Memoirs of an Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: World's Most Notorious Automotive Technologies, Bin Two
Second in a Series, the format of which I described in the introductory remarks of Part One, this article will focus on specific modern technologies—not at all egregious in themselves—that have, in my opinion, been applied and utilized in a most egregious fashion in the modern automobile. Boldly going where no one ought to go, ON TO THE BIN!!
The Motorized Floor Mat
Laugh if you want—and I find the thought amusing, too—but it would not surprise me if we see such a technology offered to, aggressively marketed at, or just downright foisted on future auto consumers.
Way back in the early days of the “electric motorization” of the automobile, and even into later times, the elimination of manual duties often reserved for the operator/driver was often motivated out of sheer necessity. Should anybody rightfully regret the invention of the Electric Starter? It’s been considered one of the most important advances in the history of automotive development. The electric Blower Motor, used in HVAC systems since well before we started using that acronym—what else could fill the bill so well? Really, any other design employing an electric motor where safety is a priority, and there really are no other simpler viable options, is just fine with me.
Even where safety is not a concern, using motorization in the accomplishment of a task, if it both simplify the process AND enhance accuracy, reliability and serviceability—well, I’m all for it. For example: though some may argue the necessity of an EGR Valve at all, the modern motorized units ARE quite an improvement over the old vacuum operated systems they replaced.
Unfortunately, when clear-cut reasons to employ electric motorization became less apparent, rather than just leaving well enough alone, manufacturers found other reasons to justify their promotion in new and exciting areas. It started with “Power Seats” and “Power Windows”, and then escalated into the egregious.
You want that trunk lid to shut like a “luxury” car’s trunk ought to shut? With an electric motor integrated in the latch, you no longer have to use any force at all. Just set it down and the motor will do the rest for you! Want to adjust your steering column? Just lightly push the controls, and the motors will handle the grunt logistical stuff! Want to go Four-Wheelin’, but you’re not burly enough to sling a J-Pattern manual transfer case? Just push the “Soft Touch” control panel buttons, and electric motors will do all the dirty work! Had a long day hauling around the kids and Fido, and you don’t know if you’re up to dealing with hucking that large rear hatch and slinging the sliding doors on your minivan? No worries, with the advent of motorized closures!
It has come to the point that if there’s ANY potential for the user/operator (I hesitate to use the word “driver” in this context) to have difficulty with any vehicle interface, the manufacturer will unhesitatingly introduce a motorized solution to the “problem”!
Since there’s been so much in the news of late regarding the mis-positioning of the all-critical Floor Mat (the manual retainer system being apparently at the end of it’s product-cycle), the only viable solution must be to MOTORIZE IT!
When it comes to repairing and servicing these systems, experience has taught that it will be neither CONVENIENT nor INEXPENSIVE.
Ahhh, the cost to save us from ourselves…
The Computerized Cigarette Lighter
For all I know, this technology is probably being offered on some six-figure European luxo-cruiser. The way computerized technology is advancing, however, it will probably be standard equipment in your next econobox/appliance commuter car!
The point I’m making here is similar to the one I made about the over-use of electric motor technology: Computerization of (not to be confused with use of Electronics in) many automotive systems and components is unnecessary and self-defeating.
I recall the first time I had to repair a computerized power window system on a Honda. The user interface, that is, the master switch, looked almost identical to the one from the model year before. When I removed the switch from the door panel for testing, unfortunately I was greeted with unfamiliar looking sub-harness connections. Upon breaking out the brand new, never before used Service Manual (as this was a very late-model car at the time) and perusing the wiring schematic (one of the last of the wire-for-wire charts), what to my wondering eyes did appear but a Control Unit integrated into the switchgear and relays!
I was dumbfounded at the added complexity for no apparent good reason!
I had been around the wrenching end of autos since the era of power window systems employing point-to-point soldered crossovers in the switchgear, with no operational relays (except maybe for a Main Power unit). That was antique technology best left for boutique guitar amplifiers; and I was glad to see switchgear with internal metal “busses” (circuited for low-amperage duties while relays did the high-amp transmission to the motors), as they were much more reliable. But going as far as COMPUTERIZING the process—THIS was bordering on SACRILEGE!
As history has borne out, this borderline sacrilege was only beginning at that time. We now also have Computerized (in similarly unnecessary fashion): Main Power Distribution, Power Seat Control, Inside Rear View Mirrors, Anti-Theft Systems, Starter Actuation, Transmission Gearshift Selection, Automatic Climate Control, Windshield Wiper Actuation, Lighting Systems, Vehicle Stability Control, and more!
As with over-motorization, the added complexity of over-computerization has not improved simplicity, reliability, or serviceability, allowing it entry into the Pantheon of The Egregious!
Stay tuned for Part Three.
Phil Coconis is the owner of a West Coast independent auto repair shop.
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This is great fodder for the get-off-my-lawn good ol days anti-technology contingent here! The steering wheel is motorized so that it can be tied in with the memory system. The Honda windows were computerized so that there can be an auto-up feature, they have to have travel feedback monitoring so small children won't get caught up in there. (Subaru got sued over the simpler kind) You should know how elegant and complex window wiring for 4 doors with master/slave switches are, the computerized stuff is simpler in a way. Data bus, multiplexing etc. removes complexity in an integrated system, especially the way modern cars work. You make the age old assumption that computerized/motorized means more frequent failure. Throttle by wire motors and sensors will likely outlast a cable and linkage with return spring. No doubt mfrs do this stuff to increase "features" for oohs and ahhs. Nobody needs a power liftgate but its nice. The last rental car I had, a Buick Lacrosse, turned the rear defogger on when I remote started it from the keyfob on a cold morning. Then it turned the heat blower down when I made a call over the bluetooth. None of that is easily possible if the starter relay must be closed by the ignition switch, the blower is wired through the switch to the resistor pack etc.
I remember reading either BMW 7-series or MB S-class had electrically powered adjustable door armrests. Ooh, it's an inch too high. Ahhh, that's better. The MB SL500 "handed" you the shoulder belt via electric motor. It was nearly impossible to reach back to the B-pillar over the high-backed buckets. Several generations ago the BMW 3-series introduced windshield wipers which pressed harder on the glass as your speed increased. How? Perhaps a pair of electric motors, linkages, sensors and such? The Austin Mini accomlished the same thing with a little airfoil on the wiper arm. Mine shucked those wiper arms almost every time I drove faster than 60 mph. So I finally replaced them with non-airfoil equipped arms. The only "automatic" functions on the Mini: self-cancelling turn signals, and the dome light which lit up when the door was open. Pretty cool, huh? Except the Lucas door switch was rusted open, so the light was purely manual.