Scott ‘Gonzo’ Weaver: Me, a Flasher? – UnderhoodService

Scott ‘Gonzo’ Weaver: Me, a Flasher?

Ok, you got me ... I'm a Flasher ... or more to the point a Re-flasher. With today's cars and components, it's not uncommon to have to flash some driveability controller or theft system.

Ok, you got me … I’m a Flasher … or more to the point a Re-flasher. With today’s cars and components, it’s not uncommon to have to flash some driveability controller or theft system.

As an independent shop, most of the re-flashing you can do will be for driveability situations or theft systems. Right now, the federal laws (Clean Air Act) only requires the manufacturer to give access to the “emission” related systems which means, an aftermarket scanner may only be able to provide you with part of a download versus the entire download.

Those “extras” are left to the manufacturer/dealership shops. Some of those extras could be HVAC, 4WD, wiper systems — just about any system deemed not necessary for driveability. However, if a system is part of the PCM and it will affect driveability (ABS on most GMs for instance), then it is shown as part of the downloadable software.  However, if you can get a dealer-level scanner and dealer-level software, then it’s no problem.
But, for the most part, I’m not going to get into the reprogramming with a Tech 2, WDS or any other specific scanner. I’ll stick with the re-flashing that is available for the independent market that we will all have in our tool inventory sooner or later. 

The reason for re-flashing can be many. Sometimes it’s an update to the transmission for better shift quality or to install a new PCM. Each manufacturer has their own specific way of handling the procedure to obtain, process and download the needed software. There are a lot of useable aftermarket scanners that can aide in the process and some are better than others. The one thing they all have in common is “J2534,” which is the needed software/cable setup to perform re-flashing by an independent.
One of the first things you’ll need to start the re-flashing is a subscription to that particular manufacturer’s website. Costs vary and the length of subscriptions will also vary. 
After you purchase the needed subscription, there will be some information that you will need to obtain, either from the car or from the website, to start the process. Follow the information given on that particular manufacturer’s website.
Toyota requires you to not only gain access to their website, but also you will have to obtain a CD from them before you can do any re-flashing. So if you are planning on doing any re-flashing on a Toyota, you’ll need to have the CD ahead of time. 
I can’t stress enough that you need to follow every word and follow every command while doing the re-flash. If you run into a questionable area, check the home page of the website for an 800 number you can call and talk directly to someone. I’ve had to do that on many occasions and there is no doubt that talking with someone can speed up the process when you’re stuck. On most of the import cars, I’ve found that you will need to obtain the original controller ID from the module you are re-flashing before starting the re-flash. This can be obtained thru Mode 9 of your scanner.
These calibration numbers will indicate whether or not there is a re-flash even available or which is the latest calibration for that model. In some cases, the re-flash can take up to 30 minutes, so give yourself plenty of time to complete the process without any major interruptions. Be sure to have the vehicle’s battery fully charged or on a suitable charging unit for the duration of the re-flash.
It seems today’s PCM software and actual units are pretty tough little buggers. I still change out a lot of PCMs, but not near as many as I use to. Today, the recalibrations you’ll find are for transmission shift points, and cam-to-crank references to update engine idle programming. The real issue comes into play when you have to program a window motor, wiper system, HVAC, BCM and several other modules. These are the issues that will plague everyone when it comes to dealing with the newer models. 
Some of these re-flashes are going to come as a surprise to some technicians, mainly from the way the information is written in the diagnostic pages. You may not know about the reprogramming until about the last step in the process.
Most of the independent shops that I’ve talked with about re-flashing most feel it’s easier to send it to the dealer or know of a shop that can do the flashing for them rather than invest into the needed scanners or J2534 setup.
A few shops and I will trade off the reprogramming for different vehicles.  They may have a scanner to do a certain car and I have the scanner for some other type, so it all works out for the best.
I have spoken with a couple of techs at the dealerships and they said, quote: “Hate it!” Some of the manufacturers only pay around 1/10 of an hour for re-flashing. However, some of these re-flashes, even with a factory scanner, can take 15 to 30 minutes. That doesn’t even take into account the paperwork time involved with the job, so your working hours are quickly used up without much to show for it. Of course, it varies from dealer to dealer and I didn’t get the same answer everywhere I went. But I was still surprised to hear about it at all.
As of today, I can’t say that re-flashing is all that profitable from the stand point of the investment versus how much activity there is in the use of the equipment. It just doesn’t come around often enough to make the big investment for all the different makes and models out there. Personally, I think the PCM units are far superior to the first years of the computer-age cars. But, I’m very confident that it will be a profitable venue in the near future.
As the computer-driven car becomes older, the more likely computer driven components will wear out. This means more and more re-flashing will be needed. Instead of ending up back at the dealerships, these older vehicles will likely end up at independent shops. And, as these cars age, the more likely better and more complete information and scanning capabilities (after market scanners) will be released to the independent side of the industry.
There’s one common factor when it comes to software, obtainable scanners and electronic information, it not only changes rapidly, it probably has already changed by the time this article is in print. So don’t be surprised if the information and data has changed by the time you take your first attempt at reprogramming. Take it slow, read carefully and follow all the directions.
Remember, it only seems difficult when you first try it and then it starts getting easier each and every time after that. Go for it!  

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