The Genie Between You and Acceleration

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When we were kids, we were told to wish for things. Imagine it, pray for it – and it might be so. At the genie’s whim, of course.

New cars work a lot like that. You have very little physical control over its workings.

Instead you have wireless control.

Which really means: The computer controls the workings of your car.

For example, “drive by wire,” which almost all new cars have and most cars made during the past five years or so, too. Instead of a physical cable connecting the gas pedal to the throttle, it’s all done electronically – by wire.

Actually, by sensors.

You push down on the gas pedal and the system uses these sensors to register the depression of the pedal and the computer signals the throttle to open to the appropriate degree.

This is done for several reasons, among them packaging. During the car’s assembly, it is easier to just plug things in rather than have to manually install and adjust a cable. No need to feed a cable through the firewall, then hook one end to a throttle arm and the other end to the gas pedal.

It also eliminates production variances; the possibility of one car’s accelerator pedal feel having slightly different feel than another identical car – same year/model/make – because the throttle tension of car “a” was adjusted a bit looser or a bit tighter than the cable of car “b” right behind it on the assembly line.

The car manufacturers operate on the same principle as McDonald’s. A Bic Mac ought to taste exactly the same, whether you’re eating one at a restaurant in New York – or LA.

The downside – when it comes to drive by wire – is  you’ve just made a simple thing very complex – and also something that can’t easily be fixed by the side of the road (unlike a snapped throttle cable).

Also, the drivetrain is now much less under your control. The computer decides how much throttle will be allowed and can (and does) back off or even shut off the throttle, for various reasons, none of which you get any say in.

Or the other thing (wait).

It also takes time – perhaps only fractions of a second – for the computer to interpret data and then trigger a response to it. This is why some new cars are afflicted by a kind of turbo lag, except it’s not caused by the turbo. You floor the gas and – for a noticeable fraction of a moment – nothing happens. It is during this fraction of a moment that the computer is deciding how much to open the throttle and then commanding it to do so.

A physical throttle cable delivers instant response (assuming no actual turbo lag). You are in full control of how much the throttle opens – and when.

Problems are also easy to identify – and cheap to fix. The cable is either connected and tensioned correctly or not. You can see (and feel) it. If you need to replace it, all you need is a cable – and even stealerships can only charge so much for a cable.

Or, make one. Rig one. See earlier point about by-the-side-of-the-road repairs. Very doable with a cable.

With drive-by-wire, you’re dealing with inscrutable (and several) electronic components, all of which require special tools and abilities to deal with, can’t be rigged or made and which you will pay the stealership a pile of money to replace, if that needs to be done. Meanwhile, you are stuck by the side of the road.

Or, worse.

With drive-by-wire, there is also the possibility of run-away acceleration, accidentally and intentionally – though not by you. The computer decides to “floor it”  (the pedal no longer needs to be actually floored) and off you go.

Or, a hacker tells the computer to floor it – and off you go.

This has happened – and when it does, there is very little you can do, precisely because there is no longer any physical connection between the gas pedal and the throttle, now entirely under the control of the computer (or whomever controls the computer).

This is a vulnerability physical cables aren’t vulnerable to. If the cable gets stuck, you could reach down and pull the gas pedal back up – and get the racing engine under control.

Or, take the transmission out of gear – and switch the ignition off – and coast to the side of the road.

But many new cars also have drive-by-wire transmission control. When you move the selector from Park to Drive, you are triggering sensors which feed data to a computer, which sends the appropriate signal, causing actuators to actuate and gears to be engaged.

If the data is correct and the computer isn’t having a conniption fit. If it is . . . it may not shift out of Park no matter how earnestly you rotate the dial or tap the toggle.

The computer is programmed to do what it thinks best – not do as it’s told by you. In a car with a physical (cable/rods) gear selector system, you and only you control what range the transmission is in.

With drive-by-wire gear selection, the computer overrides you.

A drive-by-wire transmission can also be hacked  – unless it’s a manual; that’s your failsafe. But manual transmissions are getting harder and harder to find in new cars. Whole categories of vehicle (1500 series trucks, almost all mid-size and all full-size sedans) are automatic-only.

They are also working on drive-by-wire steering. And brakes. Total physical separation of the driver from the controls. De facto computer control over the entire car.

There is of course the ignition key – to just turn the engine off.

Well, there was.

Almost all 2019 cars come with keyless ignition – which is effectively drive-by-wire ignition. Sensors register a button being pushed and the computer tells the starter motor to turn the engine on.

