Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. We're here with Mr Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive, and we're talking cars. How are you doing this morning, Bernie?
Bernie: Doing very well.
Mark: As we do this next version of our podcast, we're talking about a 2013 Land Rover LR2 that had a bizarre kind of a thing, a PCM reflash. What is a PCM reflash?
Bernie: A PCM reflash, well, I'll break the words down. A PCM is the powertrain, short for the powertrain control module, and that module you'll find that on any vehicle. The powertrain control module controls the engine and transmission. Once upon a time when computers were in their earlier generation, there would be an ECM which is an engine control module, and then they'd have a TCM, a transmission control module. They finally integrated it all into one because it kind of worked nicely as a package. The powertrain control module takes care of all that.
Plus, it gets inputs and signals from the body control module and processes it all to keep the engine and transmission running in an optimum way. A reflash is basically a reprogramming of the vehicle computer. These computers have a flashable memory, and they can be reprogrammed. At one time, again, we're going back over 20 years now, vehicle computers had the memory basically programmed in when you bought the computer, were just set for the vehicle.
The manufacturers, as computer technology got more complex in cars and the engine management systems got more complex, they realized they needed to be reprogrammed from time to time. It was a helpful thing. I'll just take General Motors, for example, they have one computer that fits in, say, I don't know, 2000 General Motors vehicle. They have one computer that'll fit in almost every model of vehicle. The difference is the way the programs reflash or the way it's flashed.
It'll be for a Cavalier with a four-cylinder engine it'll have a flash programming, for a Suburban with a V8 at a certain size it'll have a certain other kind of programming. That's a good way to keep the costs of the computers down, and you can program it. Now, reflashing is something that can be done after the fact where the manufacturer realized, "Hey, we need to make a change here so that you can reflash or reprogram." Short, simple explanation there.
Mark: Why did this vehicle need a PCM reflash?
Bernie: What happened with this vehicle, and we actually featured this vehicle in a podcast a month or two back where we replaced a camshaft actuator gear that was worn out. When the owner originally brought the vehicle to us, it had several trouble codes stored and the check engine light on. The one thing we addressed and fixed back then was the camshaft gear issue.
Since we did that, the owner had noticed the engine seemed to idle a bit rough. The check engine light kept coming back on, so we did a couple of other repairs to address that but still that rough idle persisted and the check engine light still kept coming on for a lean condition code and an EVAP code. Now, as I mentioned, we repaired a few parts and items but we were never able to get rid of the lean code and that rough idle was still present.
We weren't sure whether an engine mount was causing it. It was just a subtle shake, but, nonetheless, annoying for the owner. We figured at that point where we'd done every repair and verified everything we'd done that it was time to look and see if the vehicle could be reflashed, the computer program could be reflashed. That can be a likely cause of things like persistent check engine lights. When everything else is done and fixed to spec and it still won't perform properly, often a reflash is required. That's what we did.
Mark: Did it solve the concern?
Bernie: About a week and a half later we called the owner. He said it definitely runs a lot better. The check engine light did come on once, and he has a code reader. He switched it back off and it hasn't come back on since. I'd say we're pretty much, I mean we definitely solved most of the issues with it. There could be some other underlying problem, but he's definitely happier, much happier with the way it runs.
Mark: As technicians, how do you guys know when to reprogram the vehicle's computer?
Bernie: That's a good point. I just explained the circumstances of this vehicle, and that was a good example. Other vehicles sometimes a check engine light will be on, or there'll be a certain drivability symptom, and there'll be a technical service bulletin by the manufacturer suggesting reflash the vehicle computer. Those are ways we know. Otherwise, most vehicles built in the last 15 years will, or, well, last 10/15 years probably need to be reflashed if they have never been done.
The manufacturers are always looking at issues and creating new reflash files. Again, it's one of those things of if it ain't broke don't fix it. Is that the word?
Bernie: Sometimes if the vehicle's performing really well, it may not be necessary. With a computerized vehicle, you never know what performance, gas mileage that you might be missing, because the computer just takes care of things, so that it could actually be an improvement. I'd say most vehicles, that probably is the case.
Mark: When you guys are doing this, just to be clear about it from an electronics procedural viewpoint, you're downloading a file that you then upload into the computer to reprogram the EPROM in the actual vehicle computer, is that right?
Bernie: That is exactly we do. It basically just wipes out the original programming and puts the new one in. We download it from the manufacturer, directly from their website.
Mark: Is there a simple way for you to tell if the vehicle's PCM needs to be reflashed?
