Today’s vehicles rely on computers, or engine control modules, or units (ECM/ECU), that monitor the sensors in the engine bay to enable the vehicle to perform and function at its optimum.
The car computer is an essential component in your car, and it is often referred to as the car’s brain. It regulates several key car functions to ensure that the car is running efficiently. Some of the functions of the ECM include; checking the oxygen to fuel ratio, tracking idle speed, and controlling the variable valve timing as well as the ignition timing to increase power or fuel economy. If the engine control module or its related components encounters an issue, it can cause problems to the vehicle’s functionality. In the worst-case scenario, this may be detrimental for your car’s functionality, making it unsafe to operate.
To avoid this risk and minimize the potential damage to your car, it is advisable to be on the lookout for the symptoms of a faulty ECM. To do this, you would need to be quite conversant with the symptoms of a failing system.
What are the symptoms of a failing car computer?
As we have highlighted, the car’s computer monitors several important functions in your car, and its failure could put you in major risks. To curb this, you should always be alert while operating your vehicle and be on the look-out for any tell-tale signs of your car’s ill health. The following are the main symptoms that could point to a failing car computer.
Difficulties while starting your car
A problematic car computer is likely to cause some difficulties while stating the car. Sometimes, the car may even fail to start completely. This may be happening due to the failure of power reaching the car’s computer due to a blown a fuse or a wiring issue. However, if the entire module has failed, your vehicle will stall due to the lack of engine control.
An illuminated Check Engine Light
An illuminated check engine light may also serve as a warning sign for the driver. The check engine light turns on when the vehicle is switched on, but this is a simple test to ascertain that the bulb is functioning properly. It is not supposed to light again unless the car’s computer has detected some trouble with the vehicle’s circuit or failed sensors. An illuminated check engine light should be an issue when the computer fails to record a problem with its components. Therefore, if you notice the light constantly staying on, or being inconsistent in any way, it is probably a good time for you to check your car for any issues.
A burning smell in your vehicle is another symptom that you should never ignore. The first rule is always to inspect your ECM whenever you detect a burning smell or notice visible burn marks. Heat and overload can easily cause problems with the computer and the rest of your vehicle’s components.
Unstable Engine Behaviour
A damaged car computer can cause your engine to suddenly jerk, stall, or misfire provided that your transmission is maintained, and your car has enough transmission fluid. This issue is unpredictable and varies in frequency and intensity.
A malfunctioning car computer negatively affects aspects of vehicle performance, such as fuel settings. Your vehicle would experience decreased fuel economy and efficiency, and poor timing and acceleration.
What is the Solution for a Failed Car Computer?
When any of these issues arise, the car computer should report an error code that determines the source of the problem. Consult your trusted mechanic to read these error codes and to eliminate other potential causes of an illuminated check engine light.
Sometimes the check engine light may remain on even after configuring and repairing the car’s issues. In case of such a scenario, you would need to reset the car’s computer to erase the saved error codes.
Resetting your Faulty Car Computer
This step-by-step guide will come in handy, should you choose to reset your car computer without involving a mechanic or other professional. The reset should restore the ECM to its default settings and clear all car computer-related problems in your vehicles, such as computer codes or illuminated check engine light.
You can use two methods for resetting your car’s computer. The first option is to turn off the car’s battery to break the circuit and erase all memory. On the other hand, you can go about the computer reset procedure with the car battery still on and attached to the car.
Resetting the Car Computer with the Battery Turned Off
For this procedure, you would need a battery wrench or pliers, and a cable tie or insulating tape. You can also prepare a 10-watt resistor. Remember to turn off your car before commencing.
Using the battery wrench, remove the battery terminals, and then remove the battery from its compartment. This will effectively break the circuit, thus, preventing the flow of power into the engine.
Next, short the negative and positive wires of the engine, and tie them together using the cable tie or insulating tape.
Do the soft reset by leaving the wires short for about 45 minutes. This should drain the circuit of any residue current and cut the power from the car computer, thus clearing errors.
Clean the battery and its terminals using water and baking soda. Ensure to remove all rust, and rinse the battery after cleaning to clean off all the solution.
After the 45-min wait, restore the battery and reconnect all the terminals.
Once everything is ready, switch the car back on and inspect the check engine light. The issue should be solved, and the error codes will no longer appear. Your check engine light will be working properly, and you’ll be good to go.
Resetting the Car Computer with the Battery Turned On
You can also reset your car’s computer without having to disconnect your car battery. The rest of this article will explain in detail how to go about the process. To begin, you will require a fuse puller and a code reader. You could also use a pair of pliers in place of the fuse pullers.
To go about this process, you will need to locate the vehicle’s fuse box. Search for a cover detailing the car’s various fuses and their corresponding amperage. Once you have found it, you can follow the rest of our steps.
Remove the cover, and using the fuse puller or pliers, pull the fuses labeled “Back-up” with 7.5A. Locate another fuse labeled “ECU” and pull it out with 15A. Note that for this procedure, you will not have to disconnect the negative battery terminals. The problem with following the former process and disconnecting the battery terminals is that you erase your entire car’s memory. This not only solves the issue with the check engine light, but it also resets all other information in your vehicle, including the important data.
Let the fuses remain disconnected for about 10 minutes, then reinstall them properly, alongside the ECU.
Restore the fuse box cover and test your vehicle. You can drive for a few minutes to check if the issue of the check engine light has been solved. If the light stops illuminating, you are good to go.
In case the check engine light comes on, reduce your speed and load as you drive on. If available, maximize the built-in diagnostic services that report trouble codes. This will allow you to schedule a service appointment with your automaker.
The steps we have explained in our guide have been tried and tested by various drivers and car experts. You can, therefore, follow them to solve issues with your car’s computer effectively. The high chances are that the resetting of the computer will solve whatever issue you may have and get you back safely on the road. However, in case of any doubt in the process, you’d better seek professional from an expert. That way, you can be sure that your car’s issues will be correctly diagnosed and configured.
Pay attention to the warning signs from your computer. Do not opt to wait for the symptoms to subside automatically. This is because the vehicle could keep performing poorly and deteriorating into an unsafe state of for you and others on the road. If addressed early enough, a faulty car computer would cause little to no problems in terms of safety, time, money, and other resources. Consider your options well, especially when it comes to resetting your car computer.