Monday, February 22, 2010

What were they thinking?

When I walked in after work, the ABC Nightly News was on the TV. (it's Channel 8 here in Northeast Oklahoma) I'll be the first to admit I'm not a real big TV Watcher, and I'm pretty sick of hearing about this stupid Toyota mess, but this piece caught my ear/eye, and I stopped to watch the segment.

It's three and a half minutes, but just in case you'd rather read than watch, the TV News Reporter gets to drive a Toyota that a Professor has wired to recreate the electronic "shorts" that cause throttle malfunction. They also have a hand-held scanner which shows NO error codes in the electronic system, neither during nor after the incident.

Toyota says the computer system won't let it happen; but one second, they're doin' 20mph, the next second, it's tachin' 6500 and the brakes won't shut it down.

The whole thing bugs me in so many different ways...

Toyota has published video of a guy displaying a gas pedal with the electronic parts attached, he's got all the moving parts in his hands, everything that tells the car how far you're mashing that pedal is right there -- it sends signals through the computer system from there. No rods, no cables, just that round rheostat-looking thing attached to a computer system. Who designed that and what the hell were they thinking??? Have they not seen how difficult computers and computerized parts can be? Have they never lost a homework assignment (or a whole computer) to that oh-so-lovely "Blue Screen Of Death?"

More importantly, have they never had a throttle stick open on 'em? Surely I'm not the only one who's ever downshifted to third to beat a yellow light only to discover that the truck didn't rev down when I let up to shift back into fourth... Faster than my buddy in the shotgun seat could figure out what was going on, I got the clutch in, got it in neutral, and hooked my toe under the pedal to pull it loose before it could blow itself up.

That's how it's supposed to work; even though who-knows-how-many people drive around every day without knowing that's how it's supposed to work -- that's how it works. That gas pedal under your toes is connected to a rod that, through leverage and linkages, pulls a cable on a carburetor or throttle body, which lets air in to mix with fuel, which burns to make the car go. No computerized parts to short out and wreck things, just metal parts from your toes to your throttle. If you have the car running and the hood open, you can put your thumb in there and press on the spot where that cable connects and it makes it rev up just like if you had your foot on the gas. If you're a highschool boy, chicks'll think it's cool. If you're a chick, you can use that skill to shock a guy or two, or possibly an unsuspecting used car salesman. I know first-hand about shocking the unsuspecting used car salesman, it's fine fun.

Who puts digital shit in the middle of that? What's the point of taking chances with computers when rods and cables have been working just fine for all these years?

Don't get me wrong, computers have done helpful things for the automotive world. I'm sure "Limp Home" mode has saved lots of motor parts, electronic transmissions save gas, and that "oil change needed" calculator is pretty darn handy -- but a rheostatic control for the throttle? Really?? When I think of rheostatic control, I can't help but think of that vibrator with the malfunctioning rheostatic control that I ripped apart in a last ditch effort to, uhm, finish a task.

If you're fighting to control a car that's "floored" itself, you're not going to be able to crawl under the dash and rip things apart to touch some wires together and attempt to fix the problem.

I'm still not over the whole "Cash For Clunkers" thing. I still think a lot of people got screwed, and some of 'em don't even have a clue. Quite a few might be getting a clue as they struggle to regain control of their Toyota and start to miss the good ol' car they traded off to the boat anchor factory.

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