Monday, March 1, 2010

Auto Pilot

Toyota has been getting slammed – rightly so – over their handling of the gas pedal problems that has put a dent in their reliability reputation. Get it? Dent? Talking about cars? I’m so friggin’ clever.

Big wigs in our dysfunctional government decided grilling Toyota executives was more important than figuring out the seating chart for the Healthcare meeting that everyone (including my nine year old son) knows will get nowhere. They wanted to show Toyota who was boss.

Ever since the bad press relating to the recall hit the press, Toyota has spent millions running ads to counter act any negativity. To sum them up ‘Hey, remember us? We used to be good and promise not to live off our reputation and get back to what we do best. Pinky swear!’

In the interest of full disclosure, I own a Camry. I bought it just BEFORE the recall occurred and, yes, I’m a bit pissed off by the entire thing. Couldn’t they have fixed my car before I bought it? Would have been comforting to know I wasn’t driving around in a potential four wheeled genocide.

I was concerned enough about the possibility that I now shift into neutral whenever I approach a red light. I started doing it for safety purposes but now do it because I’m finding it saves a ton on gas. Last week I was coming back from dropping my son off at his friend’s house. Since lives in an elevated area I put the car into neutral and coasted over a mile and a half before I had to stop at a light. And, no, I’m not exaggerating. A mile and a half! If that light was green I could have gone further.

Where was I?

Oh, the hearings. During the posing and lecturing that has somehow become the illusion of productivity in our capital, two things stuck out.

1: When questioned, Toyota’s CEO of the Americas, admitted that he wasn’t sure if the fixes Toyota has put in place will take care of the gas pedal problem once and for all. Fucking great!

Am I the only one getting concerned that cars and trucks are becoming so complex and computer operated that even the people that build them don’t totally understand what’s going on with them? I saw an ad for a new Ford car that has a hard drive built into it. You pop a CD into the player and it will automatically download all the songs onto the auto’s internal drive. This is the same car that uses voice activation.

All GM cars now come with OnStar for a year. This means that some stranger in some strange office building has the ability to track where you go, deactivate the power to your car at any given time and eavesdrop on conversations you have in your own vehicle.

BMW (I think) is currently advertising a car that will auto steer itself back into your lane if it senses you drifting too close to another vehicle; thus making it more acceptable to reply to the email on your Blackberry while driving. Brilliant BMW! Fix the car, not the behavior. You should have put in a sensor that can tell when you’re typing on a phone so the car will pull to the side of the road and bitch slap the driver. This same car will automatically slow your car down if you get too close to one in front of you. One of the Lexus cars is designed to parallel park for you.

This is all well and good, but these things are run by a fucking computer. The same type of computer chip in the laptop you are reading this on. That same computer that will simply stop working for no discernable reason, that you need to reboot once a day because some process is stuck that you didn’t even know was running. Those computer chips are now in our automobiles; regulating, making judgments, putting just enough gas into the engine, providing the brakes with just enough fluid. The difference is you can’t reboot your car when you’re traveling 70 miles an hour on the highway. Well, you can, but it usually ends in a fiery death and a news crew.

It’s no wonder Toyota can’t figure out what’s going on with their own cars; there are so many points of failure it’s becoming nearly impossible to limit it to just one cause. First it was the floor mats (which sounded fishy from the get go) then it was the length of the pedal itself then it was some part that makes the car go vroom vroom.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but have you seen car mechanics lately? They’re no different than they were back when cars weren’t ‘fuel injected’. Do these guys seem computer literate to you? Do you think they know how to plug into the on board computer and diagnose what’s going on? We better fucking hope so.

For better and (much) worse, cars being built today are smarter than the general population. Which brings me to my second point of this nonsensical entry.

2: A woman was brought in to the hearings to share her experience with her runaway Toyota. While you could nearly hear the sappy piano music playing in the background, she recounted how her gas pedal got stuck and she thought she was going to die.

So she called her husband to say goodbye.

Sound of record scratching to a halt.

What? She was in a runaway car, facing death and her first instinct was to dial her cell phone to call her husband?

Hey, genius, here’s an idea: Figure out how to stop your fucking car before you kill someone! Shifting into neutral is step one. It’s surprisingly easy. Don’t even have to press the button on the shift nob. Try it. See how simple a process it is.

What’s that, dumbass? You have a standard? Well, then simply step on the clutch and it will release the engine. Then you can shift the gear into a neutral zone and simply coast to a stop. If you’re too retarded to do either of those then stand on the brakes. Just put your foot on it and press it to the floor.

I realize I’m being hard on this woman who obviously went through a traumatic ordeal, but I’m alarmed that, when facing a life or death situation, her first instinct is to make a phone call. If she had time to call someone she certainly had time to take a breath and figure out a solution to her problem.

You want to know why that was her first instinct? Because she probably spends every minute she spends in her car chatting with someone on her cell phone. We’ve all seen the type; as soon as they start the engine the cell is to their ear and they will hit their call list until someone answers. My sister in law does it to my wife every night she is driving home from work. She doesn’t stop talking until she pulls into her driveway.

