Car Computers Are Better Than PC’s

April 18, 2010

Every three years (like clockwork), my office computer takes its last breath and goes to PC heaven. For example, it never seems to fail when I’m writing a quick email to my cousin Ned in Toad Suck Arkansas. It waits until I’m three days in to writing a business proposal and I’m one hour away from my deadline. For better or for worse, my computer guru was able to stop by to examine the BSOD (blue screen of death) and gave the sign of the cross before leaving. At that time, I realized that resuscitation of my computer would not occur.

Deadline abandoned, I hop in my car and drive to a nearby electronics store to purchase another computer that will last me another 3 years.

As I approached the parking lot of my favorite computer superstore, it hit me like a freightliner. If our car computers only lasted three years, people would be outraged, protesting with signs and pitchforks, longing for the days of the old Corvair and Edsel. Well, maybe not that far back but some car that was manufactured in the 1970’s before computers were introduced in to our automobiles.

Unbelievable as it may be, automotive computers, sensors and modules control  most of today’s vehicles. They take so much abuse but typically last for 100,000+ miles. There is not a label on our car that states “fragile-do not drop” on the outside of our car when we purchase it. Automotive computers are designed to survive in some pretty brutal environments. Freezing cold, severe heat and humidity are common as well as being vibrated and bounced around every day the car is driven.

According to Slate.com, “our vehicle computers are loaded with software code. By some estimates, new cars contain as much software as desktop PC’s. with thousands of individual functions powered by computers”.

I started putting together a list of all of the components that were controlled by computers in current model vehicles. It’s somewhat amazing when you think about it! Today, we have powertrain  control modules (PCM’s), body control modules (BCM’s), Ignition modules, cooling system, stereo and security modules, modules that operate our windshield wiper blades, heat and cool our cars and our seats, power our mirrors and door locks, monitor the life of our engine oil, air bag modules, back up cameras, lane departure sensors, tire pressure monitors and the list goes on and on!

My wife recently asked me if all of this technology and all of the new features will be costly to fix or replace when a vehicle gets in to its “senior years”. I thought about it for a moment and realized that we have become so addicted to having all of these “bells and whistles” that many people will “pony-up” the bucks to fix them when they fail, especially those computer modules that keep us from driving our vehicles!

I guess we should all be thankful that computer controlled car systems last much longer than our PC’s do!

So the next time that you have to replace your P.C., just remember and be thankful that the car that you purchased did not come with a “fragile” warning label affixed to it! 

Cary Lockwood of www.yourautonetwork.com is an automotive consumer advocate and the host of Your Auto Network’s Calling All Cars radio show on KXXT 1010 AM Phoenix and KXEG 1280 AM Phoenix. Cary is also on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee. Cary has over 30 years in the auto industry as an engineering technician at G.M. as well as being a auto repair shop owner for 10 years. You can download the radio show by going to www.yourautonetwork.com You can also post your automotive questions through the contact page of the website.