Automotive failures

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It will be interesting to find out what is at the bottom of the recent spate of automotive failures. I would not be surprised that "lead free solder" and "surface mounted components" might be a serious limiting factor in automotive electronics safety.
Lead free solder, wave soldering, surface mounted components, high currents, high temperatures,
vibration and shock ...... a recipe for short MTBF's!

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?

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Ordinary mechanical design mistakes and software appear to be responsible for Toyota's problems, they don't seem to have anything to do with electronic reliability. Car electronic systems don't seem to be any less reliable than they used to be.

Leon Heller G1HSM

Last Edited: Thu. Feb 25, 2010 - 03:55 PM
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Solder joints that break seem to be the most frequent failure mode.

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Yesterday I heard that driving near power lines has caused some electronics to freak out. I had read a few weeks ago that the plastic used in the pedal was nylon and then PPS in europe in an attempt to keep moisture from making it stick. This was over years of time period so the sticking pedal problem has been around. The latest fix.. the shim is to move the two plastic parts gear teeth apart to keep them from sticking. The law suits are going to be hugh. With Obama being in the auto business it seems congress has a conflict of interest in their investigations. Toyota is shutting down the San Antonio factory for two months.

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On Topgear they once subjected a VW Golf to lightning :)

You can see it here on YouTube.

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My previous car was a VW Touareg, and its primary control computer failed and needed replacing three times in a 16 month period. US$1800 each time. Ouch.

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JayJay that was a cool video. The Golf seems like a durable car when it comes to lightning.

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I have fixed a couple of Saab dashboards, always a cracked solder on R13, just heat it up and let it cool and it is fixed. Yes its a SMD.

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Same problem on a 95-98 Ford Scorpio, one resistor in the dash that causes problems. Or its Teves Mark xyz ABS ECU, same problem.

Saab SID units... the connection to the LCD fails. Same problem on the climate control. Same Saab, problems with the PRNGL switch and the ABS unit failed, only a simple transistor or so that failed.

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Seems like an easy fix.

If(brake_lights==ON)
engine(idle);

But do it in hardware.

Greg

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AWESOME...
Will you do the test?? Got bol.. to do it?? :lol:

Quote:
Yesterday I heard that driving near power lines has caused some electronics to freak out.

I don´t think soo, under the hood is so hardzard enviroment so the electronics had good protection, and even the car´s iron will protect the electronics from power lines.

Regards,

Bruno Muswieck

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Interesting comments. Pre-electronic cars were mechanically quite reliable and of course improved tremendously by fuel injection etc. etc. using electronics etc. My point is that lead free solder
is a step backwards in reliability ans so is SMD
especially in rugged/hostile environments.
Whilst the electrical bonding with SMD & lead free solder might be OK, the mechanical bonding leaves a lot to be desired!
I dropped a remote control on the floor the other day & would not work until I resolder two SMD diodes that had fallen off. Similarly I find I do a lot of repairs with high current components which fail due to thermal cycling.

Every soldered joint is effectivily a component with a MTBF and a resistor effectivily becomes a device with three components associated where the soldered connections would have a shorter MTBF then the resistor. Whilst this may be OK in entertainment equipment, it is not in life support equipment,planes, trains & automobiles.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link!
As already suggested we can check our hardware with software, but if during the driving on a vehicle on a Autobahn, any part of it stops to function because the software has detected a hardware fault, I would prefer not to be in it!

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?

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brunomusw wrote:
AWESOME...
Will you do the test?? Got bol.. to do it?? :lol:

Quote:
Yesterday I heard that driving near power lines has caused some electronics to freak out.

I don´t think soo, under the hood is so hardzard enviroment so the electronics had good protection, and even the car´s iron will protect the electronics from power lines.

Here is what the transportation secretary said:
The wider problems appear to be conventional mechanical issues, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said his department would undertake a broad review of whether automobile engines could be disrupted by electromagnetic interference caused by power lines or other sources.

Also it was mentioned that a number of Prius had brake lights turning on for no reason, etc. Clearly there are problems to be debugged and fixed before more people are hurt.

