Problems With Touchscreens

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Smartphones – which are only incidentally phones – have touchscreens and that’s ok (so far as it goes) because phones are throw-away devices. No one repairs them – because why bother? It’s expected that by the time they start to glitch it’s time to replace them. And by that time, the “phone” is probably also outdated anyhow.

That’s not too much of a problem because most of these carry-them-with-you touchscreens are not very expensive to replace.

Which is why they’re throw-aways.

Someone got the bright idea to replace what used to be car instrument clusters with touchscreens – probably to make cars look and operate more like phones. Which has had the side effect of exactly that.

But cars are not throw-away devices. Not for for most people, at any rate. Because most people can’t afford to throw away something that costs even $25,000 (about half the average price paid for a new vehicle) when its control interface begins to glitch or becomes out-of-date.

Just after they’ve paid it off, probably.

The problem, then, is that cars are not phones. Most people keep their vehicle for three or four times as long as they keep typically their phones; most cars on the road right now are more than ten years old. How many people are carrying around a five-year-old phone?

Most don’t – and not only because they don’t want to; i.e., because they want whatever the latest thing is and can afford to throw away their old phone. They have to it away – because it’s out-of-date and is no longer able to get updates.

It doesn’t work anymore, in other words.

When the touchscreen interface that controls most of your car’s secondary functions glitches, you may have to throw away the car – if the manufacturer no longer supports it or no one makes a replacement. This latter is already happening with electronic controls – including such things as body control modules – that control such things as the power windows (which used to be controlled by an electric switch and a hot and a ground wire). People who own older – but not ancient – vehicles that were “first generation” electronically controlled when they were new fifteen or so years ago are finding out that they must scour salvage yards for still-working used electronic parts to get their older electronically controlled cars’ systems working again.

Of course, these used electronic parts are used – and so not likely to last long. And when there are no more used replacement parts available, it’s time to throw away the car, even if it is still mechanically usable. Because what use is there for a car with windows that you can’t roll up (or down)?

Or AC that you can’t turn on?

I test drive new vehicles every week and it’s become common for these brand-new vehicles (which are “press vehicles” loaned to journalists to test drive and write about, so  they are thoroughly checked out before they are loaned out to journalists) to glitch. I’ve had screens lock me out of the audio system – and then randomly allow me to use the audio system again. I’ve had screens go dark – and then (eventually) come back on. Sometimes, there’s just a lag in between the time you tap and app and the app does whatever it’s supposed to do.

There is a tremendous amount of interconnected control built into these touchscreens. It’s not as it was before touchscreens – when most secondary controls (such as the power windows) were controlled by their own systems, not connected to other systems. Plus, there are more controls – because new cars have so many more “features” to control. Tap for this, swipe to find that. Layered menus – and more apps than most of us have fingers.

It all looks very futuristic the first time you see it – especially if you have never seen it before and are used to dials and needles and buttons and switches. But how long before it looks old? The answer to that is easy enough to divine.

How long will the phone you just bought look futuristic? How old does a five-year-old phone look?

You see the problem.

It is also arguably going to be a problem for the fancy – that is, pricey – brands in particular. They were the first to replace dials and needles and buttons and switches with glowing screens and – at first – it made them look fancier and so helped justify them being pricier. I remember the first time I test drove a $100k Mercedes S-Class with an all-LCD dash display and what is called ambient interior lighting; at night it was like piloting a UFO. That was about fifteen years ago. Now it is like everything else. There is nothing fancy about an array of LCD displays because everything now has LCD displays.

It makes the fancy cars look just pricey.

The irony is the fancy brands considered that turning their cars into phones would make them more profits – because one of the very few things that’s gone down in cost (for a manufacturer to sell) is electronics, such as screens made by the Chinese. They not only cost less to manufacture – and so can be used to make more money for the seller – they are also the incarnation of planned obsolescence in that they are designed to get old fast and be disposable.

Which may be fine – if you can afford it.

. . .

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  1. As a VW owner, I know that any control module that I require from the junkyard will need to be reprogrammed, in order to function correctly in my vehicle.

    I was required to purchase aftermarket software, (Ross-Tech), in order to accomplish control module swap outs.

  2. Older is better as you say Eric.

    Also hate the lack of fog lights on modern cars, like what the hell did they need to get rid of that for.

