General Motors disclosed in their latest SEC filing that not only are they the subject of investigations by Congress and NHTSA, but they are also being investigated by several state attorney generals. Now this in itself is bad enough, but when that is combined with the civil lawsuits for the deaths caused by their failure to correct the ignition switch problems and now there looks to be more lawsuits from share holders and more state attorney generals it really becomes too much. The later of whom they allegedly failed to disclose to share holders.
A reasonable person would start to question what is next from this company, and they would be correct in doing so. However, GM is not the only company having problems manufacturing cars.
Ralph Nader championed automotive safety when most of us didn’t know about it or even considered it. Because of his noble work, we have an agency like the NHTSA and other countries have created similar agencies as well.
The problem with having agencies like this is they are ‘reactive’ meaning that we must first experience a problem with a car and report it to them. They then record the data and at some point it triggers their data systems and suggests that complaints be investigated. Sometimes they get the information from the manufacturer, but this doesn’t happen normally. In other words, we are the auto makers ‘Guinea Pigs’ and we pay them for the privilege of being so.
This reasonable person above might question why I am so concerned with this? I believe it to be a start of bigger industry wide problem that we have very little knowledge of.
Let’s put this in perspective:
GM had a recall recently about a fuel tank strap that could fail in a new car and allow the fuel tank to fall out – possible result could be a fire and or explosion
Chrysler had new vehicles sitting on their dealers lots that were catching fire from faulty battery cables.
Porsche, their new car could catch fire because of an engine bolt
Dupont – Honeywell automotive refrigerant when it burns it produces a gas similar to Phosgene, which was a chemical weapon used during the First World War—and it is in many new cars
These above mentioned items are mostly mechanical in nature and should have been caught before the vehicles were delivered. These are by no means a full list, but they do show safety is a problem for all car makers.
But what about the programming in the cars many computers?
GM’s 2014 Chevrolet Impala, the brakes can automatically self apply in a full force stop without any need to do so. One rear end accident is already attributed to this. Obviously the driver behind him was unable to react in time, or the brake lights did not warn him.
Tesla had to reprogram their vehicles by raising its ground clearance. This was done in response to state governments not maintaining their highways and leaving debris that penetrated the ¼ inch steel plates surrounding their batteries resulting in fires.
Rolls Royce and Tesla can remotely reprogram their cars and other car makers can as well. Most car makers do so while the car is parked, but Rolls Royce has said they can and will do this on the fly. I would suspect others can also do it on the fly as well.
There are two problems directly attributable to reprogramming that no one is currently talking about, and any mechanic that has reprogrammed cars can attest to these.
Failures can be the result of many things like a low charged battery, or poor circuit connections or in the case of Bluetooth reprogramming it could be signal loss or interruption. Fortunately, for any vehicle other than the latest models, it needs to be done in a shop environment while a mechanic is watching, but even here some car dealerships give this task to inexperienced staff or trainees to maximize profits and this can prove to be a problem.
Remote reprogramming is considerably more problematic in that it is done by one computer (the car makers server) talking to the car computer over an unsecure connection like 4G networks. This sequence does not have human intervention or supervision to insure that it was done correctly.
We are all aware that cell phone signals have gotten lots better than they were just a few years ago, but they still have problems. Relying on 4G networks for something like this doesn’t seem to be very smart to me.
Should you protect yourself, and if so how?
You are the only one that can answer whether you should protect yourself, but considering that you could be involved in an accident that is not your fault, being cautious sounds very prudent to me.
There is only one way. That is to have a scan tool like the 2X80S and regularly capture the information from your car’s computers. You don’t have to have any professional grade software to do this. The CD included with the tool has many free programs and using a couple of them together will suffice.
Now, I know that your life is already filled with lots of things that you should do, and yes there may not be enough hours in a day for you to check your car even once a month. But if you capture a backup copy of its data and store it, when you notice a change in how your car drives, you should immediately capture another data set and compare them.
I have had other mechanics over the years tell me they don’t trust what the customer (you) say about how your car feels when you drive it and notice something unusual. I find this a very silly statement, as you spend so many hours in your car, commuting, driving for pleasure or errands that you really know your car. Probably better than you know your spouse or kids.
What programs do I use and what am I looking for?
For any vehicle other than those made by Ford or VW, use the demo version of ScanMaster ELM and Easy OBD II.
With ScanMaster ELM get the ‘Vehicle Info’ (mode 9) data, pay attention and record the Calibration Identification (CALID) and Calibration Verification Numbers (CVN). These are the latest reprogramming on your car, if there have been changes. These numbers will show you failed reprogramming as their numbers may be incomplete part numbers which is the way car makers identify them.
Using Easy OBD II, get all the data available for your car and record it in two states. Those two states are Key On Engine OFF (KOEO) and Key On Engine Running (KOER) at idle. If you suspect a problem at higher RPM, then by all means check the numbers there but do not over rev your car.
For Ford and VW use the other programs we have included as they provide more data. Yes, you can and should use the previously mentioned programs if you have any doubts.
By June 2015 we will be releasing our latest version 7 of the CD that accompanies our 2X80S obd2 scan tool. This new CD includes lots of new software, guides and information such as enhanced software for Fiat vehicles which includes Alpha Romeo, and two wheeled vehicle softare (motorcycles and scooters).
Comparing our 2X80S to competitors
|Controls Data Corruption|
|Improved Data Speed|
|Enhanced Software Included|
|Phone Tablet PDA Capable|
|Multiple PC Applications|
|Multiple Phone Tablet PDA Applications|
|2 Wheel Vehicle Applications|
|Legacy OS Support|
Yes or Included No or not included Some or limited
|All above information is based on published information as of 01/2015 or products purchsed to confirm|