QOTW #48 – Tracker Failure and Electronic Gremlins

Back to videos

Welcome BamfordRose, and another question of the week. This week, it’s about tracker module failure.

There are not many problems on the gate nearer Aston range, which is going to affect every single car.

But this is one of them. This tracker module failure, the disruption that the failure of the module sends out in electronic signals across the rest of the car’s communication network, can cause haywire and is every single car ever made.

Fix is really simple, so there’s nothing to panic about. The fix is to disconnect the tracker module from the harness, reprogram at the body module with a file that is tracker module inactive.

If you didn’t do that when you disconnected the tracker from the harness, and the body module has lost communication with the tracker module, it’s not going to enable the engine to start.

Whereas, if you’ve programmed the body module with tracker inactive, then obviously, the body module isn’t looking for the tracker module, and the engine will start as normal. The cost of that is well, behind 30 seconds to disconnect the tracker from the harness.

I’m not going to say on this video where the tracker is located. And then you know five minutes or so with a laptop just to do the reconfiguration.

Standard charge for a body module file 50 quid, so you know really the extent of this repairs fifty quid.

So what happens and why? Well, when the cars were built, this is early db9 early v8 Vantage, and then on to the Mercedes 0 cars. These cars were all built with a tracker module.

So it didn’t matter where the customer specified that they wanted the tracker in the makeup of the car; when it was built, every single car got a tracker much. The early DB9’s nines had the horizon tracker system, and that’s this module fitted here.

And that was very quickly superseded and updated to a cat5 tracker module, which is pictured here. If you had this system, and I think when cars were ordered in the early days, you know it’s going to be 99.9% of cars that had an active tracker subscription.

You’ve got this nice little proximity tag, which if you had on your person in the car when the ignition was turned on, then the ignition is turned on, the tracker module is going to receive a signal from the tracker tag and say okay, yes.

I’m in the proximity of my tracker tag, everything’s good. It’s going to send that signal out through GPS aerial to the receiving station, and the signal isn’t going to be a distressed one.

And there’s going to be no action taken. If the ignition was turned on, engine started, and the proximity tag was not in the immediate vicinity, then the tracker module would detect that as an error and send out an error signal to the receiving station.

The cars have remote immobilization, and the receive center would send a signal down to the car to inhibit an engine start at the next time if the engine was trying to be restarted.

Obviously, it’s not going to cut the car out whilst it’s driving because that could be pretty dangerous. So that’s the operation of the system.

And as years go by, owners change, owner two, owner three, the subscription doesn’t get renewed, and the tracker tags get lost. Now, this doesn’t affect how the car electronically is behaving at all.

So somebody could say, well, I haven’t got a tracker, I haven’t got a tracker subscription, but the system is working on your car, and this is the problem.

Because internally, the tracker module fails it’s car communication network, and that sends out disrupted signals around the car, which I’ll come on to later.

So what happens when the subscription has naturally expired is that the driver gets in the car, turns the ignition on.

A distress signal is sent out because the proximity tag isn’t in the car. But when the receiver station receives a signal from the car because it’s not an active subscription, then absolutely nothing is done about it.

You know it’s not even registering alarm bells on any system. And because the tracker subscription is inactive, then there’s no signal sent back to the car which says inhibits start on the next key cycle.

So although you an got a tracker subscription, that functionality is still working exactly the same as it ever used to.

So what happens is because this box, this electronic box and as you all know, the body module made by Volvo, engine ECU made by Ford all those major you know heating, ventilation, and control system again Volvo.

All these major components are pretty bulletproof. But throttle bodies, door modules, tracker modules this is all Aston’s own.

And if you break apart these black plastic module boxes, you’ll realize that it all looks pretty hobbyist, compared to the body module and the parts made by, you know, big volume OEM’s.

So the hobbyist nature of these components is the root cause of their failure. So what happens with a tracker module is you get, typically you get battery drain because when the cars are locked, the tracker module is consuming battery.

