Computer reflashing is a process that some shops do, some shops shy away from at all cost and some shops have outside-service specialist vendors who have vans come by to reflash as needed. The first step in computer reflashing is to determine whether the customer’s car and what system on it might need reflashing. To do this it is strongly recommended that for any vehicle coming into your shop you access the various recalls, technical bulletins and service recommendations that are found in the marketplace today through a wide variety of electronically-retrievable sources of information. Overall, these sources are extremely accurate and offer only service-related facts that are sometimes ignored by shops and customers.

If a reflash is either recommended or required because it was involved in a recall program, it is something that should not be ignored. Even if you don’t care what’s coming out of a vehicle emissions-wise or you don’t care about the overall performance of a vehicle and possible fuel economy because of some need for a reflash – but you really should. There are no laws that say a vehicle must be reflashed if the OE manufacturer has put out a recommendation that it be done, but from a professional-service standpoint you really shouldn’t tell a customer that it isn’t really needed. It’s just like the air in your tires. The vehicle can roll along as long as the steel wheel is not hitting the concrete, but the dynamic handling, the steering control, the stopping, especially on slippery roads will all be affected. Until it gets to the point of causing catastrophic failure, you may ignore it, but that’s not advisable.

Computer reflashing is not inexpensive to perform and if you’re doing the reflashing on your own equipment in your shop, it is not necessarily economical from a time standpoint. The average time required to reflash a system, including the amount of time required to hook up the instrumentation and determine the parameters, usually takes at least an hour, if not considerably longer.

So, how are you going to inform a customer about the potential need for reflashing his vehicle? Possibly the best way is the way one service supervisor does it. He seldom gives his opinion on anything, but he passes along in print form what others, including industry experts, OE manufacturers and bulletin publishers are saying. If a reflash is required or strongly recommended, he pulls the service bulletin or technical information stating such and shows the customer where it is stated, who is the source of the information and, if shown in that information, the reasons why. Your strong recommendation and re-enforcement of that recommendation in printed form may encourage the customer to more easily accept the information you are presenting.

It’s pretty hard for a customer to understand the importance of reflashing a system when the result will not be obvious to him, something he can really feel in the driving of the vehicle. If the reflash of an ABS-control program, dynamic-handling-control program or something else is affecting the consumer as he drives the vehicle, he is more likely to accept the reflash charges and ideas, but if it is something subtle and behind the scene, it can be a bit of a hard sell, so to speak.

Reflashing is not a diagnostic procedure. It’s a service repair procedure. If you are in a car accident and your fender is damaged or you get a rock chip in your windshield and you have a service procedure done the end result is very visual and obvious. Similarly, if a blower motor is making a chirping noise you will fix it at any cost, but when it comes to a reflash on the computer, customers really don’t understand “why.” If you have a relationship with them and you have built their trust in you and your service recommendations, they are much more likely to have the service performed.

Catastrophic repair procedures are a method of service repair today that some shops subscribe to, as do many of their customers. Computer reflashing does not fall into that mode at all and by the time something fails to the point of requiring that a controller be replaced a customer accepts that service only because the car will no longer run. Whenever any controller service is done, the controller, if it’s serviceable as is, should be checked to see if any reflash is needed. In many cases, on controllers that are put into vehicles a dedicated scan tool or similar aftermarket tool must be used to flash or program the controller. In these cases, make sure that the latest and greatest information is being included and perform any reflash at that time as part of the initial service procedure. It is a fact that customers sometimes resist spending money on anything they can’t see, touch, feel, hear or smell and, unfortunately, computer reflashing falls into that category.

I personally know of one privately owned shop chain of eight stores that shares its own computer reflashing equipment among stores. A special padded case with the computer and other related equipment is transported between locations by Uber for $9 or less. For this $9 investment the shops share one piece of equipment. It should be noted that many of the reflashing programs, OE and aftermarket, make reference to the computer that it is operating on. Therefore, if you have different computer addresses for the equipment, the programs will sometimes default, thinking that you’re using an unauthorized copy. The computer, along with the various related software and other pieces of equipment, moves along to whatever shop it’s being used in.

At the very least, become familiar with the various people in your area who specialize in computer reflashing and who have vans that show up on site and will reflash the various programs that are needed for a set fee. At least that way you can quote to a customer an accurate cost and know that the job will be done right. Your markup may be small but your service to the customer will be great. Become familiar with the procedures, the benefits and the limitations. Figure out your charge so that the operation is profitable to you and don’t ignore this very important area of service today.