HIgh-tech electrical glitches in cars

Frank Gentges fgentges at mindspring.com
Fri Feb 25 22:23:23 CST 2005

What the author thinks is that the semiconductor makers need to make 
more reliable chips.  I think the car makers have been doing inadaquate 
system designs.  What is needed is better fault tolerance and/or more 
robustness in the design so the chips don't get spikes etc. A properly 
designed, tested and applied  chip just does not fail that much on its 

DOD has had to learn some tough lessons on all this.  The Navy is now 
flying the F/A18 aircraft with fly-by-wire.  Maybe the auto makers could 
take a lesson in how the aircraft industry solved the fly-by-wire 
reliability problems.  It was not by deploying  more checkers watching 
checkers watching chip makers.  Redundant chips, once designed, are not 
that costly.

Frank K0BRA

Andre Kesteloot wrote:

>     From the Washington Times, 25 Feb 2005
> 73
> André N4ICK
>     ***************************************************
>     High-tech electrical glitches create woe
>     <http://www.washingtontimes.com/autoweekend/20050224-013414-9959r.htm>
> By Michelle Krebs
> Published February 25, 2005
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Last fall, as the new models came out, I had a flurry of mechanical 
> problems with various cars I test drove.
>     Granted, automotive journalists in Detroit get the first crack at 
> the new models, many of which are preproduction ones built in the 
> early days of the assembly run of the vehicles and, as such, they 
> cannot be sold to the public.
>     Still, there were more mechanical problems than I had ever 
> experienced, covering every brand from every region of the world -- 
> United States, Europe, Asia -- and every price range -- from entry 
> level to expensive luxury cars. Further, in almost every case, 
> electronic demons were to blame.
>     I was coming home late one night from a movie when the luxury car 
> I was driving lost its various systems one by one: first the chassis 
> control, then the transmission, and ultimately engine power. When it 
> finally limped into my driveway, the car had smoke billowing from 
> underneath, and unburned fuel dripping from the exhaust pipe. My 
> engineer neighbors were sure it had blown a head gasket. That wasn't 
> it at all.
>     The very next week another car, a different brand, informed me it 
> was having transmission problems and automatically put the car into 
> limp mode. Turns out it was not having transmission problems; the 
> diagnostics simply said it was.
>     With yet another luxury car, the backseat windows failed to close 
> all the way up into the seals, letting outside noise enter the cabin 
> and puddles to form on the back seats after a rain. An entry-level car 
> I was driving had a dead battery for no apparent reason. 
> Interestingly, the bottom line was that in virtually every case the 
> root of the problems determined after various examinations, was 
> associated with electronics: a computer chip here, a fuse there, a 
> misreading diagnostic system.
>     In the case of the smoking luxury car, it was a simple chip in the 
> engine control module that set the problems into dominolike motion. 
> The engineer assigned to tear the car apart to find the problem said I 
> should have played the lottery that day, because the odds were about 3 
> in 750,000 that such a chip would go bad. In fact, that's how many 
> chips this German supplier makes for automakers, including Europe's 
> famed luxury brands, as well as U.S. marques.
>     It would not have mattered to me whether the occurrence was rare 
> if I had been a customer who had just plunked down $50,000-plus for 
> the car, I told him.
>     The good news was it was easily fixed. Pop in a new chip, and it 
> was ready to go again. Nonetheless, confidence in a brand-new vehicle 
> is shaken once it has had a breakdown.
>     So it came as no surprise to read a recent report that automotive 
> recalls, both government issued and automaker volunteered, hit record 
> levels in 2004. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 
> said 30.6 million vehicles were recalled in the United States for 598 
> technical faults, compared with 541 technical recalls affecting 24.6 
> million vehicles in 2000. NHTSA confirmed that the record level of 
> recalls was due to tougher federal standards, and also to a greater 
> use of electronics that are prone to glitches in cars.
>     The report should have come as no surprise to those of us who read 
> customer satisfaction surveys from other countries, including Germany, 
> where Mercedes-Benz has been clobbered because of electronic glitches 
> in its new high-tech features. Mercedes-Benz was determined to be the 
> auto industry's technology leader, duking it out with BMW, but has 
> since backed off a bit. The electronics issues, and resulting bad 
> feedback from customers, are one reason for that.
>     The solution will be difficult. Automakers have little clout with 
> chip and electronics makers, who supply many other industries, and 
> will find it difficult to put pressure on them for even higher quality.
>     What is clear, however, is that as these high-tech luxury gizmos 
> proliferate down to lower-level models, the problems and the recalls 
> will likely proliferate as well, and new levels of pampering will be 
> required to soothe the feelings of disappointed customers.
> Copyright © 2005 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *
> * <http://www.washingtontimes.com/autoweekend/20050224-013414-9959r.htm>
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