Or off.

Or, not.

Unlike a keyed ignition, which gives you absolute physical control over whether the engine is on or off, keyless ignition (the computer which controls it) may decide not to turn off the engine, even if you are frantically pressing the button – perhaps because the throttle is running amok and the car is speeding out of control.

This can – and does – happen. I know because I’ve tested it out on dozens of brand-new keyless ignition cars.

Sometimes the engine will obediently shut off. But sometimes, not. Sometimes there is a delay while the computer masticates over what to do. In an emergency situation – one in which seconds matter – that could be decisive.

And not in your favor.

Keyless ignition is part of the burgeoning world of automated driving. And like everything else that’s controlled by the computer – a computer accessible to others not in the car via such things as “vehicle to vehicle” (V2V) interconnectedness – has a mind of its own. And that mind can be hacked.

Hunter Thompson used to say, buy the ticket – take the ride. Indeed. But in this case, the ticket’s been purchased for us – without our even really being aware of it – and the stub quietly placed in our pockets.

The ride comes next.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I’m not a fan of drive by wire or steer by wire. The biggest complaint with DBW is that small engines the throttle responds too soon and top end is missing. Bigger motors get too little gas until you floor it. I also don’t like the feel of the gas pedal with dbw. How likely is cable failure vs dbw failure. I’m not sure but for the performance i’ll take a regular cable. As for redundancy the older cruise controls were a second cable connected to the throttle. You could hypothetically keep going if your throttle cable ever broke with the cruise control cable. With DBW it is not happening.

  2. I recently got my first push button start car. The button is just above a little odds n ends tray in the car and I accidentally pushed it at a stoplight while digging for something down there. I was freaked out when the car started dinging at me with its “transmission not in park” message. (The car is so quiet that I didn’t realize it was no longer running.) I wondered what would happen if I did that while it was actually moving.
    I was on the interstate later and did the same thing poking around for a hairclip and found out it does nothing. I guess that’s good since I do seem to be careless about it, but I never accidentally turned off my car when it had a key. And I would prefer to be in control of my own car. If I wanted to be taken for a ride, I’d take the bus.
    I do wonder though, why did they all switch to push button start? Is it cheaper, lasts longer, fewer parts to break, just a cool gadget for millenials? It’s not more convenient. You still have to have the fob and you can still lose it, just like a key. And I bet you can’t get it wet. (I dropped my keys in a public toilet as a teenager. Long story that involves various substances. But the next day, the car key, while diseased-ridden and gross, worked just fine.)

    • Hi Amy,

      The push button ignition thing is chiefly a bauble to dazzle the tech-obsessed crowd. Race cars used to have (and still do) this system but they are… race cars. All the points you raise are arguments against this system in a regular, street driven car.

      Pushbutton adds a high degree of complexity (the system) for marginal convenience and at high cost. The fobs cost much more than a physical key to replace and are more vulnerable to damage.

      But they have become almost unavoidable in a new car.

  3. Good points today made by Eric, as usual. Two brief comments:
    -fly by wire has been standard in major commercial aircraft for quite a while. Engineers who build this stuff aren’t crazy and neither are the companies who build it. Electrical controls can fail, but evidently are deemed safer than mechanical linkages. Aircraft records are good, though the recent Lion air crash seems to be an exception. Boeing didn’t really train pilots on how to disengage the electrical controls. Bad idea. Since Eric did’t provide any actual data, we are left to guess the safety outcomes of mechanical vs. electric control systems in autos. I’m sure there are many past instances of mechanical cables/linkages failing, breaking, detaching, etc. Electric control systems can be made smarter; mechanical ones not so much.
    -the major issue is lack of “fail safe” modes when/if electrical systems fail. What is Plan B? Boeing had that but neglected training/warning about using it. I doubt there is much redundancy in auto electrical systems with mechanical ones, but that might be a solution.

    • Mug, I have nothing against DBW systems in planes because they are at least redundant or twice redundant systems. Surely one will work properly….we hope.

      Do you think GM, Ford, Volvo or any other maker will even have a single redundant system?

      While big rigs must have some automated systems, they are simply pure emergency systems that always don’t work.

      I’d be glad to have a redundant system on big trucks, it ain’t gonna happen nor will emergency systems be any more than already existing back ups like a low air pressure in a brake system.

      Fortunately, …..or not, air travelers don’t have the option to stop and wait it out.

