There was an interesting article in the May 4th New Yorker that explored
automobile recalls and non-recalls from an engineer's perspective.
My takeaway: the news media's gross oversimplification of stories about
automobile defects/recalls borders on demagoguery/disinformation.
The article is now online at
My latest fantasy of what I'd do if I had beau coups bucks is that:
First: I'd hire a bunch of experts to develop five curricula for
courses in "Critical Thinking": Grade School, Junior High School, High
School, Community College, and College.
Second: I'd hire the same guys that the Koch Brothers use to
disinformationalize topics like global warming to legitimize those
curricula and get them recognized as part of the basic teacher/student
learning regimen along with math, English, science, and so-forth
Third: I'd start grass-roots organizations dedicated to getting
those curricula into schools.
I'd *start* with the journalists! For whatever reason (bad
training, market forces, etc.) *they* seem to have "checked out"
completely wrt "critical thinking"! Cripes, you hear the sort
of reports they make and interview questions they ask and have
to wonder: do these people know how to connect dots?? Make
inferences? Generate original thought??
As I do these sort of things for a living, it's hard to imagine
that any "non-garage-shop" organization would have a "lone wolf"
who could implement (and subsequently *hide*) this sort of
Typically, you have "code reviews" where your peers (perhaps even
from other groups in the organization, "safety", "legal", etc.
look through what you've done with a critical eye:
- how have you addressed contingency X
- what if Y proves to be untrue
- how do we verify your code operates AS SPECIFIED
- how do we BREAK it
While it's conceivable that the engineers will know how the
"quality" guys will eventually do their emissions certification
at "sell off", will they also know how this is done post-sale?
Did the guy/guys who wrote the nefarious code "move on" to
some other job? If so, has NO ONE ever looked at it, again?
(unlikely!) If so, how was the portion of the code that
effectively disables the emission controls NOT detected?
I.e., as a maintenance engineer, you would have access to the
actual source code. You can see what the code is actually
*doing*. And, any description (commentary) about *why* it
is doing those things. You'd have to be incredibly inept
not to notice something fishy.
That suggests the perpetrator(s) remained on hand to maintain the
In "stock car" racing, one of the requirements is that the engine
must not be "modified" from the original factory specifications.
In fact, engines are *frequently* modified -- though always left
"within specifications". And, made to look as if they were
originally manufactured exactly as such!
This practice is grey area, at best. *Technically*, a car could
come off the assembly line *exactly* as the modified car exists
(AFTER MODIFICATION). The sleaziness comes in the fact that
the owner has rigged that "random lottery" -- instead of waiting
for a car with a particular set of characteristics to drop into
his lap, he's taken a "random" car and tweaked it to *be* that
Lots of people are complicit in these acts. While technically
disallowed, it could be argued that it is entirely within the
*spirit* of the rules!
I could see designing a control algorithm that lent itself to
an implementation whereby a single module could encapsulate
all of this information (and misbehavior). But, I can't see how
that module would remain opaque. Even things as fundamental/basic
as math libraries get routine scrutiny.
How do you guard against the guys in Quality changing their
"We've found a new way to test these subsystems for regulatory
compliance! It will save the company $X! We'll all get big
"No! Don't do that! You can't!!"
"WTF?? Why not?"
"Um..... (let me think for a while...)"
Is the same powerplant used in ALL of these vehicles? I.e., so that
code ("ROMs") from one vehicle can be dropped into any of the others
and have no noticeable consequences? Chances are, that's not the
case. Other eyes have to, eventually, see the same details that
expose the problem... Too many cars, too many years and probably too
many staff members to rule that out!
On Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 7:22:46 PM UTC-4, (PeteCresswell) wrote:
Add to that list of orders the EPA ordering higher pollution
standards and Congress ordering every higher arbitrary CAFE standards.
The latter has already lead to some bad things that we're all
paying for. As an example, BMW is using a complex variable speed
radiator fan, instead of a simple one speed one, to save some energy.
The downside is the variable speed fan has electronics in the fan
which goes in the worst possible environment. Consequently they
fail frequently, cost $450 and are difficult to replace.
Another example is BMW has gone to mostly or only charging the battery
when the car is coasting. That's lead to the need to register the
new battery with the car computer, meaning you can longer just go
the local auto parts store to get it replaced. Not sure I buy that,
maybe they did the battery registration thing to sell you the battery
themselves, but it's what BMW claims, ie that the computer needs to
know that there is a new battery and it's characteristics. Even better,
this charging while coasting apparently results in the batteries not
being charged enough, putting strain on the batteries. So much so
that with their flagship twin turbo V8, they now call for a new
battery to be put in at every oil change. Fortunately they cover that
under the maintenance for new vehicles, but after that, you're gonna
pay. Problem that makes it worse for those cars is they have a cooling
system that stays on after the car is shut off to cool the turbos down.
