What to do when there's no As Built vehicle data published

March 1, 2018
What do you do when there is no As Built data published for the vehicle? Jaime Lazarus leads you through this reprogramming nightmare and shares his successful conclusion.

Most of us have seen that vehicle that arrives at the shop with an indicator illuminated on the instrument cluster, but covered and hidden by some picture, postcard or a sticky note. In some rare cases, the customer is actually at the shop because that light is on and they are interested in getting the problem resolved (snicker)! The others, when questioned, will admit “that light’s been on for some time” and they're really not concerned about it.  Some may be curious and want to know what’s causing it — but have priorities reserved for their original complaint. Can you imagine though, an employer requiring the vehicle problem to be addressed or else the vehicle cannot be driven?

2007 Ford F-150 - VIN: 1FTRF12257KC35437
Complaint: “ABS light illuminated on the Instrument Cluster”

Such was the case with a U.S. Forest Service truck — a 2007 Ford F-150. The anti-lock brake system (ABS) light was illuminated and therefore — according to state law — the vehicle had to get repaired before it could be driven again. There's a liability issue to consider. Should a crash have occurred and the driver knew beforehand that the anti-lock brake system may not operate as designed, the state could have been brought into litigation for negligence (or something else). So it’s a set policy for their vehicles to be repaired, for the safety-related systems to be operating correctly and (in this case) for the ABS light to be extinguished before the truck is returned to service.

When illuminated it is one reason this vehicle may NOT be driven

The vehicle was a “plain Jane” Ford truck. So basic was this truck that it had roll-down windows! This is the type of truck you see government agencies purchase by the hundreds at a time that are all identical. Because they are bought with taxpayer dollars, they usually have little to no convenience items and are only equipped with standard options. This truck’s standard options included an anti-lock braking system, and it had a problem. The shop where it was towed analyzed the system and determined the ABS module needed to be replaced. The procedure for replacement of that module includes having to program it to that particular vehicle. I am the mobile technician they usually call for reprogramming services.

Simple job

When I was phoned ahead of time to estimate the cost to program that module, I had absolutely no idea what the job would actually entail until I completed the work on the vehicle. I quoted the shop’s costs based on the labor time guide just as I usually do, but in this case the labor time guide made assumptions that did not apply to this job. Those were reasonable assumptions, and I had to believe there wouldn’t be any problem finishing the task. I learned valuable lessons from what happened next! Do you ever work on government-owned vehicles? If so, have you ever tried to change your estimate after it was approved?

The location is directly below the air filter housing, just rearward of the left headlamp

In my training classes I instruct attendees to always look up the module replacement procedure before beginning the job. I'll admit I don't always practice what I preach. I will sometimes do module programming without reading any of the instructions published regarding the module replacement. My assumptions are based on experience — that it’s going to be done the same way on the 101st module as it had been done on the last 100 I programmed before. What I preach is intended to save someone else some trouble or time based on lessons I’ve learned. This job humbled me because I should have listened to my own instructions! Question: At what point during the job should we research the proper way to do it?

Once the used module arrived at the shop’s location, I received the call and scheduled a time to go there, install it and program it to the vehicle. When leaving my office, I remember jinxing myself by saying how simple this ought to be and estimated what time I would be returning that day. After all, I thought, I’ve done several of these using both new and used modules and all of them in the past were finished in short order! 

The procedure is typically straightforward. You begin by “inhaling” (that is, capturing the information) data from the old module, turning the key off, installing your replacement module and turn your key back on to program the data into that module. This procedure is called Programmable Module Installation (PMI). Whether you're using a j2534 device or the Ford IDs software, the procedure is the same.   

Screen Shot of IDS message indicating PMI was successfully completed

I went through the steps as I so often had done in the past. At the end of the programming event, it said everything went successfully. I didn't expect any problems. I cleared all codes when I was done, left the key in the off position for 30 seconds before starting it up again. Immediately upon starting the engine, the ABS light illuminated brightly as if to be thumbing its nose at me. “What the heck?” I thought. A quick look at ABS diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) revealed a module configuration failure error code number B2477-00.

