Why You Can’t Ignore Reflash Repairs
October 23, 2014
Reflashing has been around for more than 20 years. In the past, updates were rare and typically addressed drivability and emissions issues. Recently, I’ve noticed that reflashing is being used to solve more problems that, previously, only parts used to solve.
I was looking for technical service bulletins (TSBs) to include in the Tech Tips section of our magazine, when I stumbled across a bulletin for Honda vehicles with cylinder deactivation. The TSB was about oil consumption and misfires. Typically, this type of TSB outlines a fix that rebuilds the entire engine, but this time the fix was to replace the spark plugs and reflash the ECM with updated calibrations for the valve timing.
The source of the problem: The dead combustion stroke of the deactivated cylinder was pulling a vacuum that could cause oil from the crankcase to be sucked into the piston rings. When the cylinder was activated, the oil would burn. The carbon deposits would then cause the rings to stick, allowing even more oil to be ingested by the cylinder. The reflash adjusted valve timing so the vacuum of the dead combustion stroke was not as powerful.
This TSB shows that reflashing is necessary to fully resolve the oil consumption problem. It also drives home the point of how much electronics can control the performance of a system that was once only managed by hydraulic and mechanical methods.
Another TSB reflash trend involves altering parameters to address wear problems and real-world conditions that no engineer could anticipate. Typically, this genre of TSB addresses vehicles that have gone past the 36,000- to 50,000-mile mark and are experiencing problems like oil consumption, higher emissions and chronic MIL light problems. Most of these vehicles fall into the range of three to five years old.
If a technician is not aware of the new reflash software, the replacement of an oxygen sensor, EGR valve or catalytic converter could be the wrong repair solution. Chances are the problem can be resolved by replacing the part and clearing the code, but the problem will be back and maybe sooner rather than later. Anyone that has tried to resolve an EGR valve problem on a GM 3.1 or 3.4 engine can attest to this.
Defect or Improvement?
I hate having the reflash discussion with some drivers. When they hear how new software can resolve an issue with their vehicle, they start to think there is a defect with their car and there should be a recall. This is not true. Could you imagine Microsoft or Apple calling an update a recall?
Some of these are the same people who have no problem updating their computer, phone or other electronic device. They look forward to increased battery life, fewer crashes and other benefits.
A modern vehicle is no different. Like computers and gadgets, no vehicle manufacturer can fully test for what happens in the real world. Many reflash TSB campaigns address problems the automaker is seeing in dealer service departments. Some reflash programs may even target specific driving styles and commutes. These new reflash programs are an improvement and can make a driver’s and a technician’s life easier.
If you read the warranty sections of most reflash TSBs, the service is covered under the bumper-to-bumper warranty. This warranty runs out after 24,000-36,000 miles. Some TSBs tell dealers to warranty, campaign or goodwill the reflash if the customer is outside the warranty, but these are the exception and not the rule. The warranty time for a reflash is typically 0.3 to 1.0 hours of labor (book time should be more). The writing is on the wall: Reflashing is a necessary service for repairing your customers’ vehicles, and its importance is only going to increase. OEMs are issuing more TSBs that require reflashing every day. Turning away a job or not telling the customer about an updated reflash program because you can’t reflash is going to hurt your business in both the short and long term.[dn_related_product title=”The Diagnostic Approach” description=”Successfully diagnosing a drivability issue can be as easy as understanding scan tool data, what modules relate to each other and why it’s important to retrieve codes on all modules. This course is taught by instructor and master data analyst Ron Bilyeu who will take you through a comprehensive approach to diagnosing drivability using computer data. Identify if the issue is breathing, fuel or ignition and how to diagnose using scan data for those systems. The information in this course can be applied to domestic and import applications.” link=”http://www.auto-video.com/diagnostic-approach-p-401.html” image=”http://www.auto-video.com/images/283-The-Diagnostic-Approac%20230×153.JPG”]