Junkyard Computers and Mike's Mitsubishi

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 06, 2012

Dear Tom and Ray:

My daughter has a 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse four-cylinder RS model. Everything electrical died, and she was told that the computer is no good. Since the car is not worth all that much, we wanted to get another computer from the junkyard. However, we were told that would not work. They said each Eclipse computer is programmed just for that car, and we would have to purchase a new computer, for about $1,200. Is there truth in what she was told?

-- Mike

RAY: No. In lots of newer cars, you cannot just take a computer out of one car and drop it into another car; it won't work.

TOM: That's partly due to the way the newer computers are wired. But making them difficult to reuse also helps reduce computer theft. As you found out, these computers are kind of pricey.

RAY: There is a method by which you can reuse these newer computers, but we're not going to share it here, since that would only encourage computer thieves.

TOM: Which, in turn, would cut into OUR computer theft business!

RAY: But on your daughter's car, Mike, and most older cars, you can buy a used computer. There's no good reason not to. After all, the rest of the car is 10 years old -- what's wrong with having a 10-year-old computer?

TOM: But first, make sure you know which computer it is -- there are several. Cars have electronic control modules for engine functions, and body control modules for the heater controls, power seat memory and other stuff. Then, once you get the right module, your mechanic may have to reflash it, because some modules contain "learned" information about the previous car. But that's no big deal. "Used" is the way to go, Mike.

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