Code your car with an app!

Who doesn’t want a new car? It has that new car smell and the latest features and design. Oftentimes though, a new model is mostly just a facelift with a few notable features added. 

But maybe you really want some of these new features — for example, a better-designed navigation system or a digital speedometer display — yet you aren’t in the market for a brand new vehicle. But did you know that to access some of these features you don’t even need to buy a new car?

Today it’s so easy to give a car a little facelift. How? It’s very simple, with car coding you can change your car and adapt it to your preferences.

With car coding, you can activate a head-up display, customize the interior lighting, or add the gear shift indicator to the dashboard. You don’t even have to take the car to the garage because with the right car coding device and a little practice you will quickly become a car coding expert. 

What do you need to code your car? You’ll need a smartphone or a laptop and the appropriate software. To connect your computer to the ECUs of your car you also need a device with an OBD connector. Then with coding you can easily make the desired changes, for example, a new graphic for the navigation system.

With car coding, you get access to a whole new world based on millions of numbers and letters that a control unit hides, and by changing these numbers and letters you can achieve a certain result. For example, that the doors lock automatically at a certain speed. But you can do much more than just automatically locking car doors.

1.1 What exactly is coding — how does it work?

Not everyone is enthusiastic about computers and programming. However, with a car coding device, you can make your car a bit more individualized — and it only takes a few minutes.

But what actually is car coding? Just think of your car as a computer with a framework and engine. The computer includes the control units, from where the many different functions of the car are controlled.

Why do the rear-view mirrors fold in and why do all four indicators light up simultaneously when you lock the doors from the outside? Simply because the control unit is programmed that way and gives that command to a certain system

From the color and brightness of the instrument lighting to the rearview camera, everything is executed and controlled by these control units. Even the engine injectors and exhaust gas purification are controlled and monitored by a control unit. 

Various control units are installed in the car for this purpose. The one which is responsible for the clean running of the engine is also called the engine control unit. More electrical control units are located, for example, in the power windows, speedometer, rev counter, electric sliding doors, and in many other places in the car. Tank level gauges, oil pressure gauges, and oil warning lights as well as other sensors are used for long-term monitoring and provide important data.

1.2 How does a control unit work?

A control unit is part of the on-board computer and ensures the smooth running of the assigned functions, as the example of the folding wing mirrors shows. But a control unit also performs many other tasks.

Data that provides valuable information also converges in a control unit. This information is collected using many sensors distributed throughout the car. 

What’s quite important are the error messages that are stored in the memory of the control units as a precaution. In the workshop or at home, the data from the error analysis can be called up and viewed using a diagnostic device like Carly.

Why is this function so great? Let’s say your car has a defect and you bring it to the workshop because of it. You go to demonstrate the issue, but suddenly the car works fine again. Then of course the issue will occur again as soon as you leave the garage. With error analysis this doesn’t happen anymore, because every error message is stored in the control unit. The car mechanic only needs to read out the data of the error analysis with a car diagnostic tool and can start working on repairs.  

1.3 How Coding by Yourself Saves You Money

As the mechanical control concept in cars has been replaced by electrical control units and sensors over the decades, many functions on the car are controlled and monitored by chips and programs. 

If you want to change certain functions, you only have to code the control unit. Thus, car coding is nothing more than unlocking functions that were already installed. Usually this can be done in a workshop or by a company specialized in car coding. 

Car coding has developed into a special form of car tuning in recent years. With it you can switch on deactivated functions and make the car more individualized, for example by enabling video in motion.

But you actually don’t have to go to a garage or a car coding expert to do this, because they will bill you for each time they code the car. Depending on the function, this can cost several hundred or even over a thousand dollars. 

In view of the high prices that are charged for car coding, more and more car owners are starting to have interest inmore “wallet friendly” coding devices. But many people, especially beginners, ask themselves which car coding device they should use?

1.4 Which car coding device is the right one?

Finding the right coding device is not so easy. An auto coding device kit consists of different parts — a hardware with the appropriate software and the connection to the car.

Both the hardware and the software can be chosen from different options.For hardware, your choice is essentially between a smartphone or a laptop, but the choice of software is much greater.

However, the choice of software is also limited in a way, as some of the options can damage your car. So you should only consider reputable providers when making your choice.

