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The last thing any of us want to deal with when we go to take our car to work in the morning is engine trouble. And if you have a faulty ECM, then signs and symptoms can manifest themselves in the form of a wide range of different problems. The tricky part is, it is not always clear or easy to see if those problems are actually the result of a bad engine control module, or if they are resulting from an issue with a different component.
What makes this situation even trickier is that if the problem is in fact with your car’s ECM, then you really have to get it repaired or replaced as soon as possible. Because unlike having a problem with a specific engine component (which is still serious), having a faulty engine computer can lead to a greater number of more serious problems down the road.
The reason for this is that the engine control unit touches nearly every other part of your engine. So if it has a problem it can cause other components to perform poorly, as well as lead to unnecessary wear and tear. This means costlier repairs for you down the road.
Signs of a Failing ECU
There are many problems associated with a failing engine control unit. Although as we’ll discuss later, all of these engine issues do not necessarily indicate you have a problem with your car computer, they do indicate that you should have it checked out.
- Check Engine Light – Your check engine light is illuminated by the ECM when it detects an issue it can’t solve on its own. But it also lights up if there is a problem with the ECM itself. Scanning the computer for the trouble code will tell you what the issue is, if there is a problem with the computer module, and help you determine if the ECM needs to be replaced.
- Engine Stalling, Jerking, or Misfiring – The engine control module regulates the engine’s transmission and controls the gear shifting. Stalling or misfiring is most often related to a problem with the clutch or the shift sensors which communicate with the computer. If your truck is experiencing these issues regularly, it is most likely a sign that the ECM should be replaced.
- Performance Problems – If the ECM in your diesel engine has any issues, it’s possible it will throw off the timing and fuel settings of the engine, which can negatively affect performance. A faulty ECM may cause the vehicle to experience a reduction in fuel efficiency, power, and acceleration.
- Inability to Start – The ECM is what tells your engine to turn on, how to turn on, and how to function once it’s running. If your engine fails to start at all, then it is likely that you have a faulty engine control module. The engine may still crank, but it will not be able to start without the vital inputs from the computer.
- The Diesel Engine Only Runs Well in Hot or Cold – If you find that your vehicle only accelerates normally when it is very cold or hot, it might be an issue with the ECM. To be sure it is an issue with the computer and not something else, you can try replacing the cam sensor first. If it still persists, you can try wiping the ECM connectors clean. If after that the problem does not go away, it means your ECM is about to fail and needs to be replaced.
- Friction During Gear Shifting – Because the ECM is responsible for managing your vehicle’s transmission, if you experience any sort of friction or grinding when shifting gears, it is possible the problem is with the engine control module, and not the transmission itself.
Diagnosing Problems with Your ECM/ECU
Since visible problems that can be associated with a faulty engine control unit could also be the result of other issues, we’ve put together a list of ways you can diagnose your ECU and determine whether it is the root cause or not.
First, you’ll want to do a visual inspection. You have to inspect the PINs and make sure that they are all upright and intact. If they are, then next you should move on to a smell test. This just entails a simple whiff by the unit’s plug that will let you know whether the unit has something wrong with it. If you get a distinct odor of burnt plastic then you know you have a problem and you’ll want to further inspect the board by opening up the unit. If you notice any burnt or corroded components inside the unit, then the engine computer will have to be replaced.
A further step you can take with older vehicles to diagnose and troubleshoot the ECM is by performing a swap. This process works by finding a replacement unit matching you exact original part number and then swapping your existing unit out for the replacement. If your vehicle can communicate and function properly with the replacement module, then that’s a sign that it is your existing module that is causing your vehicle problems.
The next thing you can do to diagnose your ECU is to use a scanner. The way you do this is by hooking up a scanning device to your computer module’s OBD-II port. Once hooked up you will be able to see if there are any engine codes coming from the Engine Computer. You can then interpret those engine diagnostic codes to determine whether the root of the problem is the engine control unit.
Troubleshoot ECM Problems by Process of Elimination
The final way you can diagnose problems with your engine control module is by checking its inputs and outputs to see which parts are functioning properly and which ones are not. The inputs are your battery, ignition switch, fuses, and all the sensors. The outputs consist of the fuel injector, the fuel pump, the spark plugs, and the starter.
You begin by testing whether enough power is getting to the engine computer. Start with the battery – is there enough voltage coming out? Then trace that voltage through the ignition switch, through the fuses, and through the sensors. If the right amount of voltage is getting to the ECU then you have to inspect the outputs to ensure the injectors, fuel pumps, spark plugs, and starter are receiving all the proper signals and to make sure you have a spark.
If all the right inputs are flowing into the engine computer but not out the other end, then you know there is something up with the ECM.
Diagnose and Troubleshoot Your ECU
If your car has a problem that may be related to your engine control unit or engine control module then it’s in your—and your car’s—best interest to repair or replace the computer as quickly as possible. But before you can do that, you have to correctly diagnose your ECU and determine that the problem actually originating from it.
Once you determine that you have a faulty engine control module, then your options are either to repair or replace. That’s where CarComputerExchange.com comes into play. We sell ECUs for all makes and models. Use our navigation to start browsing our products above!