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Mercedes has had a lot of (software) problems in the past. Things like CANbus makes things quite complicated compared to simple wires and Mercs are stuffed with many dozens of modules. Must be firmware hell.

My fathers Saab also uses CANbus for things that in the past were simple wires and relays; like the indicators: the audible click is generated by the SID, a display module on which you can see the time, mileage, distance to empty, radio station etc; it also houses the central speaker and once in a while you can clearly hear it miss it a click, only to make an extra click a few 100ms later. Apparently it acts upon lamp-on/off commands on the CANbus and sometimes that goes wrong :)

Mercedes has this so called BAS system, a system that maximizes braking effort if it detects an emergency stop (decision factors are how quickly you release the throttle and the time between releasing the throttle and hitting the brake pedal). There were reports that this system commenced an emergency brake completely out of the blue without any driver input :)

The latter is one of the more dangerous possible failures, the first is just a very slight nuisance.

Or take the early 80s Volvo 480, arguably the first car to have almost everything controlled by a 8051. In the first years the car would do things on its own while parked, like lowering windows, turning on headlights and things like that. In later versions one of the counter measures was that they reduced the number of connectors used.

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Let' see. 40,000 dead on US highways every year. Perhaps 5% are directly due to hardware defects.
Thus 2000 die every year to auto failure. That means that all the huffing & puffing is over 1% of the mechanical failures and 0.05% of the deaths.

This sounds like the usual media event. Safety can be improved only thru objective statistical criteria. Innumerate hysteria adds no value.

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I would not be surprised if some of the software or harware design were farmed out to "cheaper countries"...you know with the type of "engineers" that ask questions here for the most simple task or want us to develeop a complex task for them.

...that acid reflux is killing me... :?

John Samperi

Ampertronics Pty. Ltd.

https://www.ampertronics.com.au

* Electronic Design * Custom Products * Contract Assembly

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Our local train companies had forbidden the use of LeadFree solders due the reliability problems, but cars are allowed to do what car manufacturers want.

AFAIK, EMC tests are done at >400V/m while standard EMI for EN61000 is typically in the 10-20V/m, so I seriously doubt that power lines would disrupt anything inside a car. Maybe speedometers used by policemen are more 'dangerous' in this field, but for sure politicians wouldn't allow any discussion about that issue (in order to keep the income).

Firmware development >>IS<< a nightmare.

Remember that after all, business can allow for some legal actions if they save some pennies. That is the reason why CEM1 boards, single sided loade without any THT components are used: the cheapest possible. One € less each, for few million cars, is worth many lawsuits.

Guillem.
"Common sense is the least common of the senses" Anonymous.

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I guess the quality of the PCB/module depends on how critical the module in question is.

The engine ECU in my 20 year old car is a nice four layer board, conformally coated and housed in a heavy sturdy diecast aluminium casing with the connector forming almost an integral part of the casing; the multiplug is held on with a bold and with proper strain relief of the many wires. Same for the ABS module.

This same car was also available with an auxiliary warning systems that monitors lamp bulbs and shows which doors are open on a little display. The two modules for these were made to quite lower standards, a simple thin walled noncast aluminium box with a big multiplug connector soldered onto a cheap paper PCB with little strain relief. As a consequence most of these boxes fail because the heavy wiring stresses the connector and its solder joints too much which then break. Usually resoldering fixes them.

I've seen the insides of two modules of my father's Saab, the SID and the ultrasonic alarm module that's hidden in the roof mounted interior light, and these were normally quality PCBs, mostly SMT.

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With more and more lectronics going into cars, its no surprise we're finding defects. Whilst I have little doubt the code is tested,tested and tested some more, that's no replacement for writing code correct in the first place. I know with my late model car, weird things happen - like the dash beeps, a messge briefly flashes up then disappears or the radio decides to change station - stuff like that. Not critical of course,but not confidence inspiring. The stability control works a treat - especially in the wet you can get the car to slide sideways and the stability controls applies brake to only one front wheel so you slide turn gracefully - you just have to disable the safety circuits in your brain!