  4. Two other things to consider: 1) an EMP or several EMP nuclear blasts above the cities of the US will destroy all unshielded electronic devices (and send us back to the late 1800s). If your car is drive by wire, you can kiss your ride goodbye. This also goes for a direct hit by a coronal mass ejection from the sun (it happened in the late 1800s) which will cause the equivalent of a worldwide EMP blast. Better to have a pre-computer car which has no electronics. 2) when living in an authoritarian country, as we are finding ourselves in today, if you can envision a way for the govt to abuse a technology to its advantage, then it eventually will do so. If a drive by wire car can be hacked, then expect that eventually the govt will find a way to remotely control your vehicle. Want to get rid of a political enemy? Program the car to drive you off a cliff at high speed. Someone running from the cops? Turn off their ignition, or better yet, lock their doors and program the car to drive itself to the nearest jail.

    • Nah, the government likes to use more direct methods: HHS senior adviser, Daniel Best found dead after beaten by blunt force object. Coroner claims suicide. Made recommendations regarding lowering the price of prescription drugs.
      Michael Connel, IT specialist for top Republican officials testifying before congress how he and other actually hacked in voting machines. Dies in unexpected plane crash shortly before he was scheduled to testify a second time.
      The mysterious crash of a Beech King Air, one of the most airworthy planes in that category crashes, killing Wisconsin Senator Paul Wellstone and his family. Wellstone voted against the resolution to invade Iraq. One that Chaney himself made threats to.
      There are many unexplained deaths of people involved in the government and military who knew something and were about to or have blown the whistle.
      Washington, D.C. is a dangerous place to work.

  5. There is a simple fix. Safety standards in production machines have what’s called “E-stops”. The E stands for emergency. They are big red buttons placed where they are easily accessible to the operator. E-stops cut off main power to the machine. In this case, the button would disconnect the battery.

    That said, it probably creates new problems and exposes manufacturers to lawsuits.

      • They even have those for R/C planes now. If one is about to experience an unscheduled landing all they have to do is throw a switch and the plane rights itself and returns to normal flight.
        These come in a number of planes available from a popular company out of Champaign ,Il.
        It’s called SAFE and I detest it as the person who depends on it all the time never really learns to fly, stay out of trouble and be able to correct mistakes.

  6. Wow.

    If freedom worked for 200 years, how could liberty be unworkable?

    If the USA could be a free and moral country in 1870 and 1970, then why can’t the US be a free country now?

    Freedom doesn’t cause a country to collapse, tyranny does.

    Who wanted to work in the USSR when everything was illegal?

    • Dude,

      I have asked you several times, nicely, to stop using this site to advertise yours by posting the same posts over and over with your links embedded. I’ve had to put you in the Moderation queue. That means your posts no longer go live until approved first. If you continue to do what I have asked you several times now not to, you’ll be banned from posting altogether.

      You style yourself a Libertarian. If you are one, you will understand the concept of respecting someone else’s property and honoring their requests when in their “home.”

      Comments are welcome. But if you want to advertise, then understand I’m not here to provide it for free.

    • The reason why we are losing our liberty are many fold. Corruption in Washington, secret cabals ie: Bilderbergs, CFR, Bohemian Grove, a very powerful deep state made up of certain industrialists and bankers.
      An ignorant and complacent population. One that has been brainwashed in government run indoctrination and brainwashing centers aka public schools. Stultifying and immoral television, emphasis televised sports becoming militarized….military color guard, F-22 overflies, hero worship even of those who committed war crimes. Hero worship of cops.
      Fake news, distorted news , censored news. Liars all, from the White House down to every politician, ward healer and public official.
      90% or more of the media in America is owned by 6 corporations, including electronic and print. Thank you Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
      The worst of it all is that after 9/11 which was a false flag, is when the crackdown began in ernest….the war on terror which will go on forever, like the war on drugs, the war on poverty, all of the fraudulent and failures.
      An out of control government and police force. Violence in the form of assaults even on children, elderly and pregnant women are now not off limits to steroid laden, ignorant cops, many psychopaths, sociopaths, bullies and worse. Women and children raped, pregnant women left to die in a jail cell…ask David Clarke why he did this.
      We are all now considered potential domestic terrorist threats by the DHS.
      Try boarding a plane without being groped by an overpaid moron with a GED and a sense of over authority.
      Spying 24/7…NSA, your data for sale…..Facebook, Twitter, Google, …..Political correctness, ANTIFA, a president gone off the charts. War, war and more war. massive personal personal debt slavery, $1 trillion in student loan debt.
      $21 trillion in direct debt with trillions more in future payments. Cities and states ,cannot meet their pension obligations, uncontrolled immigration, cities falling apart and resembling more like third world countries. $850+ billion in military spending…to pay for useless boondoggles like the F-35, ships that fall apart at sea and disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. 800+ bases in 150 countries. Infrastructure given a D+ rating by the American Society of Civil engineers.
      A nation falling apart at the seams, in massive debt, an empire ready to crumble and collapse and join the others in the trash bin of history.
      One should note that the closer America gets to total collapse, the more authoritarian it is with the citizenry and aggressive overseas.
      If you are not prepared for what’s coming, you will find yourselves in trouble.
      Plan and prepare for bugging out. Buy long term food storage and water. Have enough ammo and fire arms for self defense. There are those who have bought property in isolated areas and set up small shelters for when the inevitable happens. Not everybody can do this but being prepared for what’s coming is a big first step.