Between that and only charging while coasting, the batteries get screwed
I'm sure there are plenty of other examples like that, where car
manufacturers are squeezing .001 MPG out of something. So, collectively
we wind up getting a couple MPG more, but paying 10x what we save on
gas in increased upfront costs and maintenance costs.
Sounds like bad engineering, to me. No reason the electronics
*need* to be in the fan. They *chose* to put them in the fan,
trading installation/manufacturing costs for repair costs.
Buyers *see* the manufacturing costs (in the price of the vehicle)
but don't see the repair costs -- until they've made the purchase.
Does the battery come with characterization data that is somehow
conveyed to the ECU at installation? Or, does the ECU *learn* the
characteristics of the battery at/after installation? In the latter
case, there's no reason the ECU can't learn the characteristics of
a non-BMW-supplied battery -- so long as the replacement was made
to the same standards as the BMW replacement.
I looked at a company that made medical instruments. Their instrument
required distilled water as part of its process. So, the company sold
distilled water in special (expensive) cartridges. Do they think a
lab doesn't have access to distilled water from other, cheaper sources?
Does HP think folks can't find printer ink from other sources of
Battery cable disconnected -- then reconnected: initiate new battery
characterization procedure. (yawn)
Twin turbo. Obviously designed to be fuel efficient vehicle, right?
Sort of like my neighbor's 'vette?
They're pinching pennies on battery charging -- but throwing in
all sorts of electronics that drivers don't want or use (automatic
parking systems, navigation, fancy audio systems, in-vehicle internet
routers, web browsers, etc.). Adding weight for features that have
little value to many users -- yet requiring them to be *standard*
(moonroofs, power liftgates. power seats, power windows, etc.).
Headlights that stay on *after* you've exited the vehicle?
If they were *so* concerned with MPG, they'd bias their fleet offerings
towards products that didn't carry all this extra weight around or
extra electronics, etc. Instead of educating their customers as to why
these features are NOT present, they're piling on even more and
trying to pitch them to their customers as if they were "essential".
(and, in many cases, not giving the customer the option of eliding
I recall doing tuneups *frequently* back in the 70's. And oil changes.
And replacing mufflers, wires, plugs, caps, rotors, coolant, belts,
hoses, etc. Most of those activities have been made far less frequent.
Folks in Calif might notice some differences in the color of the
air they breathe in the decades since then!
Our last vehicle cost us just over $1,000 in maintenance/repairs over
the course of the 13 years that we drove it -- and most of that was for
new rubber. It wasn't uncommon to drop that sort of money into a
single repair on an "earlier vintage" vehicle!
May or may not be that simple. Some cars lose the radio anti-theft
code and it has to be reset. Many shops will plug a battery into the
cigarette lighter socket to give the car power while the battery is
Rated at 29 MPG Highway, it is better than many Grandpa type sedans.
Push trip odometer button for 30 seconds. Turn key to on position for
30 seconds. Then, off for 20. Then on for 10. Etc. There are lots
of ways to tell a computer that is already watching lots of buttons
and sensors that it should initiate a characterization cycle -- WITHOUT
adding a dedicated "characterize battery now" button (which costs money).
And the need for an 8 an twin turbos is because...?
The problem car manufacturers face is one of a mismatch between
what customers appear to want and what "regulations" are driving.
In Europe, cars tend to be smaller and more fuel efficient.
You don't see HumVee's, oversized pickups with dualies, etc.
Fuel is more expensive (and taxes different) so folks *prefer*
the more efficient vehicles. Look at how the US auto market
changes when fuel prices are headed north of $4-5. Then, how
quickly they change back when they fall. By comparison,
prices there tend to be *double* what they are, here. And,
this has been the case for a long time -- not just a "blip"
that comes and goes (as it does, here).
[I think they pay close to $10/G in the UK, currently -- while
we're hovering at/about $2.50/G]
Think about how your vehicle purchasing and driving decisions
would be affected if *you* were paying $10/G. Sure, you might
own a nice gas guzzler -- but, would let it sit in the
garage most of the time while you drove your "SmartCar"
around town! :>
"Twin Turbo V8"? Yeah, it's in the garage. Wanna see it?
Not really, but here in The Colorado Rockies, a turbo or s-charged
engine helps. The main hwy going east/west thru CO (70) passes thru
the Eisenhower Tunnel a 13.5K ft. If you don't wanna be doing 25 mph
in 2nd gear, a turbo/SC engine helps. ;)
So why have small cars been getting even less mileage, lately. My '87
Honda Civic hatchback Si got 38 mpg and my ancient used diesel Rabbit
('70s?) got almost 40 mpg. Now, cars are bragging on 29-30 mpg.
