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Do You Have the Right to Repair?

Lots has happened recentLy on the topic of BiLL 273 otherwise known as the “right to repair” and the aBiLity for an independent garage to aCcess information to fix modern vehicLes. some manufacturers are reLuctant in giving out their information or tooLing outside a deaLer. the fact remains that we have to understand what the right to repair is reaLLy aLL aBout.

Do You Have the Right to Repair?

When I hear that a shop cannot access a code using their aftermarket scanner on a vehicle, this usually has nothing to do with the right to repair but that the scanner manufacturer has not developed under licence the protocol to do the function. An example of this is my own Toyota Prius in which the electric steering assist was non functional. The service information I accessed through my Alldata information informed me that a P1551 code was an incomplete zero initiate and to perform the calibration. Grabbing my first aftermarket scan tool, I went to the electric steering control module function on the scanner.

After several minutes of looking for the option that follows the procedure I found that the tool didn’t offer this. So I called the scan tool help desk, and the response I got was that the “manufacturer has not released the information yet”.

Going to another aftermarket tool and several more, all allow me to do this procedure. So I called back the first scanner company help desk to let them know that it was available and the response I got this time was, “it’s a Prius; there is not much demand for electric steering system calibrations and they are not going to invest in it.”

Now, I thought, was it the first or second excuse that was the real reason why the scanner couldn’t do it? The spoken word that sticks in my mind is invest. Wow what a concept! It’s not new, but we do have to be reminded that it takes money to fix vehicles and we charge it back to our clients. Now remember, the more tools and training and access to information that cost, this has to be reflected as a charge-back to the customer.

Vehicle control unit reprogramming is here, now.

So, in layman terms, what is the “right to repair”? It can mean many different things depending on who you talk to. For shops, the biggest challenge with the right to repair involves flash/reprogramming. Having access to software to correct a program or update the software is a lot of what the “right to repair” is about. So my question that I ask many shops is, “when is the last time you flashed a vehicle?” Most will say we have never flashed a vehicle, and furthermore we don’t even have the equipment to flash or program an ECU. A few manufacturers have always allowed us to access information, tools and software to support their vehicles and one of these is GM. If the shop does not have the ability, equipment, or reflash software, is this a fault of the manufacturer?

Flash software is much like the operating system of a PC. The calibration files of an Engine Control Module (ECM) are updated from time to time to ensure ideal performance as the vehicle ages. These improvements, provided by the vehicle manufacturers, are often related to fuel economy, driveability and diagnostics.

Before the introduction of flash technology, technicians in most cases would be forced to replace the entire ECM or PROM (Programmable Read-Only Memory) with one that had an updated calibration. With the introduction of flash technology, the technician can simply update the ECM’s calibration electronically, without removing the ECM from the vehicle or its programmable memory (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory, or EEPROM).

Currently, every manufacturer has their own method, but generally it involves three components: Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) software and data, a personal computer and a passthrough device (either an OEM scan tool or an aftermarket interface such as the Blue Streak I-FLASH unit). The protocol that these pass-through devices use are sometimes referred to as the J-2534 standard.

The ability to reprogram different onboard computers inside an automobile with the latest service fix is an increasingly important part of service and repair. In many cases, a simple reprogramming update may fix the check engine light, hesitation, or drivability problems reported by customers.

To level the playing field, the government decided to step in and mandate a standard programming tool for use outside of the dealership, designated by the SAE as the J2534 standard. With a fully-compliant J2534 tool, an independent repair shop can utilize publicly available software from each OEM to reprogram the computers inside any newer vehicle.

Vehicle control unit reprogramming is here, now. Virtually every new vehicle on the market supports some level of reprogramming or re-initialization. Rapid expansion in electronics has led to a software explosion. Software engineers are faced with the demand to create reliable software in increasingly shorter periods of time, so programming mistakes are bound to happen.

Reprogramming in the field can correct the unforeseen problems created by these software errors. Are you ready to perform this service, or will you have to send these customers to another shop?

Much, much more in the print addition of Auto Atlantic.
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