    • 1870 eh? You would have had a hard sell about freedom to the Southerners who survived the worst genocide in this country with the exception of the native Americans.

      The KKK came about to try to protect the population from the federal government and its policy of total control, brutal control. Too bad the wrong crowd took control of it.

      Was The Whiskey War one of freedom or government tyranny? I could get a list going longer than your arm of a severe lack of freedom in this country. I’m guessing the Asians who were robbed and imprisoned….for being Asians might see things differently.

      You evidently missed out on the enslavement of the young men in this country during the 60s and 70s.

      Freedom was the last thing a slave in uniform felt.

      • I grew up watching the war in Viet Nam. Vowed I would stay out of the mess. My older brother was in the 1st Air Cavalry.
        I graduated from high School in 1969.
        I don;t support all these wars America has caused.
        Unlike the current occupier of the White House who had to suffer with bone spurs.
        If you want to hear something that will make your blood boil, listen to this: McNamara’s Folly:

  7. Eric,

    That genie was let out of the bottle decades ago. Something tells me I should have become a Dental Floss tycoon.

    >>I am gross and perverted
    I’m obsessed ‘n deranged
    I have existed for years
    But very little has changed
    I’m the tool of the Government
    And industry too
    For I am destined to rule
    And regulate you

    I may be vile and pernicious
    But you can’t look away
    I make you think I’m delicious
    With the stuff that I say
    I’m the best you can get
    Have you guessed me yet?
    I’m the slime oozin’ out
    From your TV set
    You will obey me while I lead you
    And eat the garbage that I feed you
    Until the day that we don’t need you
    Don’t go for help . . . no one will heed you

    Your mind is totally controlled
    It has been stuffed into my mold
    And you will do as you are told
    Until the rights to you are sold

    That’s right, folks . . .
    Don’t touch that dial

    Well, I am the slime from your video
    Oozin’ along on your livin’ room floor

    I am the slime from your video
    Can’t stop the slime, people, lookit me go

    I am the slime from your video
    Oozin’ along on your livin’ room floor

    I am the slime from your video
    Can’t stop the slime, people, lookit me go<<

    Frank says it best about the treatment for dandruff is decapitation.

    • I’m the slime on your video
      oozin’ out across your living room floor.
      I like the SNL version. Slime ozzin’ out from a tv set
      And Don Pardoh
      “Take it away Frank”!

    • Sometimes when life shits on me I break into that song. I have wondered how one becomes big in dental floss but riding the range on a pygmy pony had a great deal of appeal once. Now I just ride the range in a 6 way seat and my Steiner binoculars.

  8. Another thing the drive by wire accomplishes for the manufacturers is it limits throttle opening speeds. So if you floor it, they limit how fast the throttle opens. As OppositeLock mentioned, this helps control emissions, yet I believe it has another purpose, to limit how much torque can be applied to the drivetrain. This helps them control how ‘tough’ they have to make the drivetrain. And also avoids warranty claims.
    I noticed this about 10 years ago when it showed up in my ’06 GM 6.2L truck. I said to myself ‘I have a very high HP/torque V8 yet I can’t even chirp the tires’. I finally figured it out that it was due to them limiting the throttle opening speed, a lot. There are aftermarket devices that fix this.
    My current FCA V8’s don’t seem to have this problem. I’m guessing because the American FCA engineers are allowed to still make their cars have a little attitude, which I like, and have given them lots of my money recently because of this. Thanks guys. Please keep it going.
    ps: recently drove a Grand Cherokee 6.4 SRT (not mine). Wow! In a word ‘Awesome’. Long live FCA’s fun V8 cars/SUVs.

