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Summary
  • Disabling the start/stop feature and toggling sound alerts are some of the things you can modify with automotive programming.
  • Coding won’t generally affect a vehicle’s performance. However, keep in mind that there’s a possibility of getting your car’s warranty voided if you proceed with the programming process.
  • Certain modifications are limited to your vehicle’s year, make, and model.

Installing open mufflers, superchargers, and spoilers are some of the many modifications dedicated gearheads do to their vehicles to improve style and performance. But there’s an aspect of car mods that many people overlook一the technology side. 

The tech side of car mods might sound overwhelming and more suited for programmers and electronics experts. But did you know that the art of coding a car can be done in the comfort of your garage? 

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What Is Car Programming?

Vehicle programming is a complex process of understanding the aspects of the powertrain control module (PCM) by inserting a read-only memory (ROM) file. Coding a car is essentially tinkering with the configuration of its brain or computer. 

mechanic prepares for car programming
Vehicle programming is a complex process of understanding the aspects of the powertrain control module (PCM) by inserting a read-only memory (ROM) file.

Keep in mind, however, that programming the vehicle doesn’t mean you’re changing the entire software. It simply lets you change the preprogrammed options that already came with the PCM

Coding a car can modify several vehicle functions, from deactivating the start/stop feature and toggling the unlock and lock sound to disengaging the mirrors’ automatic folding capabilities. These are only some of the basic coding functions you can do with the on-board (OBD) computer. 

Other popular coding functions include modifying the lighting systems (flashing brake lights, adjusting the brightness of daytime running lights, etc.), tinkering with analog dashboard functions, and altering warning signals. 

Will Coding Affect A Vehicle’s Driving Performance? 

Configuring some aspects of the PCM will not affect the engine per se. You’ll still be able to drive your vehicle the same way you did before, although you might notice a few changes. 

For example, if you deactivated your rearview camera, you could have trouble backing up or seeing the cars behind you. These changes are coming from you as the driver and not the vehicle. 

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Can You Code Your Car?

Yes, you can modify some settings on your vehicle’s PCM with the right tools and know-how. In most cases, you’ll need an OBD-to-ethernet/USB adaptor, a laptop or computer, and the appropriate software. 

What Are the Limitations and Risks of Automotive Programming?

The modifications you can perform on your vehicle are limited to its make and model. For example, you can’t make your vehicle display the gear changing time on the dashboard when it doesn’t have a sport or eco mode in the first place. 

male mechanic inspects car programming
While programming isn’t exactly rocket science, you should still have sufficient background on the subject before proceeding.

Also keep in mind that while programming isn’t exactly rocket science, you should still have sufficient background on the subject before proceeding. Diving into the task blindly can do more harm than good like any other car modification.

While coding your car, you can also expect the battery to get drained to some extent because you’ll need to keep the engine running while working.

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Lastly, tinkering with your vehicle can cause the warranty to be voided. This is similar to jailbreaking smartphones.

Where Can You Get Your Car Coded?

A DIYer who lacks the skills and technical information on vehicle programming can end up permanently damaging certain components of the vehicle. That being said, be sure to consult a certified mechanic or automotive expert before making the necessary modifications.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Automotive Features Reviewer at CarParts.com

Lisa Conant grew up in Canada around a solid contingency of gear heads and DIY motor enthusiasts. She is an eclectic writer with a varied repertoire in the automotive industry, including research pieces with a focus on daily drivers and recreational vehicles. Lisa has written for Car Bibles and The Drive.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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