Maybe not…

Once again, before using any service information, I went back and made sure that I did everything the way I had done in the past. I made sure I correctly entered all of the information it asked for and when I completed it gave me the same error message. Now, I thought, it was time to look at the service information. After all, as I’ve said before, when all else fails, RTFB (read that FINE book)! Afterwards, I reread it again because during the first time I didn't see anything different from what I had done! I started to scratch my head. I thought back to the comment I made when leaving the office about how easy this was going to be. 

There were many things running through my mind about why this error could occur. Now is when I read about the conditions necessary for the code to set. It was time to perform pinpoint testing. That means it's time to read voltage supplies and to test grounds. It was time to look at the data. It was time to look at the part number of the replacement module and make sure its application is correct. When all of that was as it should be, I reinstalled the original module to see whether it could be programmed either. Unfortunately, that module had internal faults, and because of this, I could not conclusively confirm whether the replacement module we were installing was faulty or not. Another module was ordered, this time from Ford. I wonder, are there times when you prefer to install a used module instead of a remanufactured or new?

I returned as soon as I was notified the new module had arrived. It wasn’t actually new, but a remanufactured part. In my experience, I’ve found the Original Equipment (OE) remanufacturing process produces a more reliable component than a used part from a vehicle recycler. I went through the process and attempted PMI, but received a message that “configuration data could not be transferred from the original module. This module will require manual entry of configuration data.” In other words, it was requiring as-built data to be loaded into this module in order to configure it to the vehicle. 

Screen Shot of the Ford PTS website displaying no published As-Built data

As-Built data could be considered the code engineers enter into a module to make it work right. Each module has a set of characters that must be entered in a unique order to configure it to a particular vehicle. Once done, that set of instructions makes that module work properly in that vehicle. Some say that As-Built data is the code used when the module was installed on the factory assembly line, hence the term As-Built. In fact, when you enter As-Built data into a module today that happened to have been built many years ago, any updates that have occurred since are included in today’s As-Built data code. I have yet to prove that statement false. Many times I will go back and try and do an update to a module that I programmed using As-Built data, and I will be shown a message that says no newer software is available.

Screen Shot of unpublished As-Built data on the MotorcraftService.com website. There are no instructions for a technician if the data isn’t available!

I went to Motorcraftservice.com to download the As-Built data and found none was available, at all, for any module in this vehicle! I had never encountered such a thing! As-Built data was always displayed for every VIN that I had entered in the past. I requested the data through the link identified as "Click here if module data required is not available below." I also asked that they contact me as soon as possible once the As-Built data was provided on their site. An automated response indicated it “may take up to 48 hours to receive a reply” once I completed the request. For the second time, I left the shop with the truck in the same condition it was when I arrived. It is at this point in the process that I felt humiliated.  Feeling confident that this will take no time at all jinxed me once again!

A few days later

Many times during each of the two following days I checked for any information, but received no response from them. After the second day, I used the link at the bottom of the web page to contact Motorcraft about the problem. In my message to them I provided all kinds of contact information and explained the problem (again) in detail and that I had not received a reply. I received an almost immediate response saying the request for As-Built data was already “answered” on the day it was requested. I tried in vain to locate the “answer,” even requested it re-sent, but it was never to be seen (and the As-Built data still was unpublished). I was getting frustrated that such a simple job was taking an extraordinary amount of time to complete.

We cannot rely on the results of any tests performed on a module that has internal faults

It was extremely frustrating to learn that Motorcraft service.com had responded to my request for assistance the same day it was received. Unfortunately, I wasn’t notified by them, their response was unavailable and it could not be accessed by anybody. No one had access to their response, and it's unknown to where they sent it. Lots of people who got involved in the situation could see that a response had been sent, but nobody could read what that response was.

