Automotive Electronics Part II

The other day while waiting for my car to be serviced and browsing in the showroom, I had an epiphany. George Carlin would have loved it.

I was looking at this car capable of 200 mph and then thinking of our clogged and pot-holed freeways. It seems that  the faster engineers can make cars go – and relatively safely unless the driver is a complete dolt or just out of luck, the slower the roads get.

Engines are making massive horsepower and torque, and yet with electronics – such as cylinder deactivation – the computer shuts off some cylinders when cruising saving a lot of fuel – and transmissions that, because of the more powerful engines – have more gears and taller gears – a 450 hp sports car such as a Corvette can get mileage in the mid 20s on the freeway – turning  only 1500 RPM or so.

And if you enter that curve too fast, many cars have electronics that can, within reasonable speed,  prevent an oversteer or understeer. Keeping you on the road and not in a ditch or off a cliff.

If your car is so equipped and if you haven’t turned it off (as you can with many cars). Enter a 90 degree curve at 80 miles an hour and I doubt they will save you.

When airbags first appeared, a switch would detect a collision and deploy all of them. And if the car had any years on it, say 6-10, the cost of replacing those airbags was more than the car’s market value, relegating an otherwise good and easily-repairable car to the wrecking yard.

Now in many a computer decides which airbags to deploy in the event of a collision.

But I wanted to talk today about the electronics that is supposed to add to driving comfort.

A friend of mine just got a new luxury car, and he has since had some ambivalent feelings about it. It weighs about 5,000 lbs with a 450 hp V8. It has so much electronics, it can be scary. He has started to refer to it as “The Beast“.

As he wanted me to drive it to the airport to pick up his friend, I too had ambivalent feelings about it. It felt quick and nimble, unusual for a car weighing so much. It had air bladders in the seat bolsters so every time you turned – even on public streets – the inside bolster would start inflating. I thought that feature was kind of silly – and distracting. Hit a curve at 45 mph and you felt the seat bolster expanding. Wondered if I was going to get goosed.

It had air suspension making the ride firm but not harsh.

I couldn’t even figure out how to change the volume on the radio – no knobs were evident – and my friend told me it was something on the passenger side of the console – a mouse pad? Knob?

Never did use it. Or see it.

I made a turn – hit the edge of the road – and from the instrument panel – actually a big LCD screen portraying things like a speedometer and tachometer – with a “heads up” display of functions on the windshield – anyway coming out of the turn I hit the edge of the road and thing went crazy – warning me of something I was already aware of doing.

Oh,  and it has – get this – a perfume dispenser the manufacturer calls “scent cartridges”. $200 to renew.

It has what is called Distronic Plus – a cruise control that looks forward and automatically adjusts the speed to the car in front of you.

Which is great, as long as you know it is on.

And working.

Shortly after he got the car, he almost rear-ended someone thinking it was on – but it wasn’t.

Add to all of this – is far more stuff to break down the road. What happens if your “perfume dispenser” stops working and they have to tear the dash apart to fix it? I suspect as this car ages a lot of owners will tolerate a lot of non-functional items.

And if the car is 10 years old and that beautiful instrument panel/LCD display stops working, the car will probably go to the wrecking yard. Because having no instruments will be the breaking point.

I mentioned to him that my impression of all of these electronics – rather than being a comfort or aid one in driving – a lot of it is a distraction.

He agreed with me.

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