We are slowly and surely being conditioned not to think for ourselves.

Problem with your plumbing? Call someone!

Roof needs patching? Call someone!

Computer is acting weird? Call someone!

Need an answer in a million dollar game show? Call someone!

Bored? Call someone (not me)!

Car completely out of control? Call someone! Wait, is that right? Fuck it, it’s what I do!

It’s no wonder BMW is developing self driving vehicles. It certainly can’t be worse than the imbeciles already out there.

That is until one of them accidentally thinks it’s too close to a car that’s not there and screeches to a halt in the fast lane. Then we’ll be hoping the guy in the car behind us isn’t texting his buddy about the chick he nailed last night.

Or – if he is – he’s also driving a BMW.

Today’s distraction: Drive a construction truck for a change. This is quite fun and challenging. Don’t be fooled by the childish look. Turn down volume if at work.


Clayton Bigsby said...

I've had my brakes completely go out while driving before. I just used the parking brake to stop. I actually drove home and then to the mechanic with no brakes only using the parking brake. I never thought to call anyone. haha. I've never had my gas pedal stick. That would be effing scary.

BeachBum said...

My old VW Rabbit's accelerator cable got stuck once, but simply let it drive and shoved it into neutral when I needed to stop. Top cruising speed was over 40 when I let it get fully up to speed.

Turned out the cable control (on top of the engine block) just needed some WD-40 and it was good as new. At least until the alternator broke off and sent metal fragments flying everywhere.

Volkswagens suck.

Anonymous said...

Computers and cars are definitely a bad combination. Righ now, my car keeps telling me to "check right rear tire pressure" because it's at 27 psi, mostly due to cold weather, mostly. WTF? The most annoying is when a problem arises and the "mechanic" says it's a "computer" problem, and it's going to cost $1.6 billion to fix because it's some stupid "special" part they need to order and they need to completely disassemble the car to get to it. Way to go car companies, no wonder most of you went broke when the economy crashed.

BeachBum said...

Mowan, my camry does the same thing. Everytime the temp drops below 25 my car tells me my tires have low pressure. Now I simply ignore it which is not what the car companies had in mind when they incorporated that fun item.

The other day I brought my psycho dog to get groomed. Since my car sensed weight in the passenger seat the fucking selt belt alarm kept dinging the entire ride. It was a fucking dog. Not a child weighing 20 pounds!!

Anonymous said...

Toyota should have came forward with a full disclosure. Instead of waiting for a huge media blitz and tons of public pressure. I never seen so many car companies having recalls all at the same time. I had no idea my car was affected until I searched on and found I had a bad Anti Lock control unit on my 2008 Pontiac G8 , So be careful

Anonymous said...

I used to drive in neutral sometimes too but a mechanic told me that the shifting is bad for your transmission.

Anonymous said...

And apparently the Kelly Blue Books on Toyotas are dropping fast.

Anonymous said...

Sticking gas pedal?

Yeah. sticking because the computer is flooring it. I'd be afraid to drive the damn thing.

Not just for myself but my humanity and what I could do to others.

It could be a computer glitch in the braking system as opposed to the gas pedal. Maybe pressure on the break is supposed to release the accelerator and it is failing.

If your car is doing 70 mph and your brakes fail shifting into neutral is the best idea but it's not going to be enough.

Great article.

Anonymous said...

Some of this reminds one of the movie Christine.

BeachBum said...

Anon 1: Agree that toyota should have come forward immediately, but I dont think they weren't entirely sure what the problem was or how to fix it. Even now they aren't sure.

It's also one of the unmentioned parts of these Congressional hearings: Why isn't GM involved? They've had more recalls than all the other car companies combined in 2009 (including some Prisms which use the same components Toyotas use) and their punishment was a 15 billion dollar loan. We haven't heard a peep about them at all.

Anon 2: Great, so my brakes and transmission will probably fail at the same time. On the plus side, everyone in a five block area will witness my death and speak of me for years.

Anon 3: So, my car has been recalled AND it's losing value at a rapid pace? Fan-fucking-tastic!

Anon 4: Was wondering the same thing about the on board computers. Does whatever happen to the gas somehow affect the gear shift, as well? Meaning does it not easily let you shift into low or neutral?

Anon 5 (wow, I'm popular!): Christine could at least rebuild itself, which, you have to admit, is a nice feature.

thepowerof10 said...

As an employee of a company that prides itself in safe and defensive driving, I've had to take a couple of classes on the topic for work. One thing that they tell you is to never, under any circumstances, coast in neutral down hills, or when rolling toward intersections, or ever. Basically it's a safety precaution because were you to have to suddenly avoid something, your natural instincts never direct you to remember to put the car back in drive.

Also, you car's transmission has a much greater tendency to get hung in neutral when going up and down hills. Meaning, there is a fair likelihood that you wouldn't be able to get your car back into gear if needed, even if you tried.

Just a couple of thoughts for you to consider.