  3. The rejection of high tech EV’s….

    EV vans aren’t selling…they only have a 100 mile range….when loaded only 70 mile range…with the heater on, or when really cold….a lot less then that…

    The buyers only want diesels….

    This is a huge problem…manufactures have to sell a higher percentage of EV vans every year….but…nobody wants them….

    • Global shipping is by diesel powered ships, bulk loads are shipped by diesel powered semi trucks, local delivery is by diesel powered vans…….diesel power runs the planet…

      Buyers don’t want diesel powered vans…but….for every van the manufacturer miss their quota by there is a huge fine….

      Some stupid slaves bought EV cars…but…delivery van buyers are smarter….they won’t buy EV delivery vans….

  4. I’m not sure analog guages today are any better. Most are tiny servo motors connected to your cars computer. Once the control chip goes obsolete you are not any better off than with a dead video screen.

    • This is true. Also the factory gauge packages of 20-50 years ago were of terrible quality, even though they were simple and replaceable. One of the first upgrades for a car you care about should be a set of quality mechanical gauges.

  5. > People who own older – but not ancient – vehicles that were “first generation”
    > electronically controlled when they were new fifteen or so years ago are finding
    > out that they must scour salvage yards for still-working used electronic parts to
    > get their older electronically controlled cars’ systems working again.

    So true, Eric. This just happened to me with my 2001 F150. My NHTSA-mandated ABS pump/actuator has failed. There are no factory or 3rd-party replacements, no rebuild kits, and the one or two left at the Pick&Pull will likely fail soon enough in the same way. I either have to replumb my brake hydraulics to go without ABS, or I have to live with a soft brake pedal.

    So “fun” watching our country turn into Cuba.

    • I’d vote for an ABS bypass, the Harley guys have done this when the module goes south. The Harley tragic first clue is NO BRAKES just a hard pedal (rear) or lever (front). Harley had to own up to a recall and now we go in every two years for a fluid flush including the module that has to be activated by the HD computer at the dealer. About 1 1/2 Harley bucks. ($150 US)

      However in a vehicle is the rear front balance still there?

      Here is a Harley full module removal and bypass via shade tree fittings.

      • PS: I believe I got the last Ford with NO ABS. My ‘03 Escape XLS 2WD is real brake no ABS! What a joy to own. Did brakes and new fluid gravity bleed perfect! Great pedal feel is the added bonus.

  6. The first gen of this idiocy was the “digital dash” of the 80s. Ohh look, a number for speed not a dial and pointer! Real fine until it quit, spendy even then to get it replaced or try to get it fixed. Coworker had a 80 something Dodge Daytona, digital AND it talked!

    • Haha! Yes, it was insanity.

      When the Datsuns 240/60/80s morphed into the disco Nissan 280s the digital dash was right there. And I dated a chick who had a LeBaron that wouldn’t shut up. Come to think of it, cars start to resemble their owners…

      This has been coming for a long time.

      • “ And I dated a chick who had a LeBaron that wouldn’t shut up. Come to think of it, cars start to resemble their owners… “

        Well, there is a solution for that re chicks even rolling in the car but as a family forum I won’t launch into details. Ah hem.

      • I had a new 1984 Nissan 300 ZX Turbo 5 speed….it was one of the most heavily computerized, digital cars made then….but it was very analog compared to the new cars today.

        I now have a 1980 Porsche 924 Turbo 5 speed, it is totally analog, no electronic crap, everything works on it, it is simple enough to work on. In 1980 it cost the same as a 911…it’s collector value today hasn’t been as good as a 911 though….

        I see it as a good alternative to a 911, because of the high 911 air cooled prices now….

        It is better then a 911 in some ways…it handles better, it has better aero, it has better high speed stability, it is quicker to 100 MPH, it gets better fuel economy, it is more practical…it will carry more stuff in the hatch back….it lapped the Porsche 911 SC 36 times in 24 Hr. at Le Mans in 1980….

        The 1981 Porsche 924 Turbo Carrera GTR was the quickest car sold by Porsche in 1981…it weighed 2050 lb and had 375 HP….

        At the 1980 Le Mans…

        Porsche 924 Carrera GTR Turbo Porsche 2.0 L S4 turbo D finishes 6th…..317 laps completed…

        In 24 hours the Porsche 924 Turbo Carrera GTR….it lapped the Ferrari 512BB 4 times…the BMW M1 21 times……the Porsche 911 SC 36 times….the Maxda RX7 50 times…..

