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Over-the-air engine reprogramming: How it works

The over-the-air updating process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Here’s an at-a-glance look at how the process works for each of them.


Jason Morgan is the editor of Fleet Equipment. He has more than 14 years of B2B journalism experience covering the likes of trucking and construction equipment, real estate, movies and craft beer industries.

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The over-the-air updating process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Here’s an at-a-glance look at how the process works for each of them.


Cummins X12 Engine

Available on: Cummins model year engines 2017 and newer, on- and off-highway
Transmission: Cummins delivers OTA functionality via partnerships with telematics providers. The Wi-Fi or cellular aspect of the solution is determined by the telematics provider.
What’s updated: Engine calibrations from the OEM.
The process:

  1. Fleet managers are notified that there is a pending calibration update available via the online portal.
  2. Once approved by the fleet manager, a calibration begins its journey from the cloud to the telematics box to the ECM.
  3. Once the calibration is available in the non-active storage on the ECM, the driver is safely notified of an available update via her/his telematics device.
  4. When the equipment is stopped (for example, at the end of a route) the driver will see a more detailed pop-up window that explains the need for the installation update and the conditions that must be met, which include: engine off, key on, good cell reception and good battery charge.
  5. When these conditions are met, and the driver pushes the “install now” button, the ECM will install or activate the stored calibration.
  6. Under normal circumstances, the new calibration is then active. In as little as five minutes of downtime, the operator can drive on and complete their mission.

“The fleet manager has access to the status of the re-calibration request from the portal, allowing them to track update completions across their fleet,” said Paula Watson, director of customer success and solution integration for Cummins. “Should something go wrong, the ECM will automatically restore the previous calibration, leaving the equipment in full operating state. The driver can continue her/his mission and the fleet manager is notified of any interruption in the process and has the opportunity to approve the calibration again, if desired. This situation is an edge case, and under normal circumstances will not occur.”



Available on: Freightliner new Cascadias with Detroit model-year 2017 powertrains
Transmission: Cellular signal
What’s updated: Engine parameters set by the fleet such as max vehicle speed limit, cruise control set speed, idle shutdown timer and idle shut down by ambient temperature.
The process:

  1. Adjustable parameters are displayed on the fleet manager’s Detroit Connect Portal dashboard online and detailed by vehicle with the ability to cluster vehicle updates by regions, operational types, etc.
  2. Once the parameters are set, fleet managers confirm that the parameters are to be updated.
  3. An updated parameter message will be sent to the vehicle through the Detroit Connect platform on the truck and the update will be downloaded.
  4. The update cannot be applied until the engine is turned off the key has been left in the on, but unstarted, position.
  5. The updates are plugged into the engine controller and synced with the related components.
  6. Once the engine is started, the parameters have been updated and are in effect. The fleet manager receives a message in the Detroit Connect Portal that confirms the update has been successful.

“For fleets that like to be very active in terms of seasonal changes of idle shutdown ambient temps or regional changes like routes from the Southwest to the Northeast, the ability to not have to touch the truck to do an update and change the parameters over the air has the potential to make a big impact for fleets that utilize it frequently,” said Jason Krajewski, director of connectivity with Daimler Trucks North America. “What will add even more value is our ability to group vehicles so that you don’t have to have someone go through updates vehicle by vehicle.”


Available on: 2017 and newer Navistar engines
Transmission: Wi-Fi
What’s updated: Engine calibrations from the OEM.
The process:

  1. The user who will perform the update uses a mobile phone, tablet or laptop to communicate with the over-the-air programming device and complete the update.
  2. The key must be turned to the on position with the engine off.
  3. ŽThe user initiates the update with a mobile device.
  4. The programming process takes about 25 minutes.

“Whether updates are performed by drivers, fleet managers or maintenance technicians, it will be up to the customer to determine how to execute the upgrades,” said Andrew Dondlinger, vice president of connected services for Navistar. “Most customers are able to determine the best approach after completing a few upgrades themselves.”

Volvo Trucks


Available on: Volvo-powered, model-year 2018 and newer Volvo trucks.
Transmission: Cellular signal
What’s updated: Volvo offers two engine reprogramming updates: 1. Software updates from Volvo; and 2. Parameter updates requested by the fleet.
The process:


For software updates that Volvo has identified such as updates to powertrain components or software updates related to a Remote Diagnostics fault code that Volvo can resolve remotely:

  1. The trained Volvo Action Service (VAS) agent at Volvo’s Uptime Center will first confirm that the truck is eligible to receive the update remotely. 
  2. The agent will then contact the decision-maker based on their preference indicated in their profile—either by email, through the web-based ASIST service management platform or by a phone call.
  3. The VAS agent will ask permission to complete the software update and ask for an appointment when the truck is parked and ready for the update.
  4. The decision-maker will choose the appropriate time that fits their schedule and operation.
  5. Once the appointment is set, the VAS agent will communicate with the driver to make sure that:
    • The truck is parked.
    • The engine is off with the key in the on position.
    • Parked brakes have been pulled.
    • Cellular data is available.
    • The battery voltage is above 12V to insure no disruption to the update.
  6. Once the update is complete, the agent will let the driver know that they are ready to start the truck and continue their delivery or operation. “The driver will only hear some beeps from the cluster, but will not see anything,” said Ash Makki, Volvo Trucks North America’s product marketing manager. “The VAS agent then follows up with the driver to inform them when the download is complete. As the technology advances, we can envision having a display in the driver information display that will indicate the percent-complete level of the update.”

For parameter updates and software updates requested by the customer:

  1. The customer will call Volvo’s Uptime Center at 1-888-52-Volvo and a VAS agent will guide them to the appropriate service desk for OTA updates.
  2. The agent will confirm that the requester is the decision-maker in the profile.
  3. The customer will ask for a certain parameter package. There are four packages: road speed limit, fuel economy package, balanced package and performance package.
  4. The rest of the process follows the same steps as described above after the decision-maker gives permission to begin the download.

For the a look at what over-the-air reprogramming is and why you should care, click here.



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