I've used this technique to stop the horn beeping when I double-press the key fob lock button, show exact temperatures above the dashboard gauges for increase peace of mind when towing, turn the tail lights on whenever driving so our trailer's backup camera has power, and many more things!
All you need is a cheap OBD2 Adapter and a laptop! Read on to find out how you can do all this in under an hour!
In this article...
- Is it safe?
- What equipment do I need?
- My Mods
OK, let's back up for a second. What is OBD-II, and what are these new features we're talking about?
Well, despite the jargon, it's actually very simple. Since January 1st 1996, every new car and light truck sold in the US was required to have an Onboard Diagnostic Port that adheres to the version 2 standard - also known as OBD-II (as in, OBD-2). In simple terms, this means there must be an OBD-II connector within a short distance of the driver's seat - usually somewhere under the steering wheel.
Have you ever had a warning light on your car, and taken it into a garage for service? Odds are, the first thing they did was plug a tool into that port. Same if you have new tires installed - they use that port to reset the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) for the new tire.
But why do we care? Well, in addition to reading error codes (which can be very useful), some vehicles also allow you to modify lots of hidden settings with it. Ford vehicles in particular use this a lot - and free software called FORScan makes this accessible to anyone!
I've written this guide with our 2016 Ford F-150 Platinum in mind, but the same techniques work on almost any relatively new Ford vehicle. Depending on your vehicle's features, some of these may not be available to you, but plenty more should be!
Is it safe?
Yes, if done properly. But modifying settings via the OBD-II port needs to be done very carefully - making mistakes can potentially cause damage to the vehicle.
Although the process is straightforward, take your time to read the instructions carefully - don't be tempted to skip steps.
Also, some people like to "undo" these changes before taking their vehicle to a dealer for service or repair work. Whether these impact your warranty is a grey area. From my perspective, I've had the truck in for service and repair work at several different dealers and have never bothered to undo them - even the very obvious ones. Nobody has ever said anything about it.
What equipment do I need?
There are just 3 things you need in order to update these settings:
- OBD-II adapter
- Laptop running Microsoft Windows
- Free FORScan software
This might sound complicated, but it's very simple - it lets your computer (or phone) communicate with your vehicle via its Onboard Diagnostic (OBD) port. I've owned several over the years - some use WiFi, some use Bluetooth, and some are just connect via USB.
The WiFi and Bluetooth versions are great if you want to monitor vehicle performance or read error codes via your phone (fun, but outside the scope of this post), but they can be more expensive than the simple USB versions. Furthermore, the last thing you want while updating these settings is for the connection to drop - so I use my wireless dongles for quickly checking things, but use the USB connector with FORScan to update settings.
I'd recommend this OHP ELMconfig Forscan OBD2 USB Adapter from Amazon. Not only is it much cheaper than WiFi or Bluetooth versions, but it works really well and even has a switch to read both MS-CAN and HS-CAN - this gives you access to more settings.
FORScan is the software that we'll use to update these settings. There are Lite versions for Android and iOS that let you read basic vehicle information but don't let you update the settings we want to change. We need to use the desktop software which is unfortunately only available for Windows - if you're a Mac user, then it should work using Parallels or similar!
You will also need to obtain an Extended License for it, since the features we want are not available in the Standard License. Fortunately, they offer a free 2-month trial (and you can repeat the trial as often as you like), but if you want to support the development of the software then you can buy a license from $10 upwards.
So, to get started, you'll need to download FORScan for Windows from the Download page. At the time of writing, the latest version is 2.3.21 beta, but just download the latest.
Once you've downloaded FORScan, follow the instructions in this Google Doc. As I said before, don't be tempted to skip steps - it's important to get it right. In particular, make sure to backup the modules - they could be your only chance at recovery if you make a mistake!
Disclaimer: If you choose to carry out any of the hacks in this blog post, you do so entirely at your own risk. I highly encourage you to thoroughly read and understand all the FORScan tutorials.
If you've followed the instructions above, you should now understand how to connect to your vehicle and update settings. But how do you know what to change?
I've been referring to this Google Sheet as a master document listing all known FORScan settings for 2015-2019 Ford F-150s. If you drive a Ford Super Duty, then this document might help you - but a quick Google search should pull up the relevant for whichever Ford vehicle you drive.
So, with that said, here are the settings we've changed on our 2016 Ford F-150 - some are functional, others just for fun! For each one, I'll share why we did it and which addresses / values to change - I use the Advanced Mode from the instructions linked above for all these.
Disable Double Horn Honk
If you've followed the instructions above, you may have already done this as one of the examples.
Back in the UK, it was common on Ford vehicles that pressing the lock button once would lock the vehicle and the second press would double lock the vehicle - locking the doors so they couldn't be opened from inside, preventing someone smashing a window and opening the door. But on my truck, it just honks the horn - very annoying! Fortunately, it's also easy to disable!
- [BCM] 726-41-02: xxx0 xxxx xxxx
This will automatically fold the mirrors in when you lock the truck. Not only was it something I was used to from previous vehicles, but it helps if you've parked in a small parking space. Also, it's a great way to know at a glance if the truck is locked or not.
If you have the tow mirrors, you may also need to swap some pins around on the mirror connector - I didn't have to, but if you do, there's lots more information here about how to do it.