    • Hi Chris,

      Yes,should have added that – about throttle opening. Hat tip to you and OPL for bringing it up! Also, it can be used to prevent power braking – for saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety (and the warranty-related reasons you mention).

      • I found out the reason I like how my wife’s GC v8 runs better than my 300 v8. Rear ratio. We have practically the same drivetrain, but her’s runs great without hitting the sport button. Her’s has a 3.07 diff ratio, mine a 2.62 (for mpg of course). So mine will be going off to a shop to change my gears to a 3.07, and I’ll be adding a posi too as well. Will make my 300 even better.
        I thought of just getting a dodge scat pack to get the better diff, but at $20K differential, vs about $2K to just fix my 300 is the way to go. I have never spent $ on aftermarket work on a car before, but this 300 is so good it deserves it.
        It’s so sad the manufacturers have to do all this mpg crap.

  9. I read a few years back about hackers getting into these new computer systems. If your car has anything like OnStar, the computers can be hacked remotely. Get rid of a pesky journalist…..easy peasy. Someone blowing the whistle, you don’t have to refer to anything as drastic or easily revealed as running someone off the road or pushed into heavy traffic. Ditto cutting brake lines.(Boston Brakes). Julian Asange better refrain from any driving.
    Amazon allows the CIA to use its servers as storage. Whatever you do, do not access Amazon through your car’s internal cell phone or whatever connection….I have no idea of all that nonsense, I own a 2006 T&C.
    The more complex a system becomes the greater the likelihood of failure. Equally, the more difficult it becomes to diagnose where exactly the failure occurred. Too many variables and as likely too little training for auto techs.
    My experience with the service departments of certain brand dealers nearly persuaded me to never buy an American car again.
    I worked for a small shop that serviced electronic components, ie: body computers, overheads, instrument clusters and radios.
    The stories I could tell.

  10. Just what I was thinking when I got to the conclusion…this is the high-speed portal to autonomous vehicle operation.

    You know, trains were invented for a reason. They’re for those who choose to get somewhere without having to worry about how to drive.

    The future will be that everyone is a passenger on a train.

  11. I really dislike push button start. You can’t with 100% certainty turn off the engine if the throttle is stuck wide open, which has happened to me. The battery periodically dies in the fob, and if you don’t have a spare in the car, you’re hosed. And if you accidently leave your keys in your pants and it gets washed, it gets bricked — and a replacement can cost $600 or so.

  12. For a long time while driving my ’76 F-100 pickup (inline 6, three on the tree) I’d have to dart my foot under the gas pedal arm to flip it back up, then quickly do three pumps of the brakes to get them primed to actually work, while wrestling that manual steering wheel and down shifting for a turn, all with my girl snuggled up to me on the bench seat, no belts of course. Just seemed like driving to me.

    Man, add a sail fawn to the mix and none of us would have survived!

    • Sounds just like my 55 Chevy pickup except it had a granny 4 speed with a gearshift evidently designed for that gal stuck to you. You probably didn’t have those special option doors that automatically opened… speed. That would keep you on your toes….or hanging on the door for dear life.

  13. Turn the car off. Apply brakes. It will stop….Not anymore.I remember the cop with his family on the phone in the out of control Lexus.Lets just say Lexus paid off that lawsuit FAST!.Nowhere to hide on that one,it was played on the news.Family died.Heard the brakes set the car on fire.Lexus ES 350 with wrong floormat jammed into accelerator pedal.Car would NOT turn off.

    • So long as it has an ignition key it will shut off.
      The only way the brakes catch fire instead of skidding the car to a stop is if they are worn out, applied gently, or ABS prevents them working properly. The parking brake would still lock the rears though. That incident was before electric parking brakes as I recall.
      Maybe with enough systems going through the software it could defeat various efforts. But it’s quite a string of things.

      But then again the ultimate evil is the automatic transmission. With a MT just push down the left pedal. No more mechanical connection from the engine to the wheels.

      • Brent,not to beat a dead horse,I just did a couple hours on the Lexus issue.Toyota themselves admitted their brakes will NOT stop a WOT car.There was NO stopping that car with brakes.The brakes in the 120-150 mph crash, when the car was flipping, the overheated brakes ignited the fire.As per the accident investigation.This also was NOT a key car,its was button start and stop.Besides the sticking gas pedal,when the brakes were applied the engine continued WOT. This has now been addressed,brake input will override throttle input system now.