        The Camaro and Corvette 7.0 litre V8 cars did not qualify….

        The 924 Carrera GTR was the height of development of the 924…just think of what it would have become with the same number of years of development as the 911…the 924 a light, perfectly balanced car…the best handling car…trans axle is better then mid engine….no snap over steer…

        • In 24 hours the Porsche 924 Turbo Carrera GTR…. lapped….the Maxda RX7 50 times……the RX7 is supposed to be fast?……

  7. I got myself a brand-spanking new fancy brand SUV with an inline 6 cylinder and an extended 7 year, 100,000 mile warranty. I made the getting-old problem their problem right up front!

  8. You can buy Samsung Electronics for 81,300 Korean won, 60 USD per share.

    Samsung has a market cap of 541 trillion Korean won.

    In the early years of Apple, the share price was 14 USD ca. 1997.

    Samsung is ten times what Apple is.

    The processor in the Samsung phone I have is faster than the laptop.

    The Google Pixel is a good phone, Samsung has the edge. A Google Pixel has programming that will be a speedometer while you drive your car down the highway.

    Have the smartphone connect to all systems, it’s a no brainer there.

    Analog gauges are the preferred method.

    The problem: there is a limit to their brains, the people who are making all of the decisions have no brains whatsoever. Aren’t able to get funky with anything, really.

    All of the suckers out there have to suffer the stupidity.

    No excuse for that.

  9. They suck. Both my F150 and Passat have smaller ones, but also have complete analog controls. If the screen pukes there is no way I will even bother fixing them unless it is with a cheap aftermarket.

    Of course tesla leads the league in touchscreen retardartion. This is kind of a fun review of the Model 3. He has some very Eric-like thoughts on the boringness of new vehicles in general, but his takedown of the UI and the charging fiasco are particularly good.

  10. I’m experiencing this problem, but for different reasons, with my Lotus Elise. This car is super simple, but it does have a central switchpack made by blind, one-armed Spaniards and an instrument cluster made from parts that fell off a truck.

    Right now, my car’s been parked for a month because both of these have failed, so I have no lights, no speedometer, no turn signals. Not ideal. Since I can’t get replacement modules, I’ve sent mine off to some electronics repair shops, but the turnaround on these things is usually 1-2 months and also expensive, because they have to diagnose what went wrong, de-solder some broken circuit boards and replace components. Whenever you do something that’s not cookie-cutter, you pay a lot.

  11. The real problem is these junky electronics are A. Built into the car, and B. Not standard. If they were modular and upgradeable, and if they hove to the standards used in other electronics (Ethernet/wifi, Bluetooth, USB, RS 232 and 485) then replacement would be simple and a robust aftermarket could grow up around providing them.

    But car makers are greedy and stupid, so their entire focus for the last 50 years has been planned obsolescence and crony capitalism/fascism. With the ultimate expression being the BEV, an extreme luxury vehicle with a 100% throwaway rate due to being not economically repairable in 8 years, coincidentally right after the payments end.

    They don’t get that people in the real world don’t generate that much disposable income. A car in the 1920s was a capital investment which could amortize over 20 years and used cheap and effective fuel which was an undesired by product of the lamp oil business. So the car business and all the freedom it brought to every man will die. Along with the entire complex civilization it engendered.

    • I’ve seen how this sausage is made. Some of my software is driving around in VWAG cars. We worked really hard to make some good quality software for their infotainment systems, then at the last minute, for their Audi brand, they decided to reduce the specifications of their onboard CPU well below what we were targeting, and told us that we had only a few weeks to deal with it. It’s not like you can “shrink” software very easily at the last moment when you were already shrinking it to work on a small system.

      It always works like this in the auto industry. The suppliers produce something, the automaker says, nah, make it cheaper or we won’t buy, so you end up with rushed stuff that’s flakey. It frustrates me as an engineer so I don’t want to work with those guys anymore.

  12. “That’s not too much of a problem because most of these carry-them-with-you touchscreens are not very expensive to replace.”

    LOL – Eric have you priced a new phone lately? $800, $1000, $1200!!! Yikes

    Recently I’ve been learning how to replace touch screens and batteries out of necessity. The bigger problem is that Apple is now serializing things like batteries and touch screens. The phone knows when you have used an aftermarket part. I bet you can guess what Apple does in response.