When searching for a car coding device you can distinguish between two groups: a laptop with suitable software or a smartphone with a matching app.

You have various choices for both options and new suppliers are constantly entering the market. However, this does not make the choice any easier.

1.5 Car Coding with a Laptop

Which program is used to code a car depends on the make and model of the car. Car manufacturers do not produce the control units themselves, but purchase them from third-party suppliers. Each car manufacturer works with its own software.

When a model changes generations, it can happen that, in addition to a facelift, the software used in control units is replaced with new software. So if you change the model/build year, you may have to change the software that you use for coding your car as well.

Over the years, every car manufacturer has accumulated some software for coding cars. Here you can find some examples:

For old Mercedes models you can use the programs HHT-WIN and Xentry DAS for diagnosis. If you want to read out the diagnosis, flash the control unit, or reprogram the software, you can do this with the program called Vediamo. But there are no protective restrictions with this program, because Mercedes vehicles can’t be coded, they can only be programmed. This means that you can only change the whole software, which is risky and in the hands of an amatuer it can accidentally shut down the whole electronic system of your Mercedes. 

If you want to get into the control units of your BMW and change certain functions you will find different programs for this purpose, for example Ediabas, Tool32, NCS Expert, NCS Dummy, INPA, WinKFP, and E-SYS. Each program offers different possibilities and cannot be used with every model and build year.

There are also other programs that are specially designed for certain car brands. An example is the Windows based VCDS program used by the Volkswagen Group. 

However, some of these programs have no protective limitations. This is especially true for the programs from car manufacturers. This allows you to get deep into the ECUs of your car and potentially cause a lot of damage. 

You should not use this kind of software or at least not alone, especially if you’re a beginner. These programs are intended for trained specialists. If you don’t have knowledge and experience, you could damage your car or even immobilize it

The probability that beginners make a mistake when coding a car is very high. One wrong command is enough so that your car will not drive another inch. If you damage your car by car coding, you also have to pay for the damage yourself. 

If you are a beginner, you should instead pay a company to code your car. But make sure that the company gives you a guarantee for the coding should errors occur afterwards.

There is another reason why you should not use the software of the car manufacturers. This software is not available legally for a private user. The offers from the internet are often pirated. You could therefore be liable for prosecution, for example for purchasing stolen goods.

So what do you do if you’re a beginner in car coding, but want to try it? You need to find the right product! With an easy to use car coding device you can unlock or change functions on your car without worrying about damaging it. Some devices even offer you car diagnostics and used car check features on top of the coding possibilities. 

1.6 Car Coding with Your Smartphone

No car coding device is as appealing and easy to use as the smartphone with a matching app. Especially because everyone has a smartphone and the costs are low.

On the internet you will find offers that are specifically aimed at beginners. One example is the app from Carly, which is offered together with the matching OBD2 adapter. However, not all offered apps are easy to use. 

A smartphone is a computer and an app is a program. Therefore, apps behave in the same way as programs for laptops. There are smartphone apps available with which you can code sensitive areas of the control units.

With some apps you can only perform car diagnostics (fault code read out) and with others you can only code your car’s control units, but on the market you can also find apps that support both and many other features.But, just as with laptop programs, some apps can damage your car.

Even if the large selection of apps is tempting, caution is advised for this very reason. With many apps there is neither a guarantee nor assistance from the provider. So when it comes to using them on your car, you should be careful.

Fortunately, the car coding market is full of different apps, and some offer you security. These apps have car coding restrictions, which means that you can’t get into the areas of the control units whose coding could damage crucial parts of your car or even be dangerous for your and others on the road. 

This limits the car coding possibilities a bit, but more importantly, it saves you a lot of trouble and keeps everyone safe. 

1.7 Car Coding Can Be Fun

Who wouldn’t like to code new functions and experience the feeling of sitting in a “new” car. And the best part is that you don’t have to be a trained IT specialist or car technician to do this.

With the right car coding device, you can bring a wealth of data to the display of your smartphone. The important thing is to find a provider that has the right app and adapter. With the right products, car coding is easy, especially if the app has user-friendly interface and menu design.