        • I looked at start,denial,cases,NHTSA,recalls,lawsuits,investigations and congressional testimony up to and including Mr Toyoda himself.They knew there were problems,they covered them up,then lied about it.1.1 billion fine for that.

          This was a tragic chapter on car horror stories,and many more deaths too.The cop family a 2009 ES350 loaner car.ES300 was having throttle problems as early as 2002! AND a surprisingly cozy relationship between NHTSA and Toyota was poo pooing these accidents,injuries and deaths for years!!Driver error doncha know.Will,that and billions of dollars,ALWAYS follow the money to find the truth.

          • Unintended acceleration,NO! Unintended lack of deceleration,YES! Toyota played that up endlessly,as if there was no problem with acceleration.YOU made it go and it did.The problem was getting car to stop after accelerator jammed.Toyota got real cutesy with the lawyer talk there.

        • Does anyone recall the unintended acceleration with Audi in the early 80s? People complained the car wouldn’t stop.

          Car and Driver addressed the problem by getting one of the offending models and laid to rest the brakes not stopping the car. They didn’t stop with that car and tested a few dozen cars of all makes and models. They never found a car the brakes would not overpower the accelerator. Bob Bondurant chimed in and said nearly everyone he got in his training car with controls on each side, panicked and kept the throttle floored when he’d put in too much throttle.

          While in panic mode they’d fail to go for the brake pedal. He spoke of regularly having to reach over and pull their leg to get them off throttle.

        • If the brakes can’t stop it then the brakes are woefully under designed or the ABS and other computer control is what is preventing it. Software people doing mechanical engineering wrongly.

          Even a tiny japanese car drum brake can render a car basically immobile. Brakes are mechanically very powerful. They have to be gimped in some way not stop the car. Prevented from reaching their full braking power.

          • I agree with you to the point when ABS makes brakes fail.

            I had a young man and woman pull out right in front of me doing 40 mph. I whipped into the next lane where traffic was backed up. I had room to stop except the ABS only allowed a minimal braking. I totalled 2 pickups that day and damaged another.

            I rebuilt my pickup. 5 years later it did the same thing twice in one week and luckily didn’t have a wreck. After the second time I unplugged the ABS permanently. I detest the shit anyway since it will get you killed pulling trailers and on snow and ice. I learned to drive without it and maintain control regardless of the situation. Don’t need any help driving.

            • Early ABS would blank out under 5mph. ABS has always worked properly for me at speed. Just well under 5mph in the snow when all I needed was the car to skid and stop it would just keep going and going and going….

              • I knew some people skiing in Ruidoso and driving back down the mountain pulled into a snow covered parking lot where the car, via ABS simply rolled slowly off the edge. Up there they only retrieve the people. I hear it’s a good place to scavenge parts if you’re half mountain goat.

  14. There are a few litmus tests people like us can evaluate when looking at cars. Drive by wire? Push-button start? Touch-screen? Don’t bother, move on to the next one.

    I’d also look at how easy it would be to change the light bulbs. If I have to take the wheels off or the bumper off to do something that can and should take less than five minutes, forget about it.

    I’m sure others would see how many airbags are present, or if traction control is present, or if it has direct injection and eliminate choices based on those.

    God help us when brake by wire becomes a thing.

  15. I’m a car nerd and a computer nerd, so I’ve hacked a couple of car ECU’s in the cars I’ve owned.

    You’d be surprised about the biggest reason for throttle by wire – emissions.

    When you have a cable actuated throttle butterfly, and you change the throttle opening suddenly, like when flooring it, the car will emit a brief burst of hydrocarbons due to briefly going into open-loop mode in the ECU, before the sensors can catch up and meter the fuel perfectly for that throttle opening. This puts cards over hydrocarbon limits on emissions, so it had to go. In a modern car, when you floor it, the car gets the signal that you’re flooring it, and it can stay in closed-loop mode, perfectly metering fuel and gas. This can be done with hardly any delay. If you don’t believe me, have a look at an older car (maybe before 2005) with a cable actuated throttle taking off hard, you’ll see a puff of dark exhaust. This is exactly what the electronic throttle avoids. Sadly, people over-complicate these things and introduce the kinds of bugs which Eric mentions, but they don’t have to. The over-complication comes from smoothing out throttle inputs for fuel efficiency reasons, and for a driver, it really sucks because there isn’t really a connection between gas petal and throttle opening anymore.

    Some cars, like BMW’s, have electronic throttles because they don’t even have throttle butterflies. They adjust their valve lift to simulate that, and there’s no way to cable actuate that stuff. It’s actually faster responding than a cable actuated throttle.

