What Is Programming?

Believe it or not, programming has been done now for decades. When on board diagnostics (OBD) became the standard, it brought along a lot of processes that had not previously been needed. Even though many collision repairers have been around this technology for a long time, many still don’t understand what programming is or what it is doing. Often times, programming can only be done with a high-level aftermarket scan tool or by a dealer with a factory scan tool. For the most part, when a module was replaced, a technician’s involvement was to send the vehicle to the dealer with a SRS light on, and it came back without the light on. However, there are more components than ever on vehicles that require programming. For example, you may not be able to change a tail lamp without having to program it. What does it mean to program something?

The definition of programming is to provide a computer, or other machine, with coded instructions for the automatic performance of a particular task. Which is exactly what we are doing when we program something. To try and better understand, an unprogrammed computer module on a vehicle is like a gas tank with no gas. All of the parts are there for the car to operate, but without gas, it will never function because it has no gas to send out. When you program a module, it is like putting gas in the gas tank. Essentially you are giving the module information to send out so that it can communicate to other modules of the vehicle and allow it to function.

Most times, programming is taking a new module and downloading the data needed from the OEM's scan tool. However, sometimes you may be required to download the data from the old module before it is disconnected. Then the data is transferred to the new module. This is a good example of where checking repair procedures will help you. If you just disconnect the old module and throw it away, you may have a delay when it comes time to deliver the vehicle.

Things like programming, clearing codes, and transferring memory are not included in the RTS OEM Calibration Requirements Search. It should be noted that many electronic components require some type of programming when replaced. If you don’t see anything listed for calibration, it doesn’t mean you can just plug it in and deliver the vehicle. Additional repair information research may be required.

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