Powertrain control module

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An ECU from a 1996 Chevrolet Beretta.

A power-train control module, abbreviated PCM, is an automotive component, an electronic control unit (ECU), used on motor vehicles. It is generally a combined control unit, consisting of the engine control unit (ECU) and the transmission control unit. On some cars, such as many Chryslers, there are multiple computers: the PCM, the Transmission Control Unit, and the Body Control Module, for a total of three separate computers as an example. These automotive computers are generally very reliable. The PCM commonly controls more than 100 factors in a car or truck. There are many hundreds of error codes that can occur, which indicates that some subsection of the car is experiencing a problem. When one of these errors occurs, usually it will turn on the "check engine" light on the dashboard. The PCM is one of potentially several on-board computers, or essentially the "brain" of the engine control system. When the "brain" does not function correctly, neither will the engine or anything else that the microprocessor controls, which may include the charging system, transmission, various emission controls and communications with other on-board control modules. The PCM should be replaced only when it is diagnosed to be defective.

On board Diagnostic (OBD II) diagnostic trouble codes that typically indicate a fault with the power-train control module include:

  • P0600....Serial Communication Link
  • P0601....Internal Control Module Memory Check Sum Error
  • P0602....Control Module Programming Error
  • P0603....Internal Control Module Keep Alive Memory (KAM) Error
  • P0604....Internal Control Module Random Access Memory (RAM) Error
  • P0605....Internal Control Module Read Only Memory (ROM) Error
  • P0606....ECM/PCM Processor
  • P0607....Control Module Performance
  • P0608....Control Module VSS Output

If you see any of these codes when diagnosing the vehicle with a code reader or scan tool, it may mean the PCM has failed and must be replaced. There can be other reasons for these codes as well, so the presence of any of these codes does not definitively mean the PCM needs to be replaced. Additional diagnostic tests will usually be necessary to confirm the problem is really the power-train control module and not something else. Refer to the OEM diagnostic charts for what these tests are. Usually it involves checking certain inputs to the PCM to see if it outputs the correct response. No response or an incorrect response usually means the PCM is defective and needs to be replaced. Professional Automotive Technicians use extremely expensive equipment ($4,000 to $8,000) to do the extensive and complicated diagnostics that are required before eliminating all other possibilities, to be able to arrive at a firm conclusion that the PCM has failed.

The primary inputs to the PCM come from many sensors, of different types, that are spread around the car. Most of them are oriented toward engine management and performance. These sensors fail at a much higher rate than any of the computers do.

Other names[edit]

Engine control unit is also called:

  • PCM: Power-train control module (Ford/GM)
  • ECM: Engine control module
  • Injection control unit (Peugeot,[1] Citroen, Fiat, Alfa, Lancia)
  • DME/DDE: Digital Motor Electronics / Digital Diesel Electronics (BMW,[2] Mini)