  16. Electronic throttles are what we get when we let Lewis Skolnick and Professor Frink run the world.

    Ever notice how the smartest people are usually the ones most lacking in wisdom?

    • Hi Ice Age,

      Among other things, this is an example of something that is needlessly complicated that provides negligible benefit at great cost.

      And they ask me why I drink . . .

        • Hi Mike,

          Amen. Late model cars have the upside of (usually) not needing much work during their first 6-8 years of life, but once they get past that, when things go wrong, they often get very expensive. As the value of the vehicle itself declines, you reach a point beyond which the vehicle isn’t worth fixing.

          The cars of the past may not have been as reliable – and needed more work more often. But the work cost less, could be done by you and the vehicles could be kept going for much longer because of this.

          • Eric, Detroit Diesel designed the 60 Series engine to be computer controlled so the other manufacturers jumped on the boat so 96 and later big rigs are DBW except it really is wire

            It can and not uncommonly does have problems. One of the stranger things about all the brands I’ve driven, which would be fairly much all of them, the engines pull harder on cruise control than with the pedal. Get into the last gear and turn on the cruise and bump it enough times for it to try for maximum speed and that’s the fastest way to roll.

  17. I miss the old days, coming back from Lime Rock, CT to Poughkeepsie, around 1973 or so NY the throttle cable on the old Lotus breaks. In the middle of nowhere, no traffic, no service stations just pretty mountains. We coast to a stop about 100 yards from a bridge, on the bridge is a guy fishing.

    Brainstorm; I asked the guy for 10 feet of fishing line, I tie the line to the throttle level, fish the line back over the top, around the vent window and I tired a small stick the end. Hand throttle! Yeah. Pull the stock with my left hand, shift and steer with the right.

    Put the line in the vent window and close it – paleo cruise control.

    A few months later the clutch cable in the Bug broke. The cool thing about the Beetles is you didn’t need the clutch really if you learned to use the synchronizers between gears. Back off the throttle, wait for it, snip to the next gear, upshift or downshift no problem.

    It was months before I got around to replacing it.

    Those days, safe to say are long over.

    • Had an early (1960 Series !!) LandRover years back. Clutch suddenly stopped releasing. I was out, awayfrom home. No momey for Mr. Hook. Floated the shifts and got home. With the lw range in the Transfer Box, starting with the starter motor in first low was easy. Six shifts late,r n to gear on the motorway.

      Diagosed a faulty clutch master cylknder, had to wait a week to get one. Did not fix theproblem. Went for slave, but not availble before a scheduled long road trip. I’d been getting aobut just fine for ten days without the clutch releasing, so left on my road trip anyway. About 2500 miles of highway, and plenty of city driving. Never missed beat. I did get a couple days of offroad work out in Arizona’s Verde Valley, too.

      Years later I realised that driving my Kenworth with a spit four twin stick geartrain was just easier to do without using the pedal once the rig was moving. Floating all the shirts, every third one a compoiund shift, got to be secoind nature. Never even thought about it. Easier on my eft leg, too. That clutch sring pack was a mean one, even being double disc.
      Drive by computer? Nah. Not for me.

      • T, a lot of people don’t realize that not using the clutch in a car type transmission will reduce the life of the synchronizers. The last diesel pickup I had was a manual shift.

        Every now and then I’d try to find a truck transmission that would work since using a clutch while driving a diesel was weird and not something I was accustomed to.

        Since the transfer case and transmission were bolted together, it made a change overly complicated.

        When the wife and I travel in something with a center shifter I’d be lost in thought and reach for the non-existent shifter upon starting up a steep grade. It bugged her so much she’d slap my hand.

        In that diesel pickup I commonly tried to find another gear and at times would already have it out of OD before I realized there wasn’t another gear. With 4.10 axles my subconscious took over when I reached a certain RPM.

        A lot of high speed road work and I’d be looking again for a 2 or 3 speed Brown-Lipe gearbox to get the next OD gear. Hell, I never had too many shifters. A 5X4 Spicer setup is heaven on earth to me.

  18. If I let the Cherokee sit for a while, like when I’m on call and cannot do much traveling, the brakes will lose pressure and become very hard to pump. If this happens it is difficult to start the engine because there’s an interlock on the brakes that must somehow use fluid pressure to detect if you have your foot on the pedal. No pressure no start. No start, no pressure. First time it happened I thought I was going to have to get a tow until I realized what was happening and just put my foot down hard.