    Recently started using my old iPhone 4 (after a battery replacement) as a media player – to use in my 1992 vehicle, hooked into amplifier Aux input. Old skool bitchez!

    I’m so tired of these Silicone (sic) Valley hypocrites talking about sustainability when everything they design, build, and sell is designed to be obsolete in 2-5 years. Needlessly ending up in landfills. Requiring an endless supply of child labor to mine the rare earth metals. I’m intentionally trying to avoid their new devices but they make it almost impossible when devices become “unsupported”.

    • Isnt a $1200 phone just a snob trrrrrrrrrinket ? All my girls have the latest and greatest in their $500 day purses of course.

      Carriers literally give phones away. A bit substandard and zero snob flash but totally functional.

      • Hi Rain,

        My sail fawn is a Wal-Mart phone that cost $50. It has all dey “apps” and send pics and texts just the same as dey fancy iPhone, gnomesayin’?

        • Isnt a $1200 phone just a snob trrrrrrrrrinket ? All my girls have the latest and greatest in their $500 day purses of course.

          Carriers literally give phones away. A bit substandard and zero snob flash but totally functional.

          Yup this heerza free a53 too.

          • I plan on stepping up to two tin cans and a METAL string as soon as the recycling allows…

            I’s be living in de hi cotton, yo!!!

  13. I’m hoping this is just a fad. I’m hoping someday, we return to another golden age of automotive technology by going back to the simpler, more reliable tech. Imagine car designs that resemble 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, but with modern reliability in the drivetrain, suspension, steering. And without all of the unnecessary electronics. Hey, it could happen! Right? Right?

    Nope, probably not.

    • It can and it will happen, but only after the current central bureaucracy withers and dies. But there is major big pain coming while that happens. Like any parasite, the host can’t kill it until it comes close to dying itself.

  14. Last year I upgraded my phone to one that uses USB-C. No problem, I’ll just buy a USB-C to USB-B cable right? Well, no. Seems the ol’ Cherokee doesn’t handshake quite correctly with the USB-C phone, probably because of some non-standard standard FCA used, or some non-standard standard Apple used. Either way, it usually takes a minute for the two devices to sort themselves out and actually allow me to play music, and then often times playing from whatever app happens to take priority at that moment.

    In the big picture not really anything that matters, so I just live with it. But I imagine someone going off the handle with the Jeep service department over this sort of thing. Especially if this happened in their high-end Wagoneer with the “McIntosh” audio system.

  15. Un fixable new cars….and the EV’s and PHEV’s are far worse

    Good luck getting these new EV’s fixed there is very, very few techs that know how to fix them….the ice cars are getting bad too….

    Good luck finding parts……there is very few parts available….and parts are very expensive….and if they are available….only for a couple of years…then gone….

    These EV’s are a nightmare…….so complicated that it takes weeks or months for diagnostcs…and there is no standard OBD 2 port on EV’s…it will be permanently in the service dept parking lot…..

    80% of the important components for EV’s and the batteries are junk supplied from China….lots of the electronic crap and computers for ice cars come from China too….and most after market parts…same problem….

    These EV’s have multiple systems that have to interact to run properly….this rarely happens and no one knows how to fix that…….huge software problems

    These computer and software filled cars are dependent on frequent, over the internet, expensive, software updates which almost never work properly….so your car is glitch filled…or a brick…..

    • The car industry is collapsing….all the cars have been ruined for a long time now…..all the best cars were way back in the past…buy an old car…

      Soon China will be the only supplier…with cheap junk that doesn’t work, can’t be fixed….

      People that like cars won’t buy these new cars, because they have been bastardized….. and the slaves can’t afford $50,000 cars anyways….the end…

  16. ‘The problem, then, is that cars are not phones.’ — eric

    Indeed, Eric. In the immortal words of the FDA: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously y’all. Stop it.”

    But for cars, a deeper problem is that car designers have always abjectly envied the designers of other products.

    From the Thirties through the Fifties, airplanes were their inspiration. Auto ads featured rich toffs parking their fine V-12 automobiles on the tarmac in front of their waiting plane, as their mink-clad trophy wives posed and smirked and strutted.

