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What to do when there's no As Built vehicle data published

Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 09:00
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Most of us have seen that vehicle that arrives at the shop with an indicator illuminated on the instrument cluster, but covered and hidden by some picture, postcard or a sticky note. In some rare cases, the customer is actually at the shop because that light is on and they are interested in getting the problem resolved (snicker)! The others, when questioned, will admit “that light’s been on for some time” and they're really not concerned about it.  Some may be curious and want to know what’s causing it — but have priorities reserved for their original complaint. Can you imagine though, an employer requiring the vehicle problem to be addressed or else the vehicle cannot be driven?

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2007 Ford F-150 - VIN: 1FTRF12257KC35437
Complaint: “ABS light illuminated on the Instrument Cluster”

Such was the case with a U.S. Forest Service truck — a 2007 Ford F-150. The anti-lock brake system (ABS) light was illuminated and therefore — according to state law — the vehicle had to get repaired before it could be driven again. There's a liability issue to consider. Should a crash have occurred and the driver knew beforehand that the anti-lock brake system may not operate as designed, the state could have been brought into litigation for negligence (or something else). So it’s a set policy for their vehicles to be repaired, for the safety-related systems to be operating correctly and (in this case) for the ABS light to be extinguished before the truck is returned to service.

When illuminated it is one reason this vehicle may NOT be driven

The vehicle was a “plain Jane” Ford truck. So basic was this truck that it had roll-down windows! This is the type of truck you see government agencies purchase by the hundreds at a time that are all identical. Because they are bought with taxpayer dollars, they usually have little to no convenience items and are only equipped with standard options. This truck’s standard options included an anti-lock braking system, and it had a problem. The shop where it was towed analyzed the system and determined the ABS module needed to be replaced. The procedure for replacement of that module includes having to program it to that particular vehicle. I am the mobile technician they usually call for reprogramming services.

Simple job

When I was phoned ahead of time to estimate the cost to program that module, I had absolutely no idea what the job would actually entail until I completed the work on the vehicle. I quoted the shop’s costs based on the labor time guide just as I usually do, but in this case the labor time guide made assumptions that did not apply to this job. Those were reasonable assumptions, and I had to believe there wouldn’t be any problem finishing the task. I learned valuable lessons from what happened next! Do you ever work on government-owned vehicles? If so, have you ever tried to change your estimate after it was approved?

The location is directly below the air filter housing, just rearward of the left headlamp

In my training classes I instruct attendees to always look up the module replacement procedure before beginning the job. I'll admit I don't always practice what I preach. I will sometimes do module programming without reading any of the instructions published regarding the module replacement. My assumptions are based on experience — that it’s going to be done the same way on the 101st module as it had been done on the last 100 I programmed before. What I preach is intended to save someone else some trouble or time based on lessons I’ve learned. This job humbled me because I should have listened to my own instructions! Question: At what point during the job should we research the proper way to do it?

Once the used module arrived at the shop’s location, I received the call and scheduled a time to go there, install it and program it to the vehicle. When leaving my office, I remember jinxing myself by saying how simple this ought to be and estimated what time I would be returning that day. After all, I thought, I’ve done several of these using both new and used modules and all of them in the past were finished in short order! 

The procedure is typically straightforward. You begin by “inhaling” (that is, capturing the information) data from the old module, turning the key off, installing your replacement module and turn your key back on to program the data into that module. This procedure is called Programmable Module Installation (PMI). Whether you're using a j2534 device or the Ford IDs software, the procedure is the same.   

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