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Quote:
I would not be surprised if some of the software or harware design were farmed out to "cheaper countries"...you know with the type of "engineers" that ask questions here for the most simple task or want us to develeop a complex task for them.

...that acid reflux is killing me...


John the ones that ask "simple task or want us to develeop a complex task for them" aren't only for cheap countries some newbies for rich countries too, I think that this are more connected to the experience time, like your and Jim's white hair doesn't come for free...
The way you said seens that develop country can't develop good... I already see some prove of it that we can and did it even better...

Regards,

Bruno Muswieck

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I think that the Toyota company wants to improve the profit and reduce product on costs. At last, the company ignores the quality of the cars.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

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Wonder if the senators could cajole Mr Toyota into divulging the source to the throttle management part of the engine controller. 10,000 eyeballs scouring a program ought to confirm or deny its robustness? Anyone know what micro is in a Toyota? Hitachi H8? I have a 'hunch' about a reset from a brownout where a variable is/isnt preserved/initialized correctly... what if the throttle position goes 0xff to 0x00 instead of 0x00 to 0xff because some doofus put a gear on the throttle position sensor and reversed the direction of rotation, and the manager told the programmers to fix it in the sw (programmers are always at the bottom of the pecking order), and the 1 million watt airport search radar resets the engine controller and 20ms later it wakes up with the throttle at 0x00 instaed of 0x7f or whereever it was, and we're off to the races!

Imagecraft compiler user

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I thought that this was an interesting read, not to say if its right or wrong, definitely thought provoking.

http://www.nutwooduk.co.uk/downloads/Toyota.doc

I would not be supprised to see a few other auto makers clean out their closets with all the hysteria going on.

oddbudman

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I saw a news item a week ago where an entire neighborhood's electronic garage door openers would not work ever since the military installed some towers. The military is said to have promised that if it could be shown they were causing the problem they would reduce power or something.

Also I have seen the recent Mercedes commercial where they say it puts the brakes on full if you get too close to another vehicle. How many of us have accelerated up just before pulling out to pass? I can see the car slamming on the brakes just when you see you can pass after following a slow truck for 10 miles!

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Here is a link to the San Antonio TV stations report on the garage door issue..

http://www.kens5.com/news/consumer/Uncle-Sam-jamming-SA-garage-door-openers-83088492.html

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Quote:
The way you said seens that develop country can't develop good...
I hope I did not offend anyone. Most of the electronics stuff around me is made in "developing countries". I have a PIC development system made in Brazil. :)

I'm more referring to the mentality of management of most companies which are profit driven regardless of quality.

If we built in this country we must stick to some rules, if we built it in some other contries we can get away with murder, literally!!

When things go wrong the "managers" simply pocket million of $ in whatever form from the company and move to another company to make a mess of it and get richer in the process.

John Samperi

Ampertronics Pty. Ltd.

https://www.ampertronics.com.au

* Electronic Design * Custom Products * Contract Assembly

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Quote:
.you know with the type of "engineers" that ask questions here for the most simple task or want us to develop a complex task for them.

A year or so ago, I had to help and/s graduated Instrument Engineer to use an oscilloscope as he had never actually used one. I quizzed his undergraduate studies and he said they had studied CRO's, but the only practical experience was a lab demonstration in a group of 70 other students.
When guys like that are allowed to to get loose on design & manufacture of automotive instrumentation...it's bad news! Just imagine what will be in the $2500 car coming in from overseas!

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?

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I think they need to rig the steering column solenoid lock so it doesnt lock when the key goes off until wheelstop. That way, you can just put it in neutral when it goes nuts, switch off the key, pull over to the side of the road. Better than trying to run out of gas at 100mph for an hour. That might work in Nevada. I wanted to market a 'Toyota Emergency Throttle Unsticker' which consisted of a piece of twine from the pedal to the mirror, with a yello/black placard that reads 'In event of sticking throttle, pull cord'. $9.95 sound about right?

