I saw an advertisement on eBay from a company called Italian Speed, Italian Speed were touting what they called a chiptuning power box accessory for modern, common rail diesel engines like the one in my car, and claimed it could save me money.
I was instantly interested because saving money is very highly placed on my list of important things to do. This device for saving me money consisted of a small black box and a wiring harness, that when fitted to my car would save me a small fortune by reducing the amount of fuel my car would use getting me from A to B. Further research has shown how this is achieved, and why it really is a bad idea.
My car has one of those inboard flight computer things that works out how many miles to the gallon I’m doing, how many more miles worth of fuel remain in the tank, the average speed I drive at, etc. etc. So I already knew that my mpg was 51.3 and my average speed was 26.9 mph.
The vendor’s advert claimed that this wonderful, Italian Speed chiptuning power box would increase my power and torque up to +40%, and not only would it do that, it would also reduce my fuel consumption up to 21%. What they don’t say is that this can damage your engine by increasing the common rail fuel pressure beyond the design pressure, increase the temperature of the exhaust gases or just generally mess with the settings that your engine manufacturer spent a great deal of R&D money getting just right.
Considering the scandalously high price of fuel, and working on the assumption that fuel, which has increased in price by around 2000% since I first started buying it, was only going to get more expensive as time went on, I decided that this Italian Speed chiptuning power box was a must have and so I promptly shelled out the £70 and bought one.
The reasoning behind my decision to spend invest waste £70 went something like this :-
- I drive about 4,000 miles a year
- I get about 50 mpg
- Fuel is about £6 a gallon
Now I don’t really care how much extra power and torque I get as a result of fitting this chiptuning power box to my car, and assuming that Italian Speed’s claim of up to 21% fuel consumption reduction is grossly exaggerated. I took a figure of 5% as probably being nearer to the mark. Standard, back-of-a-fag-packet maths, says that using these figures, the Italian Speed chiptuning power box should pay for itself in 3 years at current fuel prices, after which, the savings are all mine.
The Italian Speed chiptuning power box, wiring harness and fitting instructions arrived in a large padded envelope. Installation was simple, unplug a plug & socket, plug the two soggy ends of the wiring harness into the plug & socket previously unplugged, attach the Italian Speed chiptuning power box to some unmoving, immovable object in the engine compartment and Roberto è tuo zio as the saying goes. Dead easy.
After a couple of months, it became apparent that even 5% was way in excess of reality, I figured maybe 2% would be closer to the actual reduction in fuel consumption that I achieved. And that was probably caused by me driving more economically than usual so as not to spoil the before and after comparison. The inboard flight computer said 53.4 mpg but that dropped to 52.3 mpg if I had to stop at traffic lights for more than a few seconds. I’ve no idea about the power and torque, but it didn’t feel any different while driving. A very small improvement in fuel efficiency is as generous a statement as I’m willing to make. The upshot being that the 3 year payback period was now closer to 7 but a gain is still a gain after all.
What I didn’t factor in to my calculations was the possibility that this Italian Speed chiptuning power box could possibly go wrong. Which is exactly what happened next.
One day approximately ten months after fitting the Italian Speed chiptuning power box, I climbed into my car, strapped myself in, started the engine and drove a whole car length before the engine suddenly died. I pressed the starter button repeatedly and although it turned over, the engine would not start running. I had a full tank of fuel, and as there were no horrible noises, bangs or crashes when the engine stopped, I was pretty much out of ideas as to why this had happened. The inboard flight computer wasn’t registering any faults and there were no funny smells or black smoke coming out of the engine compartment, but as the car was still under warranty, I wasn’t really worried about it.
The first thing to do before calling the dealer would be to remove the Italian Speed chiptuning power box, as it wasn’t part of the vehicle as supplied. This took all of two minutes, two plug & sockets to pull apart and one pair to plug back together. The opposite procedure to installing it ten months previously.
With the car restored to the state it was bought in, I thought it only wise to check that it was still in a non-working state before I called the dealer. I climbed in, pressed the starter button and it started up and ran sweet as a nut. I was quite happy that it started, it meant I didn’t need to call out the dealer, all I needed was to check the plugs & sockets of the Italian Speed wiring harness for the dodgy connection that was causing the problem. The problem was there wasn’t a dodgy connection. Both the plug and the socket on the harness were spotless, the workmanship was first rate and I couldn’t find a fault with it.
I refitted the harness and the Italian Speed chiptuning power box, paying particular attention to the plugs & sockets, but on trying to start the engine met with failure once again. I could only assume that some component had failed inside the black box, but there is no way to see anything inside the box, because it’s full of black potting compound; Which I guess is to prevent people seeing the paltry collection of components they just paid £70 for. (People won’t buy a chiptuning power box for £10, they rightly consider them, ’cheap junk’, but if you charge enough money, people then assume it must be better because it costs more.) The potting compound also meant that there was no way to repair any fault within the box, because potting compound is permanent, you can’t just pickle it out, repair the circuit and then repot it. Same goes for the manufacturer, he can’t repair it either for the same reason.
I contacted Italian Speed on eBay and told them what had happened. They told me to email my proof of purchase to the factory in Italy. The factory then asked me to send the faulty item to Italy. After finding out that sending this piece of scrap plastic to Italy was going to cost £15, I contacted the factory again and pointed out the fact that it was junk, and that the whole point in buying it in the first place was to save money, not to add to the obscene profits of Royal Mail, but they were not budging in their insistence that I spend £15 sending ½lb of unrecyclable garbage to Italy.
I contacted eBay but they were not interested in a transaction that had taken place ten months previously. I tried Trading Standards, who apparently don’t police foreign traders. I tried the UK European Consumer Centre, who were quite helpful but appeared to be extremely busy because it takes them ten days to a fortnight to answer an email. Due to my minuscule attention span, I soon got bored with this, and in the end I decided to cut my losses, because throwing another £15 at the thing didn’t seem very cost effective when it could fail again at any time and I’d probably die of old age before I could recoup my investment. Also finding great deals for Diesel Tuning Chips for Common Rail Diesel engines on eBay, only parts the fool from his money. This fool wishes he had spent a bit more time researching the how and why of chiptuning power boxes and then not bought the damn thing in the first place.
TL;DR - Conclusion.
So there you have it, a warning to those of you who still believe all they read on the Internet, the manufacturers exaggerate beyond the point of lying and the very institutions that are supposed to prevent consumers like me getting fleeced don’t operate beyond the Port of Dover. Despite the plethora of Consumer Rights legislation and the Sale of Goods Act, the old adage of Caveat emptor stands the test of time and is as relevant today as it always was. Especially when dealing with foreign traders.
I would advise anyone considering the purchase of an Italian Speed chiptuning power box to forget the whole idea, it’s about as effective as a go-faster stripe. You are only going to be fleeced and your money would be better spent on a couple of extra tanks of fuel. As a bonus, the extra tanks of fuel won’t cease to function after a few months and therefore you won’t be asked to ship them to Italy at great expense. If you really need better fuel consumption, buy a smaller car or drive more economically; Both methods will be vastly superior to anything Italy has to offer. Except for maybe Pizza, Pasta, Prosciutto or Politicians, although we all have more than our fair share of the latter.