Background

Today’s vehicles contain a large number of computers that monitor and control all functions and components in the vehicle. These computers are called Electronic Control Units (ECU). There are ECUs for engine management (ECM), anti-lock brake system (ABS), gear box, immobilizer, central electronics and many more. Each ECU is programmed in the factory and contains software that is specially designed for the model it is fitted in. The software in the ECM handles data to be able to control injection, ignition, idle, exhausts and more. This is done by collecting data from sensors in the system, that is interpreted and calculated and finally output signals are used to control components and actuators. Other ECUs work similar. An ABS/ESP control unit collects data from accelerometers and wheel speed sensors to be able to brake each wheel individually and secure a safe ride.

Sometimes software is updated to improve fuel economy, exhausts or to fix separate faults in the original software. Updating the software in an ECU is often a proactive action to prevent faults from appearing. Updating the software in the ECU is also called flash reprogramming or software download.

For the OEM workshop the software download is relatively easy and straight forward because the mechanic has access to an adapted tool connected directly to the OEM’s server. For the independent workshop this has previously been impossible to perform and they have been forced to take the vehicle to an OEM workshop.

Euro 5 – Software download

According to the Euro 5 legislation, which was implemented in September 2009, the independent workshop has been given the possibility to perform what was earlier limited to the OEM workshop.

With a generic interface anyone who has got a login at the vehicle manufacturer can perform a software download and update ECUs with the same result as an OEM tool. This works differently for each vehicle manufacturer. It can be an all web based solutions or in other cases there is a PC-software which connects the vehicle to the OEM server. This software can either be downloaded or distributed via CD or DVD. Generally it is a fact that it is only online solutions available. The user/workshop cannot download ECU software to the computer and then later download it to the ECU.

Software download in Euro5 regulations is performed via a web portal or a PC application which is connected to the internet and a VCI (Vehicle Communication Interface), which is connected between the vehicle and the computer. The VCI must be built according to certain standards to be a Euro 5 Pass Thru VCI. There are standards both in ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). By converting the data that is collected from the internet the VCI makes it possible for the vehicle to communicate to the vehicle manufacturers web portals. There are a number of valid communication protocols according to the standards. The protocol used in the specific case is controlled by the car, the VCI and the web portal.

Fees for licenses, login and software are different depending on vehicle manufacturer. In some cases there are yearly licenses and in some cases you will pay a fee for a certain time of use. For example 1 hour, 1 day or 1 month when you have access to the information on the web portal. For some brands you pay for the specific function or software to be downloaded. The coverage of functionality and depth varies for the different vehicle manufacturers. In some cases there is only the legislated information and functionality available, and in other cases you will find information and functionalities for older vehicles and also with functions such as fault code reading, view real time data and adjustments.

To perform a software download it requires both computer skills and experience. The mechanic will handle a computer, the VCI and the application for software download. There is also a requirement for a high speed internet connection.

Non-compatible VCI

Due to the fact that the Euro 5 Pass Thru device (VCI) is determined by certain standards, all devices should be the same, but the reality looks a bit different. There are devices that are not fully compatible and therefore do not work with all vehicle brands. It is important that you make sure you have a compatible VCI. The vehicle manufacturer do not sell their own tool for software download, but they are forced to test and validate at least one independent VCI. These are normally listed on the web portals. This is not a limitation and also not validated VCI are working. The important is to use a VCI that is Euro 5 compatible. Autocom SOFTBRIDGE is built according to the standard and has extended functionality to be able to communicate also with vehicles not regulated by Euro 5.

Is the update required?

It is important to find out if the update is required before downloading new software to the ECU. Information is often to be found on the vehicle manufacturers web portals. In some cases you have to connect the vehicle and maybe pay the fee for a certain time period. This means that you might have to pay just to find out that there is no new update available.