Myth-Or truth Perhaps? Can we ever know? Software updates

Maynard from Elmira Technician Posted   Latest  

So for me I am heavily on the side of "vehicle updates generally are a good thing to do" regardless if there is currently driveability issues or not. For us it mostly happens when the vehicle is already in for MIL or emission test failure or some reason that we are repairing something electrical or a driveability complaint. In my experience coming up through the last 10 years there was a fairly heavy pushback by technicians, shop owners, and vehicle owners..... the general thwart was, "what if something screws up during updates, who then pays?" or "if the manufactures didn't get it right the first time why should I pay to get better software now, shouldn't I get it for free? or "if it gets updated the client might feel a difference in performance and not like it, and we cant go back once its done" or "what if I do the update and it still didn't have any effect on my problem"?

I feel over the years this feeling that software updates is for the birds or a money grab or a big evil lurking below the surface that might just squeeze the life out of us if we catch it on a bad day has lightened somewhat. But it felt rather disheartening and hopeless for quite a while as the growing pains were experienced and gradually learned. I know there is still risks, and heck we run into terrible binds sometimes both now and likely will into the future, during one of these failed update attempts. However, so far I have been unwilling to be on the side that tries to avoid updating at all costs, try to find a way around it if at all possible etc.

Over time, working with people and vehicles and having all parties involved feeling and observing what updates (at least sometimes) provide, it seems to me there is a little more acceptance of getting software up to date as one of the first things, or possibly right along with the first part replacement, (whether there is any potential of it making any noticeable difference to the driver or not) Part of the advice to consumer can be "it may spare you some diagnostic charges and possibly even parts replacement in the future" and, "doing a software update as a primary thing before any more diagnostic time is spent may actually be the cheapest repair you can have

So what are your thoughts?

+1

Martin from Burnaby

   

Instructor
   

It "Depends®", as one of our associates aptly "coined" the phrase. As a long time GM dealership technician, reprogramming in the early days of fuel injection, post-carburetor times and into post PROM replacements, performing software updates could be risky. If a vehicle performed fine as delivered new, a software update was typically not a fix for a system that was broken, that had once operated normally. Programming became a "scapegoat" for a lack of system diagnostic skills, since the vehicle could usually be returned to the customer, pending a software becoming available several months later.

In the early days there were many geographical and climate based concerns right at the time of delivery, that only seemed to affect vehicles operated in certain regions. Conditions experienced out here on the west coast, might be quite unique and never experienced back east. So, in such situation a software update designed to address a specific condition or set of conditions, usually was beneficial. In the days where PROMs were replaceable, it wasn't an issue, but once programming instead of replacement became the norm, the stakes got higher.

I hail from the days when we began with communication directly with GM via the old CAMS machine and subsequently, off-board, remote and pass-through programming days through current MDI2 times. In a college program setting, re-programming is rarely a necessary or practiced procedure, but is a process that has some initiation and training at the dealership and online.

Fast forward some years and to be quite honest, re-programming just because there was an update available, was not something that was performed every day in dealerships. The old adage, "Don't fix it if it ain't broke" still comes to mind. In other words, why risk inducing a possible negative condition that is irreversible? There were times when addressing one concern through programming, could result in undesirable effects in other areas of functionality for which there was no currently available fix.

Software updates often took significant time to be approved through EPA testing and validation, since anything that affected vehicles emissions had to go through certification processes. Early on, we had options such as off-board programming which meant borrowing equipment, Tech 2 remote and all that became Tech 2 pass through and so on until the present day methods of connectivity.

None were or are guaranteed methods due to various influences such as equipment concerns and vehicle issues, so there can always be some risks involved, although as reported by the mobile experts who provide this service, GM products appear to be some of the easier to re-program. Technician error and lengthy re-programming or set up issues are also considerations that can "throw a wrench into the works."

So, to re-program or not? In the dealership environment installing updates may be a required or directed step, when diagnosing and repairing a vehicle. Ensuring that the scan tool is updated to the latest software version is a necessary step. So, just re-programming without having "all of your ducks in a row" can be risky. Another concern may be that while one tool may be used to re-program an older vehicle, another might be required to customize or set up or customize module preferences post-programming.

Now, one area in particular where re-programming may be a necessary pre-diagnostic step is when addressing "infotainment" systems. Some of those updates are extensive and time-consuming, but necessary. Moving forward with current technology "OTA" (Over The Air) programming provides avenues to address updates that would otherwise be addressed at a dealership. The vehicle operator of a "connected" vehicle receives a message that an update is available and then downloads the update at any time. This serves a specific type of re-programming event. The update is installed when initiated by the operator, requiring a short down time of inhibited vehicle use, much like a home PC used to be. Whether this has yet or will prove to be a reliable or problematic method, is yet to be fully understood from my perspective. As with any programming event, whether it is successful or not, will be posted on the vehicle display, just as it would on a PC. Re-initiation may be required, but I have no experience or information as to what is currently being experienced through OTA events.

It is possible that OTA programming may reduce visits to dealerships, unless glitches result in failed events that require physical diagnosis and programming.

As for technicians performing programming, having equipment that is reliable, suitable to the programming event and type of connection to the vehicle can all be critical to a successful outcome. Vehicle manufacturers all have their preferred tools and approved methods right from following IT guidelines for PC equipment minimum standards, including whether programming is completed through USB, CAT, Ethernet, wirelessly or alternative connectivity.

For those who are equipped with proper tooling to service given manufacturers' products, re-programming events or programming and setup of new modules may be a comfortable and routine process. However, for those just "testing the waters", I strongly recommend doing plenty of research and beginning with one manufacturers' products and programming equipment from a major player such as the OEM supplier product, or Drew Technologies offerings which have a strong reputation for support.

