The powertrain control module, also known as PCM, is one of the most important elements in your vehicle. It oversees and analyzes data provided by other systems like the engine and transmission.
This data helps it optimize numerous processes. Keeping the PCM updated is vital to the proper functioning of your vehicle, so you should be aware of the potential costs.
A Ford PCM update will usually be free of charge if it is covered by an in-date warranty. If the PCM is a replacement or if it is not covered by a warranty, then getting it updated will cost between $80 and $150 for labor.
If you think your PCM requires an update, read on to find out more about the potential costs of this service.
The Cost of Ford PCM Updates
The PCM is a software-based system. Car manufacturers provide regular updates to this software.
You may receive a notice from your dealership that it’s time to install an update, but you may start noticing problems with it before that time.
The cost for the update will depend on several factors, but as it involves no parts, you’ll usually just have to pay for labor costs, if anything.
The DIY route may be pricier as a one-off investment because you will need the correct tools to perform this task.
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If you have a Ford model, you won’t have to face massively high costs for updating or even replacing your PCM. Luxury cars will, as usual, require higher costs, especially if your warranty has run out.
What Is a PCM Update?
The powertrain control module is one of the most essential systems on any vehicle, including Ford models. It is the main computer on your vehicle, receiving data from the engine control module and the transmission control module.
The PCM uses the data it receives to regulate and manage the proper functioning of the vehicle. To ensure that it maintains peak performance, the PCM gets regular updates, much like computers get software upgrades.
Updating the PCM may be referred to in many terms, from reflashing to reprogramming, to programming. Whether you do it yourself or take it to the dealership, special tools will be required for this process.
What Does the PCM Do?
The PCM serves various roles and performs numerous tasks across various systems. Here are the elements that are most impacted by PCM:
- Speed: The PCM will regulate your idle speed. This will ensure that other features that depend on the RPM remaining at a specific threshold will be able to function. Air conditioning, for example, requires the PCM management of speed.
- Engine cylinders: The PCM will perform fuel-saving tasks such as keeping the air-to-gas ratio balanced. This is especially necessary when the engine is cold.
- Ignition: The PCM can manage the speed of the spark plug sequence, which will optimize the power level used by the engine.
- Performance: The PCM analyzes various data that can make the car’s performance more efficient. This includes oil levels, emission levels, throttle position, and air intake, among others. If the PCM encounters any issues in handling this data, it will send error codes to the dashboard.
How Does a PCM Update Work?
When a PCM update is required, special tools will be needed to install it. This will include needing software that is specific to your car model and that should be downloaded before proceeding.
A scanning tool and a pass thru device will also be required. During the entire updating process, the battery level needs to remain the same. An external power supply will be necessary.
Once the power is stable, the pass thru device will be used to connect the software downloaded on the computer to the PCM. You may have to install additional drivers or access specific servers.
The software update on the computer will then guide the process. The procedure must not be interrupted until it finishes installing, and extra draw on the power must be avoided.
Once the scan tool prompts that it has finished the procedure, it should be turned off and disconnected.
The car’s ignition should then be restarted. If there are no issues and no warning lights appear on the dashboard, the update has been successful.
Signs that the PCM Needs an Update
You may be wondering how you’ll be able to tell when the PCM requires an update. Here are some signs that would indicate this procedure is necessary:
- Dash lights: If warning lights keep flashing for no other apparent reason, they could be triggered by issues with the PCM. If this problem persists, get your car checked as soon as possible to discover the cause.
- Decreased performance: If the car suddenly starts performing worse than normal, it could indicate a problem with the PCM not being able to manage the systems. This could cause issues with how the temperature and the engine are regulated, so a check-up will be required.
- Engine issues: If your engine has constant problems with misfiring, it should be taken to a specialist as soon as possible. This can have many causes, but it could also have to do with the PCM not communicating well with the ignition or spark plugs.
- Shifting issues: If you notice any problems with your shifting either not responding properly or doing it excessively, the fault may lie with the PCM not managing data provided by the transmission module.
- Emissions: If your PCM is having issues, it may not regulate fuel properly, which will cause your vehicle to overuse it. This will result in wasting fuel and also creating more emissions, both of which should be avoided. If you notice that your emission levels have increased, take your car to a specialist.
Can You Update the PCM Yourself?
If you don’t have any experience with it, a PCM installation can be highly complex. If any variable goes wrong during the process, it may require a PCM replacement, which will be more expensive than an update done by a professional.
There are numerous steps to the updating process, and they require having the correct tools and the correct software. Your connection will also have to be stable and constant.
Purchasing the right tools may require a significant investment, but if you are confident enough to perform this process whenever needed, it will save money in the long run.
It is recommended that you always seek the assistance of specialists whenever a PCM update is needed. Even local mechanics may be unable to help with this intricate process, so you should always take the car to the dealership when possible.
Problems you may encounter if attempting this process yourself include: inability to connect to the scan tool, the internet connection crashing during the procedure, cables falling apart, and the software crashing during the installation.
The dealership will have the correct tools for your vehicle and will be able to do the update in the quickest time.
How Long Does It Take to Update the PCM?
Taking the car to the dealership will get you the quickest update process. Updating the PCM will normally take an hour at most, barring any complications with the procedure.
If you attempt to do the update yourself, you may take longer, but if you follow all the necessary steps you shouldn’t have to spend more than two hours on it.
Can PCM Issues Damage Your Car?
This depends on the severity of the problems that the PCM is causing. If only the engine light occasionally turns on with no other symptoms, you should be able to drive the vehicle without issues. Get your car checked when you notice the engine light staying on for extended periods.
Untreated PCM problems will result in evolving issues that can affect your vehicle. PCM failure will directly affect the engine and the transmission, which can result in extensive damage to the vehicle and even unsafe driving conditions.
If an update doesn’t solve the problems you are experiencing with the PCM, you may have to consider investing in a replacement.
What Are the Causes Behind PCM Issues?
If you’re having problems with the PCM on your Ford, there may be different causes. Not updating the PCM software in a long will result in performance issues, at least.
Wear and tear associated with the age of the vehicle and the amount of use could also be a factor.
Voltage overload can also affect the PCM, as can other electrical malfunctions. Temperature extremes and corrosion or increased vibrations are potential culprits.
Bear in mind that it functions like software, and anything that affects programming can cause it to experience problems.
If you need a PCM update on your Ford, you’ll usually spend between $80 and $150 for dealership labor costs. If you have a warranty that includes this feature, you’ll be able to get the update for free. DIY updates may require a pricy one-off investment between $1000 and $5000.