Monthly Archives: September 2016

Let’s Learn About Car Software Recalls

We’ve all heard about automotive recalls for faulty mechanical parts. These have been going on for decades. The 1990s saw the introduction of computers to vehicles, and they’ve only become more and more involved in the vehicle’s operation. Today, both the computers and the software are integral parts of modern vehicles. Just like any other part, they can have problems and trigger a recall.

Why Do I Need a Recall?
Think about the operating system on your computer. Even though it’s thoroughly tested and checked, there can still be bugs that require updates. In fact, software updates are common to fix these bugs.

Today’s computer software is more complicated than ever, with cars easily having a hundred million lines of code. Like other software, it can also have bugs. When these bugs cause problems, a recall is issued to fix them.

What Could Go Wrong?
The short answer is that a lot could go wrong. Computers control almost everything in modern cars, which means there’s a possibility for a wide variety of issues caused by bugs. Here’s a few examples of software-related recalls issued in recent years:

2011: Jaguar recalled 11,000 cars because cruise control wouldn’t disengage.
2015: Honda recalled 143,000 Civics and Fits to fix a software glitch controlling the transmission.
2015: Ford recalled 433,000 Focus, C-Max, and Escape vehicles to fix ignition trouble that would stop the car from turning off.
2015: Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles after an error was found that could be exploited by hackers.
Beyond bugs, some companies have even introduced intentional bits of code that later have to be removed. One of the biggest examples is from 2015. Volkswagen intentionally added coding that allowed their cars to cheat on emissions tests. When found out, they had to correct the coding, which involved a recall of 11 million vehicles.

Are Software Bugs Dangerous?
Yes and no. The issues above may sound serious, but they didn’t lead to any injuries or accidents. Most of the time, carmakers will issue recalls preemptively. Issues are discovered during the course of continued testing, by independent groups, or as a result of repairs done by certified service departments. Once discovered, recalls are issued to fix them before they cause serious problems.

What Do I Do If My Vehicle Is Recalled?
The recall will include instructions, but you’ll usually have to bring the vehicle into the dealership. They’ll update your computer’s software with the latest version to resolve issue. For some vehicles, you may not even have to go into the dealership. Technologically-advanced cars, like Tesla’s electric vehicles, can be updated remotely.

Software updates and recalls are becoming more common, and they may soon become standard. Just as we bring in cars for oil changes, the future may have us bringing in our cars for updates at regular intervals.

Tips To Cars Control Emissions

You’ve probably heard a lot about emissions and why they need to be controlled. But have you ever wondered what they are or how cars keep them under control?

The emissions themselves are a combination of burned and unburned substances like hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides that can come from the combustion chamber and the crankcase. In older cars, the emissions can also include gasoline fumes from carburetors. These emissions are controlled by a combination of mechanical and technological systems.

Combustion Emission Controls
A big part of the issues with emissions is the fuel that isn’t burned, so a key system returns this unburned fuel to the combustion chambers. This is done with a positive crankcase ventilation valve, or PCV valve, that combines leaked combustion gases with air, then pumps them back for combustion.

Emissions can also be limited by controlling the combustion itself. That’s where electronic fuel injectors come in. As of the mid-1990s, these completely replaced the old carburetor systems. The fuel injector systems create a much more precise fuel-air mixture to cut down on fumes and get more efficient burns.

Exhaust Emission Controls
Excess heat in the combustion chamber produces more nitrogen oxides. To keep that down, an exhaust gas recirculation system (EGR system) takes a portion of the exhaust and routes it back to the combustion chambers. This lowers the temperature, helping reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides.

Past the EGR system, the exhaust passes through a catalytic convertor, which has metal that converts the hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide into water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen.

Electronic Emission Controls
They key to truly controlling emissions is precision, and that’s why the most important component of a modern emissions control system is the electronic control unit (ECU) of the car. This computer monitors the car’s performance, then adjusts systems like the fuel injector to make sure the car is running as efficiently as possible. The ECU also has the built-in capability to monitor the emissions, allowing it to adjust to run as cleanly as possible.

Controlling Emissions vs. Providing Power
The place where things get sticky for manufacturers is trying to balance power with efficiency. More efficient engines will use the least amount of fuel to move the car, generating less emissions, but also providing less acceleration or power. More power means more combustion and more emissions, especially when you’re asking for a lot of power in a short period of time for high acceleration.

Emission controls have come a long way since the smoggy 1970s when modern emissions standards were first introduced, and every year more advancements are made. And with the rise of hybrids and electric cars, the amount of average emissions per vehicle will just keep getting lower.

