Electronics were not to blame for unintended acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles, and for that I am profoundly grateful. Not just because I own a Toyota, but because I wouldn't want to see the electronics industry get a black eye.
That said, I want fewer electronics in my car. Even though my car seems to be performing safely overall, little technical glitches are driving me crazy. Now, it looks as if my local mechanic will need an electrical engineer on hand.
IDC this week announced it would conduct a joint study with the Society of Automotive Engineers on the impact of increased vehicle technology on service, diagnostics, and technician safety. The study targets not only the technicians at dealerships and independent repair facilities, but also the OEMs and suppliers that design, engineer, tool, and produce the vehicles.
Most of the cars produced today have triple the amount of software code in electronic control units (ECUs) per vehicle, compared to previous models, according to IDC. With new electric and hybrid technologies, and the increased number of aftermarket devices in vehicles, the complexity of vehicle system diagnostics and service is intensifying every day.
“The potential needs and gaps in capabilities for servicing new vehicles could have a profound effect on market adoption, OEM warranty repair costs, and technician service efficiency and safety,” says Sheila Brennan, program manager, Product Life-Cycle Strategies Practice at IDC Manufacturing Insights.
No kidding. In the past few years, my family's cars — not all Toyotas — have failed state inspections because of a faulty tail light connector and an unknown problem that caused the “check engine” light to stay on (an automatic failure in Massachusetts). We've also had two electric windows fall into the door panels (never to be seen again) and broken door handles — yes, handles — that cost a fortune to repair because of the electronic locks. Oh, and my friend's car had an automatic sliding door would “go rogue” whenever the car hit a pothole. They never figured that one out.
A number of years ago, a premium car maker scaled back the amount of electronics in its cars because of a “trust” issue. Although there was only a minor technical problem with its steering wheel adjustment, the maker reasoned that, if it didn't act, customers might become distrustful of the car's major electronics systems.
I plead guilty to that charge.
As it turns out (pun intended), my engine light problem was solved by driving a long distance, and I'm managing to live with one door out of action. Car makers are clearly focusing on the big stuff. But my enthusiasm for auto electronics has been dampened by these mishaps. The fewer electronics our mechanic has to deal with, the better.