBD tuning?'

Three phrases are often used interchangeably in the engine tuning industry. These are: 'chip tuning', 'ecu remapping' and 'obd tuning'. Although all three statements relate to the same premise of enhancing the way in which an engine delivers its power, hence why all three could also be called 'engine tuning', all three phrases are also slightly different from each other. Rather than explain all three phrases in a single article, this article will look specifically at what OBD stands for, why it exists and what OBD tuning is in the most basic of terms.

So what is OBD and why does it exist?

OBD stands for On Board Diagnostic. In simple terms this means being able to diagnose engine problems on-board your vehicle. And by vehicle we mean car, 4x4, van and motorhome as well all possible derivatives all four vehicle categories could be split into.

Modern day OBD is through a simple 'port' which is often located within 60cm of the steering wheel in your vehicle. Though sometimes the OBD port can be located within the engine bay or passenger foot well of your vehicle.

It was the American's who truly pioneered OBD via a simple, universal port located on vehicles back in the 1990's. This is because they recognized the growing and unnecessary complexity and expense auto manufacturers were making the diagnosis of mechanical and electrical problems on their cars.

Prior to the mid 1990's every manufacturer had their own propriety system for the diagnosis of vehicle problems. This made the servicing and fixing of vehicles expensive for car owners as well as for the garages that had to buy the equipment to diagnose the problems of each auto brand they serviced.

It was because of the above, the American auto industry led the world in enforcing that from 1996 every passenger and light commercial vehicle sold had to have a standard set of codes that could be read by diagnosis tools that individuals and independent garages could purchase and use easily and inexpensively.

It was not until the year 2000 that Europe and the UK followed America's auto industry lead and made it mandatory for all vehicles produced and sold to be OBD compliant.

So now you know what OBD is and why it exists, let's come back to explaining what OBD tuning is as promised at the start this article.

Modern day engines are controlled by advanced computers using advanced software. This software monitors many thousand parameters each second your engine is operating, just as your home PC does when it's in use. OBD tuning then is simply the method in which the software that controls your vehicle engine can be read and then modified using the OBD port located on your vehicle which you were introduced to at the beginning of the article. Long gone are the days when engine tuning was about a wrench and an oily rag and good hearing. Today it is all electronic and how you access the software that is controlling how your engine delivers its power. And, regardless of whether you call it 'chip tuning' or 'remapping' if the software that controls your engine is accessed and then is modified through your vehicle's OBD port, then it can also be called 'OBD Tuning'.


Ecu remapping and chip tuning are two phrases often used to enhance the way in which an engine delivers its power to you the driver. They are also phrases used to describe how an engine's power and torque can be improved and tailored to the car owners need and desire, from improved towing and overtaking ability to improved mpg and race car applications.

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