Bernie: Well, there's not really a simple way. You have to actually have the flash files, the program set up, and load into the vehicle computer. Then from there it'll actually tell you there's a reflash available for this vehicle. It's a bit of an upfront cost for the customer, because we have to commit ourselves to doing it once we buy the file. Then we access the vehicle computer, go through everything, and it'll tell us, "Yes, there's a reflash available."
Fortunately 95% of the time that's exactly what we find. Same with this Land Rover. It reads through the programming file and said, "There's an update for this vehicle," which we knew we were on the right track to at least creating some kind of performance improvement on the vehicle doing this. That's really the only way we can tell is basically just to get into the vehicle and do it.
Mark: Can you maybe just go step-by-step, once you've decided you're going to do that, what's the procedure to reflash the PCM?
Bernie: The procedure, we basically hook up our computer. For every manufacturer, we have to have their software system. For a lot of manufacturers we have that set in our computers already, and then we plug into the computer. We go onto their website. We buy the flash files, or the access to programming, and then from there we access the vehicle computer. Download the file, if I'm using the right word. Is it upload? No. Download the file to our computer and then perform the reflash procedure the way their software system works.
The neat thing about Land Rover, and I can actually get into sharing a few photos here. What I was going to say about Land Rover that's fantastic is their software system is actually a complete OEM system. Some manufacturers will only allow us to access the PCM or transmission control module, depending on what it has, to reprogram the vehicle. Land Rover's fantastic and Jaguar as well. This is that exact OEM software.
If you go to the Jaguar dealer, this is exactly the same equipment that they use. We have access to that. Probably better than 50% of manufacturers when you go in to do this procedure give, also, when we buy the software or the access, which we can subscribe to on a day basis or a couple of days, or months, or a year depending on what we want to spend and the cars we work on. This allows us to actually use OEM diagnostic software which is fantastic.
This is boring, but this is just basically a picture of after we reprogram the computer. Tells us software information and that the programming was done successfully. As I mentioned, this is OEM manufacturer software. The other thing we're able to do, can you see this okay, Mark?
Bernie: This allows us to run, again, manufacturer-specific tests. We have other really good scan tools in our shop that will do these kind of tests, but the nice thing about this is this is directly the manufacturer's made software. We know the test has run 100%. There was a code for an EVAP system fault that he'd had previously, and we did replace the EVAP canister. After that I reran the test, and you can see here, "Test passed. Tight system. Fault free."
From the manufacturer's test that there's no leaks in this EVAP system, which is a really good thing to verify.
Mark: Kind of touched on this earlier, but is there any times that it would not be a good idea to reflash even though it seems like you're saying that most cars could benefit from reflashing?
Bernie: The one area I'm a little bit cautious with is that once you reflash the computer, you can't go back to the old file. I can cite one circumstance that sticks in memory. I had a client who bought a brand new Ford F-350, 6.4 litre diesel. I think it was a 2008 or '09. Bought the truck. It was great. Had the great gas mileage you expect out of a diesel. Ford called him back in, "Hey, we need to reflash this computer." They reflashed the computer, did whatever they did, and the gas mileage dropped in half from 16 miles a gallon to 8. He was pretty pissed, as you can well imagine.
The reason, they had to do an emission reprogramming on the vehicle, which is why people remove the emission equipment off these vehicles because the gas mileage just drops in half. I don't know how you actually keep the air cleaner by burning twice as much fuel, but we can argue about that another time. Nonetheless, this is one circumstance where doing a reflash can have negative consequences and you can't go back. That's why we're a little cautious.
Normally, I mean in any reflash we've ever done in our shop it's always been positive.
Mark: Any last thoughts about this service?
Bernie: It's good. I don't think there's anything else. When I wrote the script, I'm thinking, "What else do I have to say?" I think we've covered it all. It's, again, just part of a good maintenance program on a vehicle to have the computer files checked every once in a while, maybe every couple of years. If you're not certain, it's a good idea to do it. You never know what the performance benefits will be. As I mentioned, once you do it there's no going back.
Bernie: Manufacturers normally don't do it unless there's a positive reason. I'd say for the most part if you come to our shop, ask us, we can talk to you more about it.
Mark: There you go. If you're looking for service for your Land Rover or you need a PCM reflash because of particular issues that you might be experiencing, the guys to see in Vancouver are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them 604-327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to call and book ahead. They're really busy. If you're in Vancouver, please call. If you're not in Vancouver, please call your local service advisor. They can't diagnose your problems over the phone. It's not in integrity to do that. We have to be able to see your vehicle.
As well, we have a vast library on YouTube. Check us out at Pawlik Auto Repair, and on the website, pawlikautomotive.com. Thank you so much for listening to the podcasts. Thanks Bernie.
Bernie: Thanks Mark, and thanks for watching. We really appreciate it.