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Commercial Vehicle ECMs


It is becoming common knowledge that modern passenger vehicles have the capability to record information about a vehicle in the moments before, during, and after a crash. This information is typically recorded by a vehicle’s air bag control module, which is equipped with an Event Data Recorder (EDR) component. However, when it comes to heavy trucks that typically do not have air bags, there may be some question as to their ability to record collision-related information. Commercial vehicles are equipped with engine control modules (ECMs), which provide some vehicle specific information.

Answers to some common questions about heavy truck ECMs:

What is an ECM?
The acronym stands for engine control module or electronic control module and is the generic term used to describe the computer module on a commercial truck engine that monitors and controls engine functions.

Can an ECM record information?
Yes, ECMs can record specific engine parameters, configuration settings, usage details, trip data, fault codes, critical fault events, and sudden deceleration events. The information recorded depends on the particular engine manufacturer, model and year (not the make of the truck).

What truck models have an ECM?
Most trucks manufactured since the early 1990’s will have ECMs. In order to determine the kind of ECM on a particular make of commercial vehicle, the make and model of the engine on the truck must be known.

Will an ECM record information during a collision?
Yes, some ECMs have the capability to store information when a critical fault is detected (e.g. loss of oil pressure) or when the truck’s speed suddenly decreases due to hard braking or a sudden impact. The information recorded by the ECM depends on the engine year/make/model, but will typically include vehicle speed, engine speed, cruise control status, brake status, clutch status, and diagnostic trouble codes.

How much information will be recorded by an ECM?
This depends on the engine year/make/model, but will vary from as low as 13 seconds to as long as 2 minutes surrounding the event.

Can the information from an ECM be downloaded?
Yes. Although all ECMs can be accessed, each engine type requires different software and hardware. If an ECM is still installed on the vehicle, then it can be accessed through a universal connection located under the dashboard using software specific to the particular engine manufacturer. If the ECM has been removed from the vehicle, then the ECM needs to be accessed with specific hardware.

Is ECM data reliable for understanding how and why a collision occurred?

Yes, and No. ECM data can be extremely useful in understanding what transpired leading up to and during a collision. However, in some instances ECM data may not be consistent with the physical evidence and can be inaccurate. Trained collision reconstructionists should be retained to properly interpret the data in conjunction with a review of the physical evidence and consideration of human factors.
 


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