Imagecraft compiler user

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Can't you just turn off the ignition? On my car the steering lock won't engage until the key is taken out of the lock. Any other way is just stupid design.

What is fun is an diesel engine that cannot be shut down by turning off the ignition and is fuelled by its own oil vapours coming from a leakly turboshaft seal, racing at maximum revs ;) That happened to me once, the only way to shut it down was to keep the brakes firmly down, then dump the clutch.

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I can't see why people can't put the car in neutral ( assuming an automatic) as the engine management will rev limit the engine so you can apply the brakes and halt in a controlled manner.

Maybe years of racing two stroke motorbikes has trained me as frozen throttle slides and seized engines gets you working the clutch real quick.

jj - interesting to see what the future holds for the current proliferation of diesels we're seeing at the moment.

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Quote:
I think they need to rig the steering column solenoid lock so it doesnt lock when the key goes off until wheelstop.

That´s safety, I don´t know any car that work´s like this.

Quote:
Can't you just turn off the ignition? On my car the steering lock won't engage until the key is taken out of the lock. Any other way is just stupid design.

Totaly agree, on this design there isn´t a safety way to just shut down the car when something goes wrong.
The Toyota´s cars that are in trouble are like this? Because if you can turn off the engine you have the hand brake to help you to stop de car and even that depends on the drivers hability to control the car.

Quote:
I can't see why people can't put the car in neutral ( assuming an automatic) as the engine management will rev limit the engine so you can apply the brakes and halt in a controlled manner.

Depends on the driver hability, I know a lot of drivers that could lost the control on a situation like this. Some people stoped on panic situations.

Regards,

Bruno Muswieck

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Once, I had an strange (analog) electrical problem with my two stroke 75cc. Vespa. It was weird enough to shut off the engine randomly, and few meters away turn it on again.

After some electrical research on the AC system (it works only with AC!!, fully 'analog'), and some DMM readings, I found that simply disconectin the main wires that go out of the magnet allowed to use the bike without any key!!! Even with the steering column blocked!!.

Finally this was a broken wire that depending on the suspension (is this the word?) it opens or closes. Is this an example of 'spaghetty monster'? ;)

BTW, I'm currently working as Automated Test Bench Design Engineer for a company that produces electronic modules for european cars. Maybe it is time to start using the bicycle all over Europe. :twisted:

Guillem.
"Common sense is the least common of the senses" Anonymous.

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Quote:
BTW, I'm currently working as Automated Test Bench Design Engineer for a company that produces electronic modules for european cars. Maybe it is time to start using the bicycle all over Europe.

hehehehe... Cars still are my choice, I´m far away...
Just kiding Guillem....

Good luck for you on this new area...

Regards,

Bruno Muswieck

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Steering and braking are probably the two most critical areas of a vehicle design. AFAIK steering is reliant on the mechanical design only; even if the power steering fails, the steering wheel is still linked to the wheel's lateral orientation.

While a simple traditional approach to braking would involve a hard link from pedal to caliper, anti-lock braking technology breaks that link to some extent. I don't know how it is implemented, but anti-lock brakes are designed to "unbrake" in hopes that tire rotation will slow the vehicle more effectively than non-rotation.

In commercial aviation systems we go to great lengths to reduce failures, both in design and in validation (i.e. testing). TMK there is no "ah let's leave it to the lawyers to sort out" attitude; litigation is a nebulous potentially infinite black hole for capital (i.e. bankruptcy).

As for Toyota: they deny firmware culpability, and I would guess some grad students have decoded any instruction arrays involved, and identified problem areas, to keep Toyota honest. Perhaps it's all proprietary and private. We'll see.

C: i = "told you so";

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There are several issues here:
1. Cars are, in general, more reliable than they ever have been. It is not uncommon these days to get 200, 000+ miles of useful life. When I was a lad in the 50's 100k was pretty magical.
2. At the same time, the systems have gotten incredibly more complex to meet emissions and mileage demands. Not to mention the creature comforts and safety features that have now become standard. (satellite radio/dvd anyone? -- or abs and stability control?)
3. With all of this has come a rise in strange problems often solved by reflashing something like the 'body control computer'.
4. This complexity has lead to service techs struggling to repair problems caused by electronics/software.
5. The automotive control systems are more sensitive to interference. Probably not power lines, but possibly high power radio/radar transmitters(this is documented. And should there be a nuclear arrack -- the old ignition point systems might survive the EMP, but the electronic ones would not.