An example of this is the app from Carly. You can get the lite version for free in the app store and have a look at supported functions without spending any money. Intuitive symbols and clear descriptions guide you safely through their different functions.

A user-friendly app is designed in such a way that you don’t have to take a course or read a thick manual. And it should prevent you from doing any risky car codings that could accidentally ruin your car.

Carly does this, while still offering you many possibilities to code your car. Which coding features are available depends on the make, model, and year of construction. Here is an example of what you can do with the Carly app on the BMW F90 5 series from 2017:

  • Diagnostic check
  • Info memory
  • Used car check
  • Car coding
  • Engine parameters
  • Automatic transmission functions
  • Diesel particulate filter regeneration
  • Exhaust flaps control
  • OBD functions

Under the option “Engine parameters” you can see how your engine performs live while driving your car. And the “Used Car Check” function helps you see  if the previous owner has manipulated the mileage to sell the car for a higher price.

Some of the most interesting functions are offered under “Car coding”. With car coding you can adjust, activate, or deactivate many functions depending on the model and software. For example:

  • Active Sound Design
  • Driving assistant
  • Head-up display
  • iDrive menus
  • Climate control
  • Instrument cluster
  • Start-stop function
  • Doors open/close
  • Seat heating
  • Daytime running lights
  • Warnings

The Carly app and adapter offer you many functions to code the individual points according to your preferences. For example, you can not only activate the Head-up display, but also determine which data is shown on the Head-up display. 

1.8 Coding Device Criteria 

Our tips are mainly aimed at beginners, as professional car tuners have their own sources. But for beginners it can be difficult to decide which program or app is the right one.

When searching for the right car coding device you should never lose sight of the most important thing: your car. Especially if you’re a beginner, you might want to avoid any programs or apps that don’t have any restrictions, as this can lead to expensive repairs.

Nevertheless, don’t be put off by car coding. If you aren’t planning to try things like performance enhancements, you should find more than enough possibilities with a good car coding device that pairs with your smartphone.

1.9 Pricing

The devices that can perform coding do not cost that much money. You can get the app for Android or iOS and the OBD2 adapter for as low as $50, but with pretty limited options. If you are willing to spend between $100 and $200 you will get a quality product with many more options. Most of these devices are focused on one brand, but there are ones out there that offer support for more brands, depending on what functionality you want. 

1.10 Car Coding Problems

Even though it doesn’t happen often, car coding can also cause problems. You can divide them into two groups: legal problems and technical problems.

If you want to read the fault code memory or code various functions with your diagnostics and car coding device, you can do this without any problems. If you know the content of the diagnostics report, you will be at an advantage when carrying out repairs in the workshop, as you’ll know the possible causes of the defect and do not have to rely blindly on the workshop.

It is also no problem if you install a car battery you bought yourself and register it with your car coding device. Also the activation of the indicators as a visual signal when opening and closing the doors has no legal consequences.

But some changes to the car must be approved by the authorities. In order to be legally on the road, they must be listed in the vehicle registration document. Only then are you allowed to drive the car on public roads.

Since changing the visual features of the car from the comfort of your home/garage is becoming more and more common, local law enforcement has started to get involved.

Usually, vehicles are examined with a focus on car tuning, but some of the features that can be changed with car coding are also being checked (e.g. US only lights are being coded on cars built for European market).

Violations are punishable by fines when it comes to changes made by car coding or smaller tuning changes, but if you for example make your exhaust system louder than it is allowed, the car can be confiscated.

Then there are also technical issues. Companies such as GÄN Tuning advertise more horsepower and higher speed with chip tuning. Besides a possible violation of the law and those consequences, you also have to consider technical problems.

It doesn’t matter if you increase the engine power by yourself with a programming device or if you let a car tuner do it for you. Engine tuning is risky in both cases. The reason for this is that the engine of your car was not built for higher pressures or different air-fuel ratios and will be damaged in the long run.

For example the piston rings can deform and break due to the higher speeds. Then the piston rings have to be replaced, which costs several thousand dollars.

Defective piston rings can also cause serious engine damage. In this case the pistons seize up in the cylinder. Then the engine cannot be repaired and has to be replaced.

Luckily with car coding devices like Carly you can’t tune the car, but only change parts of the car that can’t cause severe damage to vital parts of your vehicle!