The conversation goes like this: I have been paying mobile programmers or remote access programmers (RAPs) far too long. I believe I can save money and time by doing this myself. What type of equipment is needed and what is the cost to get up and running?
Let's find out! In a nutshell, four basic items are necessary to start your own reprogramming ventures. You may even have some of these items on hand already.
1. You need a Windows-based laptop with Windows 10 or 11 Pro OS and relatively current architecture. I would suggest a 13"–15" touchscreen that folds over and becomes a tablet. This type of laptop is more usable and durable with a minimum battery life of 8–10 hours.
Some prefer a laptop dedicated to reprogramming only, but that is a mistake in my opinion. Dedicated use is rough on batteries, and a laptop seems to never be charged and ready. Instead, buy a higher-quality laptop that can be used as your primary, daily PC. USB-C cables allow a laptop to be attached to a large desktop monitor that uses only one cable as laptop power, charger and video source. This method will keep everything updated and ready to go at a moment's notice.
A quality, name-brand laptop will generally start at about $800 and upwards for rugged-use, industrial-grade laptops. Compatible USB-C desktop hi-resolution monitors start about $500.
2. J2534 interface device should be compatible with both SAE J2534-1 and J2534-2, including 04.04 and v500 API reprogramming standards for inclusive coverage on most automobiles. The J2534 interface connects to vehicle through the OBD connector and to your laptop. I encourage conducting your own research on J2534 devices, as it is a vast subject and more than can be included in this article.
Below are several of the more popular devices that meet the above standards. All include toolbox applications with step-by-step reprogramming guides.
3. 12-Volt, 100-amp battery voltage maintainer is not a conventional battery charger, and battery chargers without voltage maintenance are not sufficient for J2534 reprogramming. Day one: bite the bullet and invest in a battery voltage maintainer if you intend on reprogramming. A single mishap because of voltage/current issues will pay for the battery maintainer. Below are two of the popular units. Again, do your own research and remember it must be able to supply steady vehicle voltage at 100 amps.
4. Internet via Wi-Fi or hot spot must be available and have a strong signal throughout the facility. A cellphone-generated hot spot with three to four bars is usually okay. Wi-Fi service should be a minimum speed of 10 Mbps for uploads and downloads. If for any reason you lose connection and must continually log back into websites, you might want to inspect Wi-Fi service or source equipment.
As you can see from pricing, it takes about $3,000 (on the low end) to get started reprogramming. If you add tuning, then it starts to look better. Finally, don’t forget about labor cost and a credit or debit card for subscriptions and credits!
Now for the icing on the cake, use this same setup minus J2534 interface device for HP or EFI tuning needs as well.
This article would not be complete without mentioning FORScan. When working on Ford, Lincoln, Mercury or Mazda vehicles, FORScan will make solenoid characterization and other reprogramming needs quick and easy. FORScan has apps for Windows, IOS and Android. It uses an OBD dongle that communicates via Bluetooth.
Jim Mobley is a Sonnax technical communications specialist. He is a member of the Sonnax TASC Force (Technical Automotive Specialties Committee), a group of recognized industry technical specialists, transmission rebuilders and Sonnax Transmission Company technicians.
While Sonnax makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of technical articles at time of publication, we assume no liability for inaccuracies or for information which may become outdated or obsolete over time.