Ask Unichip: Towing, Racing and Gas Mileage

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In our last Q & A post with Jack from Unichip, the ECU tuning specialists, he offered us some very interesting opinions on how engine modifications interact with air intakes and exhaust systems.  In this post, Jack blows open some of the myths that have accumulated around the idea that chip tuning can save money at the gas pump, as well as how the ECU’s engine management affects specific driving activities like towing or drag racing.

Acceleration vs Towing Power

We asked Jack if Unichip tunes the Toyota Tundra to enhance full-throttle acceleration and top speed or if they geared more towards producing a torque curve that was better suited to towing and hauling. His answer surprised us. According to Jack, the engine in a truck has no idea whether it is pulling something, blasting down the quarter mile, or climbing rocks on the trail. All the motor cares about is how much air and fuel it needs at a given RPM to generate horsepower. As a result, Unichip’s ECU programming is designed to wring as much as possible from the engine when the pedal is pushed near or to the floor.

Jack’s candid response to our question made us realize that, in order to see a torque curve that’s programmed to favor racing or towing, it’s probably necessary to visit a dyno tuner who can design a custom tune . Unichip’s focus is on maximum power and drivability across all engine speeds, which means one their Unichip tuners works for all applications.

Unichip tuner gas mileage

You'll never guess what Unichip told us about gas mileage...

Fuel Economy and Gas Mileage

Continuing our quest to get to the truth behind many of the claims made about chip tuning, we also asked Jack about the fuel mileage improvements that might be associated with installing a Unichip tuner. He told us that in the tuning business, gas mileage is a “frequently discussed and poorly understood performance measurement.” Essentially, fuel economy is largely a function of personal driving style, which leads some truck owners to report an improvement in mileage while others see their truck actually consume more gas despite using the same tune.

Jack said that Unichip makes no specific claims regarding the effects of its tunes on fuel mileage, but do provide an in-depth explanation of what owners can generally expect from its tunes on their website. In general, he says that:

  • Drivers using their trucks to tow or haul should see a gas mileage improvement with a Unichip tuner.
  • On a daily basis, the amount of gasoline consumed by a Tundra probably won’t change noticeably with a Unichip tuner.
  • At the end of the day, it’s all about the driver’s foot…but extra power can help improve gas mileage under heavy loads. If you drive with a heavy foot, it’s unlikely your mileage will get any worse.

[Jason’s Note: You’ve got to love a company that resists the temptation to make some sort of claim here…it would have been very easy for Jack to sell us a line here. Very admirable.]

The Unichip and Transmission Shift Points

As a follow-up, we asked Jack whether the Unichip tune had any effect on the Tundra transmission’s shift points.  He told us that while those running a Unichip map will see a difference in shifting due to the increase in power provided by the tune, the kit itself does not interact with the transmission in any way. Jack recommended investigating more direct transmission control devices for those looking to firm up the shifting of their automatic gearboxes.

The Question of Octane

Unichip provides a high octane fuel map with its tunes, and we were curious as to whether Jack could tell us exactly what octane rating they should use in their Tundras when running this particular configuration. He replied that the company is capable of offering “High Octane,” “Mid-Grade” and “Low Octane” performance maps, which translate into 92, 89 and 87 octane fuels respectively. The maps allow for a deviation of one octane point up or down with no issues.

He also said that Unichip offers products for the Toyota Tundra that can handle as many as five specific maps. The basic Unichip kit uses a mechanical switch that allows the owner to choose between two different maps. Upgraded kits offer a five-position switch, allowing for even more precision depending on fuel used and accessories that are “activated” (i.e. a setting for NOS).

Unichip also provides the option of a Bluetooth interface system called Flux which provides wireless access to as many as five maps.  Jack said that the company doesn’t charge more for additional maps, and that the only cost increase comes with purchasing the different equipment required for drivers to take advantage of the extra tuning configurations.

After hearing the truth about application-specific ECU tuning straight from the horse’s mouth, in addition to finding out the real story behind chip tuning and fuel economy, we had only a few questions remaining for Jack as we wrap up our Q & A session. In our fourth and final post we try to get to the bottom of how Unichip is able to interface with Toyota’s computer systems, and also ask Jack for his opinion regarding the upcoming “black box” legislation that will see data acquisition technology installed in every new automobile sold in the United States.

For some really in-depth info, check out Jack’s Unichip blog.

Filed Under: Toyota Tundra Accessories

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  1. Chris says:

    Can they tune a TRD Supercharged Tundra?

  2. mk says:

    ECU tuning, wow – we need more than 381 ponies and 401 torquies? Gotta get a tuned supercharger like Chris wants? Bad to the bone!

  3. Mickey says:

    I agree with Jack on his statement on mpg’s. It’s the driver who has to recognize and change their habits. Right now I just filled up on my 6th tank on the test I’m doing. My mpg’s are at 20.5 while doing only 60 mph. Every time I fill up my mileage to empty keeps climbing. This last tank had 450 miles to empty. Now I can do over 500 miles per tank.

  4. TXTee says:

    Mickey – I commend you every time you post those MPG ratings. I’d get killed if I tried doing 60 in Houston – either from another driver or falling asleep. How are the Duellers wearing with the lower mileage? They were like scrap at 38K but that was mostly freeway driving.

