Updated: Jun 18
A "Bricked" ECU is an ECU that has been rendered inoperable, and now has the functionality of a brick.
While bricking an ECU is not common, it is always a risk when tuning a vehicle. A bricked ECU is usually the result of a communications issue that occurs when a new calibration is being loaded onto the vehicle's ECU. This can be due to several reasons:
- Communication loss
- Other components of the vehicle interrupting the ECU - Noise on the lines running to the OBD port
- Damaged ECU Hardware If an interruptions occurs during programming, then your ECU *May* be left inoperable. With current commercial software, there are safeguards and recovery options that protect your ECU during most failures, however, there is always an inherent risk of failure.
The processor in your ECU contains "Program" data as well as "Calibration" data. The program data is the portion of the ECU that contains instructions on how to run the vehicle, as well as instructions on how to transmit data over the OBD2 port. The calibration data tells the ECU about your vehicle (displacement, injector size, desired fueling, desired timing, etc...) so that the ECU can make the correct choices about how to run your vehicle.
If the program data portion of your ECU's processor is corrupted (interrupted) when it is being programmed, the ECU may no longer be able to communicate. If it can't communicate, it can no longer be programmed, and it is then a brick.
As a tuner, we do not have access to modify the Program data of your ECU. Reputable tuning software does not expose the program data portion of the ECU for modification. This is done as a safeguard to prevent the ECU from being bricked.
No matter what data your tuner loads into the calibration portion of your ECU with reputable tuning software, the program data remains the same. With correct OEM program data, you can communicate with the ECU, and reload a working calibration onto it.
In order to tune your vehicle, your tuner opens their tuning software, fills in the appropriate blanks, and clicks the "Write Vehicle" button. Nothing that your tuner is able to enter into the ECU will cause the ECU to be inoperable, as it is calibration data and not program data.
Even with good calibration data, your ECU can be bricked. While some vehicles support sending calibration data only, many require the entire ECU to be re-written every time the ECU is programmed. When this happens, program data will be re-written to the ecu, even though it has not changed. If there is a communications issue during the transfer of the ECU's program data, then the ECU will no longer be able to communicate.
While a bad tune can't brick an ECU, electrical issues and neglect can. A dying battery in the car or the tuner's laptop can cause communication to stop. Simply unplugging the USB cable can cause a failure as well. Precautions can and should be taken to ensure a successful write.
Here are some of the precautions we take:
Verify battery voltage during pre-tune check.
Verify charging system functionality during pre-tune check if possible.
Verify the vehicle can be logged over the OBD2 port.
Keep the doors closed during the write process.
Keep the radio and AC off during the write process.
Swap laptops if the battery falls below 30%.
Run the OBD2 cable over the steering wheel to keep it away from feet.
With every responsible precaution taken, inherent issues can still lead to a failed flash. Older vehicles with aging electrical systems get more failure prone by the day. Newer vehicles with many complicated interconnected controllers add risk to the programming process. Security and Anti-theft systems can even power down the vehicle as it is being programmed.
Coverage Without any way of knowing what underlying electrical issues your car / ecu may have, your tuner cannot reasonably take responsibility for a bricked ECU. Your tuner didn't build the vehicle, nor did they make the equipment being used to write your vehicle's calibration. Your tuner wants to get paid to successfully tune your vehicle, and will likely have taken every possible precaution to ensure success.
Neither you nor your tuner will know there is an issue until they attempt to write to your ECU, rendering it inoperable. New ECUs are often hard to source. Returning your vehicle to a tuneable state will be an expensive time consuming endeavor to undertake. For many, the vehicle being tuned is a daily driver, and a bricked ECU can leave them without a way to get to work.
We will not accept liability for your vehicle's bricked ECU. We have taken our precautions, and attempted to perform the service you asked us to perform. There is nothing more we can do to avoid a bricked ECU.
To help protect your investment, we are offering a chance to opt-in to "Brick Coverage" for an additional $100, due when scheduling an appointment with us. Should you opt-in to our Brick Coverage, we will replace one ECU that becomes inoperable during our services with a working replacement up to $750. Should we replace your ECU under this coverage, it is then your responsibility to diagnose and resolve the communications issue preventing us from calibrating your vehicle. Brick Coverage is not offered for ECUs we have already been replaced.
We are additionally not offering or honoring Brick Coverage if you request that we tune your vehicle using tuning software that is not our recommended product for your vehicle. Fords, for example, can be tuned with both SCT as well as HP Tuners. SCT has better error handling than HP Tuners, and is our preferred tuning software for these vehicles. Should you decide to have us tune your Ford with HP Tuners rather than SCT, we will not be granting you Brick Coverage. Any pre-paid Brick Insurance in these situations will have the payment applied towards tuning costs instead.
In the unlikely event that your ECU is bricked, and you have not purchased Brick Coverage, it will be your responsibility to tow your vehicle off of our property within the next 48 hours. Should your vehicle remain on our property beyond that grace period, you will be charged our storage fee as you have agreed to on our waiver.