What's up with that?
Exactly. Now, car manufacturers try not to ship spare tires
(let alone the undersized "donuts") as a way of saving on weight.
To "pay" for all the weight they've put in for unnecessary
accessories, higher crash resistance, seating for seven, etc.
There's no *market* pressure to entice consumers to buy more efficient
cars. So, the manufacturers are trying to address the legal
mandates *and* "customer preferences". You're, in effect, trying
to optimize two different (and often incompatible) criteria!
A neighbor from Japan commented that tax/licensing there is designed
to encourage consumption (of automobiles). Keeping an "older" car
on the road was designed to be economically impractical -- buy new,
ship your old car to vietname, laos, etc. There's no real reason
to justify the turnover (it isn't intended to introduce safer cars
to the market quicker, or more fuel efficient cars, etc.) besides
keeping the industrial machine churning -- with the limited population,
Some years ago, I discussed a project with a gentleman to manufacture
"wildlife cameras". These are essentially unattended cameras that you
deploy in the wilderness to track/photograph the movement of wildlife.
At the time, they were very expensive ($1K).
As it was a new concept to me, I stated: so, does the gummit
use these? Or, wildlife researchers? Or, perhaps, INS folks
trying to document/monitor the movement of illegals into the
"Folks buy them, deploy them in the wild and then 'trade photos'
(like at a monthly club meeting)." -- Oh, look! I got a picture
of a raccoon!
"WTF? Is that a real *hobby*?"
"It gives them a reason to take their off-road vehicles OFF THE ROAD
(as most folks owning them have never done so!)."
On Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 3:00:12 PM UTC-4, Don Y wrote:
Another statement of economic ignorance. Consumers react to the price
of fuel, how much the cars cost to drive, how many MPG one car gets
compared to other vehicle choices. Plus, if you followed the news over
the last decades, when the price of gas went way up, the sales of gas
hungry vehicles declined, their resale value declined, etc.
So, the manufacturers are trying to address the legal
Sounds like they have some of the same free thinking lib types like
you over there. That think one more tweak, one more law, one more
forcing of the free market, will fix some imagined problem. "I think
every taxi owner should have a new car every year, so that's how it
shall be for all!"
Speed. Pure speed.
I have a 2L Turbo in my car and while I do drive sanely, I do like
acceleration. I'd not need the twin turbos though. As it is, I paid
much more for my car than the non-turbo version. I'm buying another one
soon, I know exactly what I want and will buy as soon as available.
I hear it all the time that "I need" that huge truck. Europe is quite
civilized and built up using much smaller vehicles.
I drove small cars in Europe including a Smart ForFour on one trip. It
got me where I wanted to go, just not as much fun or as comfortable.
The numbers actually worked out at about the same cost per mile as my
At $10/gallon I'd probably change some habits and probably drive a bit
less. Right now I put on about 22,000 miles a year with a mid sized car
with all the comforts. I could get away with a smaller, more economical
vehicle, but I chose not to.
Exactly. uel economy, exhaust emissions be damned! :>
Yes. They've learned (due to economic pressures) not to indulge their
"need for speed", "need for bigness", etc. They apparently measure their
penises with rulers and not tachometers or big (perpetually EMPTY)
I have a buddy with a big 7L diesel. It sits in his driveway -- unless
it is in the shop! It's simply too inefficient to use. Sure, when he needed
a ton of sand for a landscaping project, he was able to haul it in
*his* vehicle. Of course, he couldn't *unload* it -- but, that's just
a technicality! :>
Despite the fact that fuel is so much more expensive, there!
I've had to entertain business guests from abroad. They invariably
look at my car(s) (over the years) and I can almost hear them
thinking: "you could fit *my* car in the back seat of this one!"
"A 20 gallon gas tank?? Yikes!"
You choose not to because you have a choice. My friend with the 7L truck
with 60G expansion fuel tank also makes that choice. But, day to day,
he opts to drive his plush Buick. :>
We drive about 6K/year. I took *my* car off the road many years ago
simply because I was driving (at that time) less than 1,500 miles per
year. With insurance at $600/year, fuel at a few hundred (gas guzzler),
the regular battery and tire replacements (heat eats things, here)
it was costing me almost $1/mile.
My *current* driving patterns are far less. I'd guesstimate 300 miles
annually. And, probably half of that is for volunteer/charitable
causes. While I could write off those expenses, it just seems silly
to keep a car on the road just to keep it on the road!
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