  5. Jason says:

    Chris – Yes! 🙂

    mk – More is never enough for Chris, LOL. 🙂

    Mickey – Awesome.

    TXTee – I hear you on the road rage.

  6. Chris says:

    Holy Crap! LMAO I was half joking when I asked. Add this to the list, I’m putting this puppy on. ;- )

    Thanks Jason!!

  7. Mickey says:

    My first set of duelers lasted 63,000 miles. I’m currently on my 2nd set at 91,323 miles. I still have half the thresad life left. I use 40 psi in all 4. I also get a front end alignment every year which is 30,000 miles. So far no adjustment needed. I took off my rear brake pads and to my suprise I know I’m over 18% I was told. More like 30% left on the rear and just under the 50 % on the front. Will make 100,000 miles on the original pads. As far as the speed goes I haven’t ran into anyone being an idiot on the road, to road rage. 13 miles of interstae is 70 mph while the rest of my trip is 55mph and the last mile is 40mph. I’m trying to see if I can hit 460 – 475 miles to empty on the tank. I know once I get my mpg’s up to 21 it will happen.

  8. Jason says:

    Mickey – You are the king of MPGs and minimizing wear and tear. When you get rid of that truck, the person who gets it next will have found a very well cared for ride.

  9. Mickey says:

    Jason it’s 28 miles to where I work so I just enjoy the ride and listening to XM. I leave early enough not to have to rush so I just cruise. Most evenings I just cruise home but I do have my moments of doing 80mph.

  10. TXTee says:

    Mickey needs a feature profile on the MPGs and stats he’s getting. I’m literally amazed what he gets out of his Tundra and the OEM tires. No Uni-Chip for Mickey? Or if he did he could be getting Prius stats out of the Tundra!

  11. Mickey says:

    TXTee my wife’s Prius I hear every day what mpg’s she gets. 55-63mpg. I keep telling her she needs to do more than a daily total to really see what’s she’s getting. I hear when she states only $25 to fill up and how her 9.5 gallon tank gets her 500 miles also. Now I did take her car one day and out did her mpg’s just to tame her down. She just likes to do it her way so I don’t argue I just go with what she states. You know keep the peace. If I want supper that is.

  12. Mickey says:

    Jason yes it’s alittle commute. Where I used to live from work was 17 miles but city driving and I only got 18.8mpg so when I moved out further my mpg’s shot up because mostly all interstate. Only 2 traffic signals. So in turn I’m doing better for longer travel and it happens to be about the same time for both routes.

  13. Jennifer says:

    My 2009 Tundra crew max has never gotten anywhere close 20.5 mpg on the highway. I get an average of 12 mpg. Could something be wrong with my truck?

  14. Jason says:

    Jennifer – Possibly, but there are a lot of factors that contribute to gas mileage. You might take a look at this post: http://www.tundraheadquarters......ndras-mpg/

    If your mileage doesn’t improve after doing all the things recommended in that article, the next move is to start recording your mileage manually and taking the results to your dealer. Sometimes they can reset your engine computer (however, this isn’t very commonly needed).

  15. Alan says:

    The driver can really influence milage based on how they operate the vehicle.

  16. Alan says:

    I gotta figure out how these guys get this kind of mileage.

  17. Steve says:

    Alan, I agree, Im light footed (but have a lot of hills) and I average about 15.8

  18. John says:

    I average around 22.5-23 mpg in my 07 single cab 4.7l tundra. On my way back from Houston to Waco on hw6 last week I averaged 27.5 mpg. The only things that I have changed is a k&n drop in replacement filter, a truck covers USA roll up bed cover and an extra 48 gallons of gas in the back (completely full for that trip). I run 93 octane from Walmart with the lucas oil fuel additive. The thing that has changed my mpg’s has been my driving style. I pay attention to my scangaugeII and keep as steady of a fuel flow rate as possible and keep the ignition timing as advanced as possible. Another Thing that helps is driving like you have no breaks.

  19. John says:

    Also when I first got the truck in 09 before I was paying much attention to it I was getting around 18-19 average.

  20. Aaron says:

    I have a Toyota tundra double cab trd sport v8 5.7 L. k n filter. No uni chip I average 17.8 mpg when towing a 7850 lb 29 ft r v I average 8.9 mpg is all this normal and will a uni chip increase my mpg in both aspects.

  21. Mark says:

    I have a 2008 tundra crewmax with 95,000 miles and have had it since new. I just figured out that because I pull a trailer 3 times a week the computer will adjust to the mileage of the trailer and even if Im not pulling the trailer that’s what I get for mileage. If I disconnect the battery my distance to empty will go on a full tank from 302 miles to 448 miles to empty. Resetting the average gas Milage or trip wont change it. I get good mileage and the DTE is the same as the trip mileage untill I pull my trailer for several weeks then the mileage will be the same even if I don’t pull the trailer. It will say I’m getting 16.5 not the 12. With trailer but it’s getting the 12.! For those of you tundra owners that pull stuff look at your DTE and just disconnect the battery and see the difference on the DTE and the use trip to compare and see you will get close to that DTE. Noww pull trailers and see that your mileage will go down on the DTE and you can’t get good gas mileage even when you don’t pull stuff. Compare DTE and the trip mileage don’t look at average MPG it’s a lie!!!

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