The Gadgetization of Cars Is Kind of Ruining Them

The antique Thunderbird parked outside on my street right now will run, approximately, forever. Unlike my Honda Civic Hybrid, which will be in the scrapheap before my baby daughter hits college. Why? Because the gadgetization of cars is ruining them.

As the L.A. Times reports:

A key auto quality study found that new or redesigned 2011 models were less reliable than the previous year's line, much of it because of new high-tech navigation systems that didn't work properly.

J.D. Power found that overall auto quality dropped in 2011, especially among American-made vehicles, largely due to the onboard electronics like in-dash touchscreen navigation systems that can befuddle and flummox users. Or the computerized transmission systems that are designed to give better fuel economy, but feel like hesitating ninnies to consumers. Back to my own Honda Civid Hybrid, it has never run as well after its most recent software update.

Think of that. As a part of routine maintenance now, I have to update my vehicle's firmware.

When I was a kid, very few cars had computer systems. Today, the average car has anywhere from 30 - 70 computers in it. Many vehicles now have up to 100 million lines of computer code. Computers control the transmission, diagnostic systems, the climate control, entertainment systems, navigation, communications, braking, and much much else. And then there's the Prius, which is essentially a microprocessor on wheels.

Our cars have become rolling gadgets. And like all high tech gadgets, that means that they're going to become outdated more quickly, and more likely to have problems. And then there's the vehicle hacking issue: hackers have been able to wirelessly crash cars' computers at highway speeds.

Look, I love all the conveniences that modern automobiles afford. Love them. But there's a lot to be said for the old-school completely manual T-Bird or Buick or Volkswagon that can essentially be endlessly repaired with a wrench and a spark plug gapper a greasy old rag and some gumption.

What do you think? Has the gadgetization of cars been an overall good thing, or do you yearn for simpler vehicles?

[J.D. Power via Los Angeles Times]

Photo by Major Nelson


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