Reader Question: Chipping a Caddy?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Tom asks: I had a 1993 Cadillac years ago and I got a performance chip put into it that perked up the performance but also increased the gas mileage. I now have a 2007 Lacrosse and am considering chipping it (about $300). What do you think?

My reply: “Chipping” cars means replacing a computer chip which controls various parameters such as ignition timing with the idea being to get better performance (and mileage) out of the car than the factory settings. This was a very popular thing to do in the early days of computer-controlled engine management, circa the mid-late 1980s through the early-mid 1990s.

But along came OnBoard Diagnostics II (OBD II) and more sophisticated engine management systems that use code rather than “chips.” These systems can be modified – the term is “reflashing” (i.e., reprogramming) the  ECU, or Electronic Control Module. I am pretty sure most recent-vintage (OBD II) vehicles do not have replaceable “chips.”

Either way, though, if you can obtain a performance/mileage improvement by altering the factory settings/programming without causing problems (and voiding your warranty coverage) then it might be worth doing if the cost is less than the value to you of the improvement achieved.

But it may not be. New cars – late model cars – aren’t as rich in untapped potential as the cars of the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s were. I gibs you an example:

I could install a header in my ’02 Nissan Frontier; the gain would be about 5 horsepower for a cost around $300. Not worth doing. Mainly because the factory exhaust is pretty efficient, so the aftermarket exhaust doesn’t make all that much difference.

On the other hand, adding headers to my ’76 TA made a yuge difference – because the factory manifolds were hugely restrictive. Putting a high-flow exhaust on the car was worth 30 horsepower and the headers (plural) cost less than the header (singular) for my truck.

Before you kauf anything, ask for data about the power (and mileage) gains you will get if you have your car’s ECU reflashed. Then decide whether those gains are worth the cost!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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8 COMMENTS

  1. eric, you reminded me of something I thought about yesterday seeing the old Elco sitting there and remembering the mods I’d done on it. Have you ever replaced the front end parts on your TA with WS6 parts? Those make a big diff.

    • Hi Eigh,

      Yup!

      Including the WS6 steering box (from a ’78 parts car). My ol’ battleship handles not badly; the deficit being the wheels (and so, tires). But the Honeycombs look great and I’n not getting rid of them!

      • I like the honeycombs. Have you ever had a competent wheel man measure to see what the widest wheels you can use are? You can go both ways in widening and it often helps a great deal. Of course you’d want to keep the old wheels and the honeycombs if for some reason you absolutely had to sell it(don’t even want to think about that and know you don’t either). I’m wondering if the honeycombs would fit the wheels on my El Camino with the tow package. Reason being, they are wider than any other model at 8.5″ and the honeycombs “might” fit. I say might because no other beauty rings GM makes fit them. The beauty rings aren’t nearly as thick as the rings on a regular wheel. They’re thin but you can’t tell it unless you try to put a regular ring on the wheel and they stick well out past the wheel and probably wouldn’t stay on. It’s a thought. It could be tough to find that wheel even from a dealership.

        • Hi Eight,

          17-inch replicas of the snowflake wheel are available and fit the ’70-’81 cars. But the Honeycombs (steel) only came in 15×7. However, they look right on the car to my eye while the 17s look… wrong…

      • Back about 1982 I had a TA Recaro edition come into the little Texas garage I was working at. The bimbo was driving her boyfriend’s car and drove 15 miles to town with the emergency brake on- when she pulled up to the pumps there was smoke billowing out of the back wheel wells- and I ordered her to pull it into the bay and away from the pumps. When I pulled the back wheel I was shocked- it was so light I nearly threw it in the air assuming it was another polycast heavy wheel. As I recall they were a turbine style- and looked really good on that car. Ive never seen another and thought it was amazing that she was able to drive 15 miles with the e brake locked (disc rear end too!) and never notice the power loss. Nice car.

        • Hi Ernie,

          You are talking ’bout the Turbine wheel that first appeared in 1979 – on the 10th Anniversary TA. It became optional on any TA or Formula in 1980-81. These are neat-looking wheels. All of them were 15×8, too…

          There were some permutations… including white powder-coated versions for the ’80-81 NASCAR and Daytona/Recaro Edition TAs.

        • I think that was the year a guy I knew bought a special edition Mustang that had 16.5 wheels and only Michelin made the tires. His wife, a real ditz and nurse, drove it with a front tire flat. I don’t recall if it ruined the wheel but it was a long, drawn out affair of getting another tire and seems like a wheel from Ford.

          He was so pissed. I don’t know why. She’d ruined a lot of automotive stuff they had in similar fashion. If the engine oil light had been on she’d have simply thought it was a pretty red light. You can’t fix someone like that.

  2. Depends on the car itself

    Turbo cars are a great for chipping, $500 for 50+hp, NA not as much

    That said though, add more bolt on’s(cold air intake, exhaust, etc). And then a tunes worth it to bind it all together

    Have a 07 A4 turbo, an Ecoboost Mustang and an ’02 Audi TT, so I’m speaking from experience

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