How car electronics change your daily life, on the road and in the auto shop
· You are driving to a friend’s house and the airbag light is flashing: Then you remember that it always does this when you have your dog Max in the back.
· You grab the door handle to open the door and your car alarm goes off, everyone is looking at you and you feel like a thief.
· You approach a stop sign and your car suddenly goes into low idle and stalls.
· You unlock your car and all the windows go down. This only happens on cold winter trips.
Weird stuff happens with your car and you don’t have any idea why. Gone are the days when Do-It-Yourself could solve a lot of car issues. Today’s vehicles are much more like spaceships or at least like a plane. In fact, your car may contain 60-80 separate little computers providing more computing power than the 1982 Airbus A310 had or the Apollo Moon Lander!
Because modern cars are more like complex electronically controlled spaceships, their insides do not much resemble those of cars twenty years ago. Instead of things like a carburetor you’ll find lots of wires under your car’s hood, connecting sensors to the computers and giving status on the car’s vital signs. Electronics enable unprecedented functionality such as hybrid power or safety functions like airbags, ABS or stability control, just to name a few. Maintenance jobs like a tune-up used to mean getting the engine’s performance back on track. Today embedded software takes care of it by checking constantly thousands of sensor signals compensating for worn out spark plugs, clogged filters, etc. The so-called limp-home function lets you drive on limited power when your engine is in trouble. In the old days this might have meant a break down.
If your car is as complex as a spaceship and makes you feel helpless whenever it plays weird tricks on you, perhaps you’d like a space-age preventive maintenance solution. How about piloting like a real spaceship pilot and not to worry about inexplicable malfunctions? That is what professionals in auto shops take care of. Not only do they inspect, service and replace the still remaining 5,000 moving parts; they also understand the electronics’ side effects, run complex diagnostic and test sequences in order to fix and avoid malfunctions. Since electronics mask emerging problems so there is no detectable sign for you until much later, technicians in your shop need to find the root cause early. When too late you might have a need for replacing expensive parts. A speed sensor going bad and compensated by the software might start burning your transmission oil long before the engine light goes on. Ask the experts in your shop about space-age maintenance for your vehicle. Let them provide you with the right program to meet your service priorities (And don’t forget to quiz them about Max and the airbag light).
PS: Max is indeed the cause for the flashing airbag light. The airbag software detected the occupied seat. The person seems to move very erratically though (Max is jumping around in the back seat), which is not what the software expects humans would do. So it concludes a defect wire as cause and triggers the airbag light to flash.
PPS: Did you experience great and/or weird things with your car? Leave a comment in the section below. I’d like to help you exploring what is possible through electronics.