    Then Sputnik ushered in the Space Age in 1957. Envious auto designers went wild. Peak tailfins were achieved in the 1959 Cadillac, with its two-foot high beauties. In retrospect, they looked a little excessive. But fortunately, tail fins didn’t interfere with the vehicle’s function or reliability, although an unlucky few got sliced on their leading edge.

    Finally, Steve Jobs changed the world with the iPhone in 2007. Young Steve became very famous and very rich. Whereas auto designers remained invisible schlubs, toiling over their clay models with scrapers, trying to keep the sticky gray shavings out of their plastic pocket protectors. It’s humiliating, I’ll tell you.

    iPhone envy begat the Clownscreen, the bane of every new vehicle now. Nested menus may appeal to the digitally-endowed chattering class, but they are a poor control interface, both ergonomically and reliability-wise. Making windows, HVAC, sound system, etc interdependent with the Clownscreen unavoidably reduces reliability. Wait and see.

    That we are even having this discussion suggests that the iPhone-envy era is drawing to a close. What will low-self-esteem auto designers latch onto next as an aesthetic inspiration? The male reproductive organ? (Imagine the possibilities!) Or will there even be ‘cars’ in ten years? So what / who cares …

  17. Remember “Car Talk” on NPR?

    They always said anything that takes your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel is bad.

    Granted, the buttons on the steering wheel may let you swap stations or adjust the volume. Still, there’s a major opportunity to take your eyes of the road and hands off the wheel due to touchscreens.

  18. My buddy spent a bunch of money getting the digital dash in his Corvette fixed years ago. I can just imagine how much it would cost to fix a touch screen. What about those Pixels that stay lit up?

    As for getting a module or touchscreen from your local wrecking yard and plugging it in and having it work? Good luck as most modules are now locked to the vehicle they came from and if you try it can also perhaps brick modules that were in your vehicle originally. This came about because our “glorious” leaders wanted to reduce car theft. Parts off a stolen car aren’t worth much if they don’t work. So now they just ship the entire car out of country where they don’t care if it’s stolen.

    • Not to mention that local wrecking yards are disappearing. “Junkyard row” in my town used to consist of about 20 yards. Now it is down to ONE, and from the looks of it they will not be around much longer either. Also not to mention that electronic parts do not age well, which is why they need replacing in your garage-kept creampuff. If they did not age well under the best conditions in your creampuff, imagine how they’ll be after having lived in someone else’s car for many miles, and then sitting in some junkyard for a few years, even if you can find the exact one with the correct lotto numbers that matches your car, and have the ability to reprogram it and your car’s computer so that they sync, IF the manufacturer still supports updates and software for it.

      This is all being done to eliminate our ability to drive, unless we make enough money to replace our $50K-$100K vehicles every few years. Of course the government doesn’t care about your car getting x number of miles per gallon, or “keeping you safe” or not getting stolen. All of this mandated complexity is being foisted upon us for one reason: To make driving inaccessible to more and more people.

    • “just ship the entire car out of country”…..

      theft is a growing problem….container loads of stolen cars leaving daily…..making insurance more expensive….

      the manufacturers might like it…a replacement might be bought….

  19. I am not a fan of the touch screens. I have to wonder how much longevity is reduced when we have our -40 below Winters? Frigid cold and Winters cannot be good for such electronic devices in the long run. The touch screen on my Windows 10 desk top computer lasted all of a few years. It has not worked in a good, six years or so. I cannot help but think that vehicle screens will not be the same way.

    • Good point Shadow, and will those touch screens even respond if you’re wearing gloves? Have to freeze your fingers off to get the heater controls to work, sounds like a Catch-22 to me 😆

      • I have to freeze my fingers off first. However, it does have a heated steering wheel which is nice. One really annoying “safety” feature is the tire nanny. Nothing is more annoying than seeing that light illuminated on the dash board in the Winter first thing in the morning. Apparently it has never heard of the square tire phenomenon, haha.

    • They say never leave electronics in cars…computers, etc….they get damp and it ruins them

      Now the whole car is full of electronics….guaranteeing lots of problems…..they will just be scrapped…unfix able junk….

    • Hot cold cycles cause condensation which eventually finds electricity in the most inaccessible places like the edge of a screen. Pixel frozen on?

      If youre not familiar with electronics enough to enjoy this scenario, as George said, “They gotcha by the balls”


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