And you get spurious electronic gremlins appear around the whole of the car because the tracker module is sending corrupted signals across the cam communication network, and the body module interprets those signals as messages from different parts of the car.

So whenever we see a car that has got real spurious gremlin electronic issues, the tracker module is always the first thing to check.

And then when you have a conversation with a customer, they say, oh. Yes, I’ve got a battery drain, and the story comes to life. So the other failure that the tracker module can exhibit is.

Eventually, it will inhibit a start. And you know you’ll go to fill up the petrol, come back out to the car and it just won’t start.

And this is where I get a lot of phone calls which say, hey, I think I need a starter motor.

And I say okay, well what’s happening? Can you hear it clicking? Is the solenoid trying to engage? Run through all the questions that you’d ask to diagnose if the starter motor is mechanically failed. He said no, none of that, no.

I just got into the car one time, and you know I pulled him for petrol, and I just got back into it and pressed the start button, and it won’t go.

I said, okay, yes, you don’t need a start mode, you need a tracker module disconnect, and they just don’t understand, don’t compute why they need that, because they haven’t got a tracker subscription.

So one way to detect a tracker module failure, separate from it draining the battery, is hook it up to the MDS, the Aston Martin diagnostic system. And when you do a car wide fault code search, the tracker module has got its own set of fault codes that will ping up.

And there’s a big long list of tracker module internal codes that go hand-in-hand with the failure of that module.

And it’s beyond me when it comes to service how garages can miss that the tracker is failing. Because before, I don’t know exactly, but it’s a long period of time.

A couple of years before it actually falls over, it’s going to be reporting fault codes. Internal communication network, implausibility.

The body module is lost communication every now and again with the tracker; all these fault codes are in the car’s history. It’s just that they don’t get acted upon when someone does a service.

So it’s very common here for us to do a routine service and then make the comment to the customer, hey, your tracker module was about to fail. If I was you, I would get us to disconnect it and reprogram the body module.

And you run through this whole story time and time again of how and why the tracker module fails. So yes, this is universally being undetected at point of service.

And that’s quite frustrating because there’s information there at point of service, which is telling the garage mechanic, hey, there’s something wrong with the car. It’s not being acted upon.

And that inaction is basically causing a breakdown in the future, which is extremely distressing. You know you have to call the tow company up, get it, trail it somewhere, where it could all have been fixed as part of routine service.

So if you’ve got a battery drain, if you’ve got electrical gremlins that no one can really get to the bottom of.

And this will be a gearbox pump or a sports shift not running properly. Any electrical gremlin I’ve seen it affect the brake control module and the brake assist light on the dashboard.

Any electrical failure, strange battery drain, or when you do a fault code read, you have the big long list of Drecker module failure, Drecker module fault codes. It’s all indication that you need to disconnect the tracker and reflash the body module.

Some customers get panicked if their tracker subscription was active, that they haven’t got a tracker anymore. So if you’re one of those customers, maybe your insurance needs it.

Then the tracker module to purchase from Aston Martin is hideously expensive; it’s like 1,300 quid. And the way the system works is pretty poor.

Whereas, you could go out and buy a cobra cat V tracker, one-year subscription, supplied, fitted, and installed for about six hundred quid. So if you really wanted an active tracker, then my advice would be to go the cobra route.

Whether you need a tracker or not? Well, if you’ve got one of the old 4.3 or db9, and you’ve got key start.

Well, you’ve got a transponder in that key, that when you put it in the ignition barrel, it is being checked by the sensor in the ignition barrel. So people can’t nick the car and without the key because it won’t start because it’s not picking up the crystal chip in the key.

And obviously, you’ve got your remote fob coded to the car to gain access. So a tracker is only really of use if the car has been stolen with the keys in it, and you can track its location and recover it.

On the newer cars that got the glass key, obviously, there’s the same crystal chip in the glass key. It’s just picked up by the docking station instead of the ignition barrel.

Hope that helps, and as always really helps us if you can like, subscribe and comment about what we talked about today.

Want more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for regular updates!

Our channel