- [DDM] 740-03-01: x8xx xx
- [DDM] 740-12-01: Fxxx
- [PDM] 741-03-01: x8xx xx
- [PDM] 741-12-01: Fxxx
Daytime Running Lights - Enable Low Beam
Our truck has automatic lights - they turn on when it gets dark outside. We have a rear observation camera on our trailer, and it's powered by the tail-lights on the trailer. This means that I have to manually turn the truck lights on during the daytime to enable the camera.
Not any more! This setting changes the behavior of the daytime running lights so that the low beam headlights and rear tail lights are on whenever the truck is in gear. So now I can leave my headlights on automatic, and the trailer's rear observation camera will still get power.
It's worth noting that when you put the truck in park, the headlights turn off again - they're only on when the truck is in gear. If you need the camera when your vehicle is in park, just manually turn your lights on.
- [BCM] 726-26-02: x1xx xxxx xxxx
- [BCM] 726-50-01: 02xx
While we're on the subject of lights, here's another great hack - and it has my favorite name, Bambi Mode! Normally, when you turn on your high beam, your fog lights turn off. This is generally a good thing in normal driving, since the glare from your high beam would be counterproductive in fog. However, for off-road driving in the dark, sometimes you just want as much light as possible, including fog lights to illuminate the sides of the trail.
This mod allows exactly that. It lets you turn on your high beam headlamps and fog lights at the same time. Plus, because I have off-road lights too, I can turn these on. This mod is designed for off-road only, and shouldn't be used in foggy conditions on roads.
- [BCM] 726-27-01: xxxx xxx0 01xx (remembered after ignition cycle)
Show Engine & Transmission Temperatures
By default, the Engine Coolant Temperature (ECT) and Transmission Temperature are just shown on gauges on the dashboard. Normally, this is fine, but when towing (especially in hot weather up steep grades), we like to keep a closer eye on the temperatures.
With this hack, the dashboard will show the actual numerical temperature above each of the gauges. This only works on the 8" digital dashboard clusters.
- [IPC] 720-07-01: xxxx xE5x xxxx (use this if you have a Trailer Brake Controller and turbos)
- [IPC] 720-07-01: xxxx x65x xxxx (use this if you don't have Trailer Brake Controller but have turbos)
- [IPC] 720-07-01: xxxx xA5x xxxx (use this if you have TBC but don't have turbos)
- [IPC] 720-07-01: xxxx x25x xxxx (use this if you don't have TBC or turbos)
Set & Display TPMS Specified Value
Our truck has a built-in Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) for the truck tires. I often forget what pressure my tires are supposed to be at, and this hack lets you set the tire pressure of your choice and have that displayed on the TPMS screen.
- [IPC] 720-04-01: xx*x xxxx xxxx
For this mod, you'll need to set the * value above depending on the chart below. To find out if you have the Trailer Brake Controller Gain enabled, check the current value in that position. If it's a 0, then change it to an 8, and if it's a 4 then change it to a C.
0 = TBC Gain disabled & TPMS Specified Value disabled 4 = TBC Gain enabled & TPMS Specified Value disabled 8 = TBC Gain disabled & TPMS Specified Value enabled C = TBC Gain enabled & TPMS Specified Value enabled
The specified value it will show should be saved in the following location:
- [BCM] 726-40-01: xxxx **xx xxxx (front - convert PSI from decimal to hex)
- [BCM] 726-40-01: xxxx xx** xxxx (rear - convert PSI from decimal to hex)
Add Heated Steering Wheel, Heated & Cooled Seat Icons to Home Screen
If your truck has heated and cooled seats, then it should have physical buttons below the radio to control them. But the heated steering wheel (if equipped) can only be turned on by going into the Sync Climate screen. This hack adds icons to the main Sync home screen for the heated steering wheel, plus the heated and cooled seats.
Secure Idle (aka Police Mode)
Normally it would be unwise to leave your truck engine on and then leave the vehicle - someone could easily jump in and drive off. This mod prevents the transmission being shifted out of Park unless the key fob is in the vehicle. I use this occasionally if I've stopped somewhere briefly and want to leave the engine running so the air conditioning stays on.
- [BCM] 726-42-01: x1xx xxxx xxxx
Maybe it's just me, but I don't want SiriusXM in the truck, and seeing the icon there in the audio sources feels like unnecessary marketing. This hack simply removes the SiriusXM icon - and don't worry, you can always reverse the hack to put it back!
- [APIM] 7D0-01-01: *xxx xxxx xxxx (decrement whatever value you have for the asterisk by 2 - e.g. A becomes 8, 2 becomes 0)
The process to make these changes is a little complicated, but with a little patience to carefully follow the instructions in the FORScan guides, anyone can do it.
Although the hacks themselves are fairly simple, we've found they make the truck more usable on a day-to-day basis. I no longer have to remember to turn my lights on to use the rear observation camera (or forget to turn them off at the end of the drive). I can see exactly what the engine and transmission temperatures are when towing.
There are many (many!) more hacks you can do besides the ones I've listed here, but these are my favorites. Let me know in the comments if you've used FORScan to change some settings I haven't mentioned here - I'd love to know what else I might be missing!