Being a resourceful individual who owns many different wrench sets for a reason, I used another tool to try and get the same information. This time, I logged into FordInstallerSupport.com, also known as the Professional Technician Society, the same site dealer technicians use. When I attempted to find the information, I saw it was unpublished there as well! This meant to me that the information was simply not available, maybe omitted. Since I hadn’t heard anything from the other, I then sent a request for assistance to this website as well. 

If Ford’s PTS recommends a tech follow any special instructions, they’d appear under “SYMPTOM CODE INFORMATION”

I don’t know how many days (yes, days) were spent trying to find a solution to the problem on my own, but there were many ways I attempted. For instance, I tried to install As-Built data for a very similar vehicle, but there were other error codes stored afterwards. I also contacted a good computer programmer friend of mine who helped me write some As-Built data, which would have been identical (with the exception of one character) to the one that was eventually supplied. I installed the file successfully, but thought about the liability (if that vehicle had gotten into a crash afterwards with that software that was loaded if it were not correct for it). I could have left myself open for a lot of liability and financial heartache, so I uninstalled the code I just flashed. It’s unknown whether or not my NASTF SIR (Service Information Request) played any part in motivating someone at Ford to respond. It’s anyone’s guess, but this is one other resource I used. I could describe more ways, but I’m sure you get the idea.

You can view and edit the contents of the code that gets loaded into a module by using a text editor

About two weeks elapsed before I enlisted the assistance of the Ford parts distribution manager friend of mine from whom the latest module was purchased. He looked into the situation and came up with the same results. That information is unpublished and unavailable. He understood my frustrations, went up his chain of command and yet still came back empty-handed like I did. I’ll say, without his intervention I seriously doubt I would have ever resolved the situation. With his help, though enough people had gotten involved in the situation, we finally got answers from an engineer who provided the data we needed. Question: How many coworkers, associates and people-in-the-know do you have in your network?

How many cooks in the kitchen does it take to spoil the meal?

I am extremely grateful to the Architecture & System Design Supervisor for Ford Customer Service Division who contacted me personally! We discussed why so many problems occurred on this job and after our chat, he worked with me directly to resolve them. What was found is there were multiple requests for assistance, one from MotorcraftService.com and one from FordInstallerSupport.com, which for some reason went unanswered.  It was suspected that since the first was supposedly “answered,” that the second request could be ignored. Since no one could produce the actual answer, I never got the As-Built data needed to program the ABS module to this vehicle.

Some of the lessons I learned from this experience are:

1). Look up all of the information before estimating costs — EVERY TIME! 

2). When the service information dictates a module has to be programmed a certain way, then make sure that you can finish the job once you get there (that the information required will be available — before you begin).   

3). We need to have multiple avenues of resolving problems when it comes to programming vehicles, much the same way that we need to own multiple wrench sets. Having an established network of people in the know is critically important!

4). NEVER jinx yourself by forecasting how a job will go!

P.S. Kudos once again to Ford for caring enough to help me get one of their vehicles back on the road. A shout-out goes to Kevin Brady (Ford Motor Company) and to Dennis Boyle (Packer Norris Parts) who were both instrumental in resolving the problem. Thank you again gentlemen!

About the Author

Jaime Lazarus

Jaime Lazarus retired in 2020 after 41 years in the transportation repair sector. Throughout his career, he filled such positions as “lube tech", mechanic, technician, shop-owner, inventor, automotive technologies instructor, and published author. Also known as “The Car Whisperer”, he was widely diversified in automotive diagnostics. Lazarus focused his career on emerging automotive technology, recognizing early on that the biggest challenge for automotive repair technicians is diagnosing electrical systems and electronic components. He was a four-time certified ASE Master Automotive Technician that had held the L-1 (Advanced Engine Performance) certification since the test's inception.   

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