So all in all, they're doing reasonably well (IMHO), but there are glitches. A CAN bus vehicle (possibly a Mercedes) was brought to its knees when a radio failure eventually clogged the bus with its constant error reports -- it was on the 'low priority' bus, but that was not sufficient protection.

What does seem troublesome is that there are major initiatives to make vehicles ever more complex in the name of safety. These rely on highly complex electronics with demanding requirements for precision. Couple that with the fact that it is difficult to know if these systems are working correcty, and this could become dangerous.

Sorry if I'm a little 'preachy' here. You'd never guess that cars are my other passion, would you :D

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Everyone in my street was kept awake two nights ago by a Lexus (made by Toyota, I believe) parked opposite my house - the alarm kept going off every few minutes. It was raining heavily and that must have triggered it. I seriously considered going out and letting all the tyres down, it wouldn't have stopped the noise but I'd have felt better. I've seen it parked there before; I don't think that the owner lives here, he just seems to leave the car here for some reason when he goes away. We might be able to get the council to prosecute the owner under the noise prevention legislation, I'll look into it.

Leon Heller G1HSM

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Ford2go - I wonder how much of the failure modes of modern vehicles is down not to the electronics but the interconnections between them?

As recently as ten years ago, before (in Europe) the now-ubiquitous OBDII systems, it was common to find several systems managed by electronic controllers, but *they were independent*. Thus, the engine control unit controlled nothing but the engine; the airbag system controlled only the airbag; the ABS system looked only at the brakes. The radio did nothing but talk to the front panel...

Now there's a call - whether from the designers or the buyers - to integrate everything. The cruise control talks to the ECU but maybe also the brakes as well; the radio has to decide whether it should override from a phone or a satnav system. You get the idea.

*Logically* it makes sense to put all these things on one bus; it's less wiring, keeps it all in one place... but also provides a single point of failure. Something going awry in one component now has the potential to take out the entire system. This is probably Not Good[tm].

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Aircraft have redundant systems which make failure very unlikely, it's probably too expensive for cars.

Leon Heller G1HSM

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Quote:
While a simple traditional approach to braking would involve a hard link from pedal to caliper, anti-lock braking technology breaks that link to some extent. I don't know how it is implemented, but anti-lock brakes are designed to "unbrake" in hopes that tire rotation will slow the vehicle more effectively than non-rotation.

The hard link is a fluid; ABS systems add valves between the lines, one valve to reduce pressure, one to increase it (three of four pairs). So, that little ECU that controls all this, has indeed the power to render your brakes completely inoperational. All it takes is to energize all release valves. That's why two microcontrollers are used that check each other all the time, with a separate watchdog and lots of electrical tests that are performed continuously. Some system even measure the regularity of the pulse train of the wheel sensors to check for mechanical eccentricity.

The firmware uses a lot of plausibility checks, keeps redundant copies of important data, checks program flow with token passing etc as described in this Wikipedia article.

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Thanks for the details. This is the kind of redundancy and self test we deal with in aviation electronics. Testing all the possible failure permutations can be a difficult task to get right.

Very recently I read about the Hmong immigrant sentenced to eight years in prison for exiting a freeway and plowing into another vehicle at 70mph, killing three. He swears up and down he was all over the brakes, but they did nothing. This was a 96 Camry.

C: i = "told you so";

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I wonder if there are any studies of how many people anti-lock brakes have killed versus saved? Over the years I've seen many media hysteria campaigns over product faults that when looked at calmly, it turns out the benefit far out weighs the cost. You see this a lot in medicine where product X kills 10 people and their relatives are interviewed boo-hooing by some cynical talking head looking for ratings and then a few months later the agencies release data that X saves 10000 people per year.

