Bits and pieces : The ECU

Back to the good old days, where grease, grime, oil and fuel worked as one. Maybe. During the, erm, good old days, cars had mechanical systems doing multiple jobs in them. Sure, there were exceptions like the spark plug, powered by electricity, but even those were operated by mechanical systems. Fast forward to today, and cars have developed tremendously over the years and have electronic systems controlling all sorts of components and functions. One of those electronic components in charge of the engine is the ECU, the Engine Control Unit.


ECUs started to gain traction in the market during the 1980’s, but the first ever attempt to create an automated device used to monitor and control engines was done by BMW in 1939. They called it the  “Kommandogerät” and used it on a radial engine for aircraft. The Kommandogerat didn’t work that well and had some flaws, but it was definitely a start. Fast forward to the 1980’s again, where hybrid automated systems with microprocessors became popular. They evolved into the modern ECU which we see in engine bays today, though obviously unseen behind the vast amount of material between it and our sight.

Today’s modern ECU is like many electronic items, except that it does an almost completed monitoring of engines and controls them as well. Variables like idling speed, air/fuel ratios, valve control and more are monitored and adjusted by ECUs. The heart of it all is a microprocessor-holding circuit board with a pre-installed mapping or custom mapping. Because of the power of modern electronics, these systems are able to cater to multiple functions simultaneously. Because of this, ECUs can respond to multiple changing variables and supply information to parts which control values and manage many more things than mechanical systems.

There are ECUs that are not built to be modified, but just to be installed and left to work. Then, there are ECUs that are purpose-built to be modded to the very limit. Those modules are rather expensive compared to non-modified ones, but offer a whole world of engine control to be messed around with. Car enthusiasts called tuners are an example of the modding ECU market, as they play around with figures and finish to create an outrageous result.

So that’s the ECU. A brain for engines. Pretty nifty, huh?

I will end this post here. I will write more about cars and parts. Stay tuned.

Happy Driving!


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