Auto Computers Pose New Risks

Mar 02, 2010

As automobiles have become more mechanically advanced and consumers’ tastes have grown more refined, the use of on-board computer systems is a modern necessity.  Originally installed to control emissions and fuel-injection systems, computers now control hundreds of operations in current auto models.

The problem with this digital revolution is that the average person no longer has the necessary tools to learn to repair their own vehicles in a pinch, and some computer issues simply cannot be fixed or diagnosed even by experts.  The unpredictable nature of computer problems is what has spurred investigations into incidents such as recent uncontrolled acceleration in some Toyota vehicles. Congressional hearings in the coming weeks will investigate whether the problems are really with the electronic and software systems that control the flow of gasoline into a Toyota Camry or Lexus ES’s engine.

New Hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion, require large electrical systems that command the engine to regenerate battery power during braking, or even to apply the brakes in the first place.  That amount of software increases the risk of bugs that can damage a car’s performance or even make the car dangerous to drive. 

Ford Motor Co. is telling customers it plans to reprogram certain Fusion hybrids to fix a glitch that can cause consumers to feel they have lost stopping power. Toyota says it is moving toward a similar software fix for braking complaints lodged against the 2010 Toyota Prius.

“We are in the learning curve on these systems,” says David Champion, the head of vehicle testing at Consumer Reports, which first reported on the problems with the Fusion Hybrid last week.

It is important for fleet managers and drivers to pay attention to their vehicles’ performance and immediately address any issues before they worsen.  Your fleet’s safety is your number one priority.

Photo courtesy of philcampbell under the Creative Commons License