    Also really was disappointed by the DSG in my old Audi. Really wanted to like the flappy-paddle shifters, but they were really pretty useless in practice and not enjoyable at all. For one thing you could only run sequentially through the gears no matter what. So if you were downshifting from 4th to 2nd as one might through a turn, sorry, can’t do it. Well, you can, but because of the way the transmission works it takes much longer and always wants to stop on 3rd before dropping to 2nd. Also no control over the clutch means the engine is always going to be engaged. And worst of all, the transmission would decide when it was “ok” to downshift. So you might get to run the revs up at the apex or maybe not. In the end I just gave up, put the thing in sport mode and used the kick down switch on the accelerator to do the same thing. Probably more efficient but in no way as much entertainment.

    This is the problem with the car industry. (Most) reviewers love to make a big deal out features that look techy and numbers get old braggart men in the showroom. No one else cares about such things, as long as there’s cupholders that can hold their 64 Oz Mountain Dew and it comes in the color they like they’re happy. But I’ve had more fun driving 1980s era 1.8L 4 speed cars than seeing how fast I could get off the line in my A3 in launch mode. Sure, the A3 had handling like nothing else I’ve ever driven, but what’s the fun in that if you’re always worried about the cop around the corner? 35 in a Dodge Omni can be downright entertaining.

    But for 80+ percent of the public none of that matters. And that’s who they sell cars to, not people who enjoy driving. Driving with a manual transmission is a pain in traffic, especially now that no one else is driving stick. The drive-by-wire system is probably more reliable than the cable-based systems and for sure won’t gunk up over time making for weird pedal modulation. Electric assist steering is far less complicated than the hydraulic system and requires no scheduled maintenance. And the old men can actually get the 0-60 time advertised without needing any ability when they hit the launch mode button.

    • Man RK know what you feel. Just the other day I ranted on here about my painful and depressing experience at a JLR dealer. Was getting some crazy offers so thought about testing the Velar and F Pace…. and god its amazing how little you need to know about cars to sell cars. Yes they were all perfectly dressed and graceful and sharp suits. But didnt know simple things about the cars itself. Like whats the difference between the engines, just googling and reading off a spec sheet. Or what adjustable dynamics does, and if / how it can adjust the suspension when he told me the standard suspension wasnt adjustable… didnt even have samples of the other engines…. Or what the differences were between the Velar and the F pace, despite both being on the same frames, same engines, and same transmissions. i guess its just not something anyone cares about…. as long as they can make the monthly payments, and its a nice badge…. they shift the car and get the bonus!!!

      • Selling cars is all about figuring out how to work out the monthly payment so that the customer can “afford” to buy. Or in the case of your Jag dealer, convincing the old cheap F*** who’s got an IRA maturing and has to spend it or hand it over to the IRS to buy a new car that he doesn’t want but the wife convinced him to get.

    • I really don’t understand any of these stories because a braking system would have to be seriously compromised for it to happen. But people have been blaming the cars for their own incompetence in this regard since 60 minutes skewered Audi.

      In 70s and older cars it was not uncommon for accelerator cables to get stuck. People dealt with them without drama. I think people are just helpless hapless morons today.

      The accelerator was getting stuck on my Mazda this year. Finding nothing wrong with the pedal there seemed to be an issue with the pedal returning to the proper idle position. I removed the assembly, cleaned, lubed, and then made a bushing to increase the preload of the torsion spring that returns the pedal to the idle position. It has made the problem almost entirely go away. Of course my car is an MT so it was never a safety issue. Just an annoyance.

      I still remember one car, a single rear drum had the parking brake stick. The car could barely move. One of four brakes and one of the weakest two and the car couldn’t move but at full throttle and less than 5mph. My mazda had a rear brake lining come off the shoe. Locked up one brake in the rear. Because its FWD I was able have the car drag itself back into the driveway. But I was barely able to get it move 15ft.

      Turn the car off. Apply brakes. It will stop.

      • I really don’t understand any of these stories because a braking system would have to be seriously compromised for it to happen. ,….Again NOPE! Toyota says their brakes will NOT stop a car in wide open throttle.Heck,we mtn people know only too well how quickly brakes overheat and fade away.Add 300+ HP, 300+ torque,brakes are just abrasive heat sinks,nothing else.

        • Now apply gas and brakes together,brakes win,gas system stops.But thats wasnt a problem or software issue….so says toyota.We changed it,you know,just because.


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