Entities familiar with service programming events, do not take it lightly and also do not tend to panic when things do go awry, such as a stalled or failed programming event. However, most experienced a learning curve along the way that may have included some costs. Programming events should be conducted through accurate research, using suitable equipment, a stable network and ripple-free vehicle battery voltage. Without all of the ingredients, paying a service fee for a reputable mobile diagnostic and programming expert is a small price to pay. Unless following some specific steps from SPS selection through installation and finalization, we venture into the possibility of experiencing failures.

For those considering entering the field of programming at their place of business, I recommend doing in-depth research to examine viability and also determine whether the shop employees are suitable candidates to be trained to perform programming events reliably and not quick to blame the equipment for their errors.

So, entering into programming without doing your homework properly, shops must be prepared to understand that there may be some risks involved. For technicians in some dealerships, programming is often routinely performed by all technicians at all skill levels, including those relative novices who grace my program. In some dealerships only certain technicians perform programming events.

Whether entering into the field of re-programming is a decision to serve simply as a profit generator, or a valid service and repair option, really depends on many of the variables above. The mobile diagnostics guys may have many experiences to share, but I suspect that openly providing all of the answers so that others can tap into what has become a lucrative business for them, may not be forthcoming.

+4 Ð Bounty Awarded

Robby from New Market

 

Mobile Technician
 

I'll also repeat what Martin quoted - It "Depends®". 

I worked for a Ford dealership for a number years. Their stance was not reflash unless directed by a service publication (SI, TSB, recall, etc). That is still ingrained in my head although now I do mobile programming on multiple makes. So, I have to be careful to not let one OE's position be the standard for all of the others. There have been some isolated cases were a reflash seemed to fix a customer's concern when there was no direction to do so. That may the "scapegoat" Martin mentions though. 

If a shop calls and wants a software update, I'm happy to come do it. However, it's not something that I up-sell.

On the issue of "what if something screws up during updates, who then pays?" - that's another It "Depends®". I'll typically hold the responsibility if the programming fails. As the programming technician, it's my responsibility to follow any SI procedures and any prompts in the scan tool. In my experience, if you follow the instructions and use the right tools, an unrecoverable programming failure is pretty rare. Programming used modules to the vehicle is another story. There is no way you guarantee that.

+3 Ð Bounty Awarded

Martin from Burnaby

   

Instructor
   

I agree Robby. While I performed programming events in my many years as a GM dealership technician, we followed similar manufacturer guidelines.

The published description in a bulletin or at the programming download list, usually identified the primary concerns that an update was designed to address.

However, the listing sometimes omitted to describe other conditions that would also be addressed with the update. So, sometimes it was beneficial to perform an update, hoping or knowing from having performed the same update on another vehicle, that an unlisted concern might be addressed.

+1 Ð Bounty Awarded

James from Plant City

   

Technician
   

As a dealership tech, I only do updates if a service bulletin supports them as a possible solution to a customer's concern. I think quite a few aftermarket shops routinely check all modules for possible updates as means of added profit on a job with questionable results. 

0 Ð Bounty Awarded

Martin from Burnaby

 

Instructor
 

Exactly James. Routinely re-programming modules just because there is an available update that might address a condition that a vehicle doesn't exhibit, is unwarranted. Updates really do need to be justified, not serve as a "cash cow".

Performing updates on vehicles that do not exhibit any symptoms, or align with published concerns that an update is specifically engineered to address, is akin to "wallet flushing" services, that have become a serious trend.

+1 Ð Bounty Awarded

Bob from Ann Arbor

 

Business Development Manager
 

Just an FYI, see this post since we broached that topic already: diag​.​net/msg/m4jaglwgtn…

Most important takeaway is checking software versions to see if there is an update and what that update addresses. Most technicians rely solely on TSBs for calibration information. TSBs on many OEMs (like GM and Honda) often do not disclose that information. Information is power when it comes to a diagnostic battle plan.

0 Ð Bounty Awarded

Maynard from Elmira

 

Technician
 

Thanks Bob, yes that's great dialogue. I might be a little out on my own limb here, but for me trying to see what exactly the reflash addresses.... is not so important as just doing it if it has one. I likely didn't explain that very well in my first post. So my intention with the first post was to see if anyone other than me is on board with doing the reflash when there is one available regardless of what it may or may not be targeting. Because.... if we see there is an update available, but then need to somehow justify performing the update by some symptom or another that is mentioned in the documentation of the update...... is it not possible that symptom may show up down the road, and by doing the update now we saved the issue from ever being noticed by the client? Or, if we have some symptom, and it is just a little quirk, and we notice there is an update available, but this exact quirk is not mentioned in the documentation, and we avoid doing the update because "it might not fix the problem" I believe there is 0 percent chance of the update fixing the problem if we don't do it, and altho there may only be a marginal fraction of a percent chance that by doing it the problem will disappear... well at least the software is now at the latest level it can be, and whatever that later version was targeting it may save a nuance from showing up in a vehicle.

And there lies my question of the myth. "Software updates should be avoided unless specifically directed to perform by technical information" I am asking if that statement may be the myth. As demonstrated above there is pros and cons to doing them for sure, but generally holding back on them rather than forging ahead and doing them, is that the best? Likely depends eh? lol!

0 Ð Bounty Awarded

Bob from Ann Arbor

 

Business Development Manager
 

I’m kind of crazy on this topic, but yes, “depends“ is a good answer.

GM, Ford and FCA I always update if available. I’ve fixed hundreds of vehicles that other techs threw parts at, especially transmission/torque converter/shifting issues. Also, if an ECU is being replaced the latest is what it will get by default. Toyota, Honda & Nissan are situational, especially Toyota, which is TSB directed only.

this is my opinion, and not the official position of any past, current or future employers 🙂

+3 Ð Bounty Awarded