All Informations About Car Computers

Modern cars can easily run on up to a hundred million lines of software code. In comparison, that’s two or three times the amount of code used for Facebook. With all that code, there’s a lot that they can control, but there’s also a good amount that they can’t.

It’s Actually a Network of Computers
It’s easy to think of your car’s system as a single computer, but it’s actually a network of electronic control modules (ECMs) scattered across your car. These are connected to a network of sensors that connect the computers to the mechanical workings of the car.

What Can Computers Control?
Cars run on mechanical energy and power. The computers use electronic impulses, and control the mechanical workings of the car through electrical motors. Often, this is done through motorized pumps and motors that are scattered throughout the car. You might be surprised by how many systems this controls, including:

– Brake fluid pumps for anti-lock braking.
– Transmission systems that have motors to change gears.
– Electronic fuel injection to govern the fuel/air mixture in the combustion chamber.
– Cruise control systems.
– Air bag systems.
– Keyless entry and ignition security systems
– Climate control.
– Oil and coolant pressure.
And more! As computers gain in sophistication, more and more systems are connected to computers.

What Can’t Computers Control?
Very soon, there won’t be much. Google’s self-driving cars have been on the roads for several years, and the Tesla vehicles have software that allows self-driving capabilities. These use external sensors to steer, slow, and accelerate the vehicles.

Currently, this technology is dependable, but there are still questions about whether the cars will sense changes in the road that aren’t included on maps, rural roads, or see unexpected obstacles in the distance. That being said, some of the brightest minds in computing are tackling the problem, and it won’t be long before self-driving cars can handle any road out there.

What Are Some Hazards of Computer Control?
Take a second to think about your personal computer. You have to think about things like hacking, viruses, malware, software updates, and more. As computers get more control over cars, these same threats become part of dealing with cars. Carmakers are responding with increased attention on security, advanced encryption, and updates that specifically address these hazards.

Let’s Learn About The Weaknesses of Car Computers

Computers have been a crucial part of cars since the introduction of electronic fuel injection in the 1980s. The technology surge of the three decades since has taken computers from simple electronic controls to complicated, networked, fully functioning computers with up to one hundred million lines of code.

Modern Computers are Integrated More than Ever
Your car’s computer is actually a network of sensors and separate computer modules. They allow the computer network to be seamlessly integrated across the entire car. Depending on your car, computers can control everything from braking to acceleration to ignition control to climate control to your in-dash system.

And that’s only the beginning. Google has been testing self-driving cars that capture Street View images for years, and Tesla has included auto-driving software in their recent software updates. These cars have additional external sensors that sense changes and react to them.

Your Connectivity Could Make Your Vehicle Vulnerable
Connectivity is becoming a more and more common feature for vehicles. Bluetooth® integration allows drivers to use their cell phones hands-free through the vehicle itself. Services like Uconnect and On-Star have external connections, and some vehicles even have the capability to create Wi-Fi hotspots.

These same features can also be weaknesses. Hackers and security experts have found ways to use that wireless integration to access the vehicle’s computer. In 2015, hackers exposed an exploitable flaw in the Uconnect system used by Fiat Chrysler vehicles. With the right equipment, they were actually able to control a Jeep while someone else was driving it. While Fiat Chrysler acted quickly to close the hole, the fact that it existed in the first place was a sign of things to come.

All That Software Means a Lot of Possibilities for Bugs
A car with a complicated computer system can easily have up to one hundred million lines of code. Like the software released for your personal computer, all of the lines can turn up a few bugs or mistakes. The core systems are usually tested, but these bugs can still be pretty major.

When these happen, carmakers will issue recalls to update the software and fix the issue. Sometimes these recalls can involve hundreds of thousands of vehicles. A 2015 Honda recall involved 143,000 vehicles to fix a transmission software glitch, while a Ford recall the same year fixed software errors in 433,000 vehicles.

Companies Can Intentionally Cheat the System
One of the biggest weaknesses of software is the manufacturers themselves. Company policy can lead to dramatic issues with the software. For example, a system of testing that’s not completely rigorous can open the door to bugs that need to be fixed by a recall.

Other issues can be more nefarious. As an example, in 2015 it was discovered that Volkswagen had used their software to cheat on emissions tests for years. The scandal led to the resignation of the CEO and a recall of 11 million vehicles.

Like the software in your computer, the software in your car can be hacked, have bugs, or be pre-programmed with hidden issues. That being said, the advancements of car computers are making cars more efficient, safer, and more comfortable to drive. As long as carmakers are diligent in countering these weaknesses, the additional technological benefits are worth the risk.