It kind of reminds me of my cousin who wouldn't wear safety belts because she was afraid that she'd be in a wreck and the car would catch fire and she wouldn't be able to get her belt open and would burn to death. Her fantasy was so frightening to her that she refused to accept the proven statistics that she was vastly more likely to be saved from death or injury by seat belts than to burn to death because of them.

In fact most folks are more afraid on airplanes than they are driving to the airport where they are substantially more likely to by hurt than on the aircraft (it's a control issue and I too suffer from it).

So has anyone seen any estimates on how many people would die per year if we stopped using anti-lock brakes versus how many get killed by them? Probably not since the media can't get pictures of people crying over the 10000 that didn't get killed.

Smiley

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Some people drive more carelessly 'because they've got ABS brakes now' negating the advantages of ABS.

Others never bother to try the system out a few times and when they need it the most they get scared by the pulsating pedal and the grinding noises and let go of the pedal and crash, possibly needlessly, anyway.

Then ABS needs a bit of repair once a while when a car gets older, and an the fifth owner might not want to/cannot spend the money, almost invariable, on the costly bill.

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smileymicros wrote:
it turns out the benefit far out weighs the cost
Firearms are another example.

Once or twice I've seen the Mythbuster guys lose control of an RC equipped automobile. How embarassing. The emergency stop is the thing you get working first, and verify over and over again, so no doubt exists as to its performance.

Man-rated system failures go well beyond Murphy's Law. In real life sometimes things that can't go wrong, do go wrong. Redundancy is a mitigating factor, but obviously there are development and unit cost increases which could easily be deemed wasteful.

C: i = "told you so";

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Next bit of fun in automotive is electric power steering. We've had a very reliable run with hydraulics over the years with the usual failure mode being leaking oil or simply no assistance. I can forsee electric controls not being as forgiving.

I can only hope with the later model motorbikes with fly by wire throttles that they don't go AWOL and that the kill switch does actually kill the engine rather than tell the ECU to stop.

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Some systems can overheat when used enthusiastically like when drifting. It simply shuts down leaving you with no assist at all, suddenly.

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The more posts I read in this thread the happier I get to be stuck with my Volvo -79.

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My previous car (late 80's BMW) had a "fly-by-wire" throttle and I've never heard rumor of a failure. These things can and have been engineered successfully but they require different approaches than alarm clocks and televisions.

Imagine testing your code so vigorously that you'd bet your life on it, because that's what happens when it goes out the door. (The same applies to the electronic and mechanical bits.)

Interestingly reliability is IME a higher concern in commercial rather than government applications (e.g. military and research). Apparently the profit motive is a stronger force than the others.

C: i = "told you so";

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cpluscon wrote:
Apparently the profit motive is a stronger force than the others.
Or a healthy aversion to lawsuits.

Smiley

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smileymicros wrote:
Or a healthy aversion to lawsuits.
Such aversion certainly favors the bottom line. Clearly lawsuits provide an important force driving quality in industry. But IMO there is a huge difference between litigating failed brakes and litigating hot coffee in the crotch.

C: i = "told you so";

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smileymicros wrote:
Over the years I've seen many media hysteria campaigns over product faults that when looked at calmly, it turns out the benefit far out weighs the cost. You see this a lot in medicine where product X kills 10 people and their relatives are interviewed boo-hooing by some cynical talking head looking for ratings and then a few months later the agencies release data that X saves 10000 people per year.

Smiley

Very good point. Aspirin kills 500 people per year in the US. Remember we are 300 MILLION people.

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News says Toyota owners with gas pedal mod installed are still getting runaway. Anybody know what cpu is in a toyota engine comtroller? If some guy with a little time on his hands could go to the junkyard and get a toyota computer and post the hex dump, a bunch of us geeks could start disassembling subroutines and submitting them to a cvs, and when we get it to compile and be about the same, by then we'll know about what every subroutine does, and someone will see a problem. Edmunds has offered $1 million bux for whoever solves the problem.

Imagecraft compiler user

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