What Is a Vehicle's Electrical Control Unit?

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You’ll hear the term ECU bandied about in automotive circles, but what does it mean? The most basic definition is “electrical control unit” (ECU) which is a generic term applied to any system that controls a system or subsystem on the vehicle. This works in tandem with the TCU (transmission control unit) to control the entire vehicle. Many automakers combine the two into a PCM, or powertrain control module.

What does the ECU do?

Really, you can think of the engine control unit as one part of your car’s brain (it’s responsible for controlling the engine). Technically, the engine control module is an electrical control unit, but so is the TCU and a number of other controllers aboard your car.

Your ECU is responsible for monitoring all aspects of engine operation, making adjustments based on driver input, and more. It reads the amount of airflow entering the engine to adjust the throttle and it controls the Check Engine Light (at least partially). It also manages ignition timing, idle speed, variable valve timing, electronic valve control and more. Information is sent to the ECU from sensors located throughout the engine bay that do everything from measuring coolant temperature to camshaft position.

In short, the ECU has a huge impact on your vehicle’s operation, including everything from the available power to emissions control.

Some ECUs are upgradable through “flashing” them to change their firmware. This method is used to enhance performance beyond what the automaker intended. However, upgrading an ECU is not something that should be done outside of a specialty automotive shop.


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Mazyar

7 years of experience
181 reviews
Mazyar
7 years of experience
Ford Fusion - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Duluth, Georgia
Got to the appointment early and was able to finish sooner than expected as well. Would definitely recommend!
Volvo XC90 - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Marietta, Georgia
Mark did a great job on my brake rotors and pads replacement. He is very knowledgable and thorough with the process and inspection. He finished the job on time and did a test drive with me. I will definitely book with him again in the future.

Bradford

12 years of experience
8 reviews
Bradford
12 years of experience
Jaguar XF - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Brad was great. Completed the job and made sure I was aware of other issues as well as completing the job he actually came for.
Dodge Grand Caravan - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Clinton, Maryland
This was my first experience. Brad, was timely; efficient; he answered my questions; he went over items that need to be addressed in order to get my car in shape. It was very convenient, I was able to fix my kids dinner, and not disrupt their schedule. I will be using this service again. The entire experience was positive. Very happy...

Scott

33 years of experience
357 reviews
Scott
33 years of experience
Toyota Camry - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Denver, Colorado
Scott is very professional & always so kind! He gets the job done and makes sure to discuss what may need to be done in the future. Would recommend him to anyone!

Stacy

23 years of experience
120 reviews
Stacy
23 years of experience
Nissan Pathfinder - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Atlanta, Georgia
Amazing! Professional, professional, professional! Brakes were done in no time....while I was in the building working!

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