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Flash Programming: A Parts Store Opportunity

Is your store equipped to “flash reprogram” vehicle computers? If it’s not, you might be missing a great opportunity.


Your wholesale customers most likely prefer to have the ECM supplied pre-programmed for the particular vehicle application. If your store is equipped to offer the service, you don’t need to special order updates or the corresponding computers anymore. With the proper equipment, you can stock the equivalent of every flash-PROM calibration part number on one disc. That means no waiting for special orders, no fighting return policies or freight charges, and best of all, no wasted shelf space.

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Without the ability to flash program, you are forced to rely on your supplier for inventory. Without the ability to flash, carrying high-moving ECM part numbers is not an option unless you want to tell the customer to go to the dealer for programming – and who wants to do that? With flash capability, the ECM inventory is handled like any other part: Stock the fast movers and special order the slow ones. With the ability to flash program, you can earn higher margins on the special order ECMs as it will be your store that does the flashing, not the remanufacturer.


Every customer with an OBD II GM vehicle is a potential sale, as well as some GM vehicles manufactured prior to 1996. Flash programming was started on certain GM models as early as 1993. Once 1996 rolled around, all GM vehicles had it. Based on the average price of most flashing equipment on the market, if all you did was sell one flash programming service per week, you would pay the equipment off in less than one year. Market this service effectively, and you’d make the equipment costs back in less than two months, and you might quickly become an installer’s first choice when ordering ignition parts.


To perform flash programming, some specialized equipment is needed. A typical flash programming system consists of a desktop PC, an automotive scan tool, an off-board programming power supply, a cable/harness set and the calibration software on CD. The whole assembly takes up about three square feet of desk space in your store. There are a number of suppliers that offer this equipment. As with anything technical, you want great customer service and even better product support from whomever you choose to do business with. The whole process is pretty simple and your staff should become proficient with flash programming with about one hour’s worth of training. The software is reliable and is actually licensed for use by OEMs.


Considering the rates charged to customers by the OE dealers, this would be one of the more profitable services you provide. Charges for flashing are typically around $100. In-shop rates are based on the time it takes for the technician to bring the car into the bay, establish communication with the scan tool and read the current calibration, perform the flash procedure, then verify the procedure once completed and return the car to the lot. This is approximately 30-50 minutes worth of work. Since your store would not require the car (due to your ability to flash program off-board), your total time invested would be closer to 15 minutes per unit. If you were to remain cost-competitive with the dealer, your margins would be significantly higher than theirs. The other advantage to not needing the car comes back to the potential for suggesting the service. Dealers don’t typically suggest the service because they don’t want to tie up a bay; your store doesn’t have such logistical problems. That means more market share potential for you.


The bottom line is that technicians need this service. The DIY customer needs an alternative to the OE dealership. It is this ideal positioning of parts distributors that makes this such a fantastic opportunity.

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