Quick as a flash, your car's been updated

(MCT) -- QUESTION: I just called my dealer to make an appointment for my transmission, which shifts a bit oddly sometimes. The service person told me "we have a flash for this" and that I could bring in the next day. What in the world is a flash?

ANSWER: "Reflashing" is a term used in the auto industry for erasing and reprogramming a vehicle's powertrain or other control module's operating instructions. It's very similar to an electronic update to your smartphone or computer. A new set of instructions may fix a variety of issues such as engine performance or transmission hiccups, an emissions concern, balky power windows or awkward voice recognition. Even though great planning goes into a vehicle system during development, additional information becomes available regarding real-world operating conditions, wear and tear, and consumer feedback, making enhancements appreciated.

Reflashing requires a manufacturer-specified scan tool and/or a pass-through device, a PC and an Internet connection. While mostly performed on 1996 and newer vehicles at the dealer, heads-up independent shops may also provide the service. In the event an important flash is required, vehicle owners should be notified by the manufacturer. Minor issues and enhancements might be addressed on an as-needed basis, if a correction exists.

It's important to remember reprogramming is not a substitute for a mechanical repair or maintenance service, should they be needed. In the event a reflash is recommended as an out-of-pocket maintenance service, think twice before shelling out the cash, unless specific and useful outcomes can be assured. Do-it-yourself reflashing is possible, but it's challenging to know what is available/appropriate; you need the pricey pass-through device; and in most cases the new software must be purchased from the manufacturer.


Q: Is it OK to install a larger battery in your truck? I worry about my parked operation of the radio sometimes leaving me stranded.

A: Sure, if it will physically fit and if the truck is perhaps an '05 or older. Newer vehicles can be fussy about battery/energy management strategies and may not understand what has occurred. Check the dimensions of your battery tray and headroom above the battery. Consult with a savvy parts person and/or a battery group number chart for compatible dimensions, terminal location and hold-down method.


TRAVEL NOTES: The seven-day, 3,329-mile Alaska Highway trip went smoothly with no problems whatsoever. The pristine, wild Cassiar Highway suffered from 100-plus miles of terrible clear-cutting to make way for high-voltage power line towers to feed a coal mine. Mosquitoes were nonexistent, I believe because of a very dry spring season. There's very little snow remaining for this time of year, and glaciers are receding at an alarming rate. If you plan to see Alaska as it once was, do so soon. Great roads, except the last 100 miles of Yukon Territory and second 100 miles once in Alaska had frequent severe heaving (disrupted and bumpy pavement).