It’s every car owner’s worst nightmare: You’re driving down the road and the “Check Engine” light comes on. What do you do now? Is it a serious problem, or just a minor fix? Perhaps the biggest question: How much is this going to cost?
While nobody likes to be confronted with expensive auto repairs, the fact is that cars, just like everything else, are increasingly technological, and feature thousands of parts, any one of which could potentially go wrong.
Does My Control Module Need to Be Fixed?
One of the most frequent causes of the Check Engine light coming on in your car is an error code of some sort reported through your Engine Control Module, or ECM. Think of this as basically the brain of any modern car. It’s the central computer that controls and monitors all those thousands of components that are needed to keep your car humming along. Usually, when the Check Engine light comes on in a modern car, it signals some error that the ECM has received and is reporting it to you, anywhere from the driveshaft to the exhaust system to even, in some cars, a loose gas cap!
But what about if the ECM itself is the problem? What do you do when the car’s brain requires surgery? In people, brain surgery is complicated and costly, and in cars it’s no different. In most modern cars, in fact, the ECM is one of the most expensive components to replace!
Average Costs to Replace an ECM
Replacing the ECM is a simple and straightforward repair (provided you have the right tools and can program it correctly to the vehicle). It’s the actual part itself that costs the most. Right now, the average cost of just the ECM itself is $830, leading to a $1,000+ job at a dealership when you factor in labor, taxes, and other misc fees dealers like to charge.
Driving with (and Ignoring!) a Broken ECM?
But what if you don’t replace the ECM? Surely total failure isn’t the only thing that can go wrong?
While that’s true, running a car with a faulty or failing ECM is inefficient at best and dangerous at worst. This isn’t just a matter of putting electrical tape over the Check Engine light on your dashboard and driving on. A bad ECM can result in everything from higher emissions, engine damage, and down-line part malfunctions all the way to total undriveability. Modern cars are designed to work with an ECM for peak performance and any failure or flaw in the ECM can shorten the lifespan of your car. Either way, it’s just not smart, and may not be safe.
So if you have a car that you suspect may be showing signs of a bad ECM, you now have to ask yourself whether to take it in to the dealership or an independent mechanic. We all know that the independent guy is going to be cheaper, but is that always the best solution? Some modern cars are designed in such a way that an independent mechanic will have to purchase expensive specialty tools to re-code the ECM, even if it’s an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) part. Your smaller shops may not have the budget to afford this expensive specialty equipment for every brand of automobile they work on.
So are you left with the only option being the more expensive, faceless corporate dealership? While dealers may be the most experienced mechanics in your car’s particular quirks, since they fix dozens or hundreds of cars in that brand per month, that consequently means they usually charge more for their specialization.
Can You Replace an ECM Yourself?
At this point, you may be thinking to yourself that it might be a job you can do yourself. After all, most modern ECMs in cars are designed to be essentially “plug and play” technology. If all you have to do is swap the part, you can save yourself some labor cost, right? Well, not always, depending on how and who you order your part from you may not be getting a new computer that is compatible with your vehicle. As we said before, ECMs have to be coded to “talk to” your particular car. That can sometimes require expensive specialty computer module equipment to ensure that the ECM can communicate with the other control systems in the vehicle.
That being said, if you replace your engine control module (ECM) with one from CarComputerExchange.com, then you should definitely consider repairing and replacing your ECM yourself. All of our engine computers come “plug and play” and are guaranteed to work with your exact model — we ask for your VIN after the checkout process to ensure you’re getting the latest and greatest software directly for your car from your car’s manufacturer.
Really, you’re left with three options if your “Check Engine” light has come on, and a mechanic has diagnosed the issue to be a failed ECM: You can either take it to the dealership, and pay for their expertise… along with their dealership that cost $3-30 million to build.
You can take it to your local independent mechanic, but you may not save much money if they have had to order specialty parts or tools to be able to replicate what the dealership can do. Finally, you can order a computer module from us and replace it yourself. It’s a few minutes out of your day, but you’re saving hundreds of dollars and a trip (or two) to the dealership or mechanic.
In the end, performing “brain surgery” on a car and replacing the Engine Control Module can be an expensive process if you rely on others, but it can also be a relatively cheap and painless process if you want to do it yourself.