As I stepped into a 1971 Volkswagen Bug recently, the smell of old leather, mold and gasoline hit me hard in the face.
I have been in this business much of my life, and 26 years ago these cars were in my shop every day. They were basic yet mechanically artistic.
During the final test-drive of this sweet Bug, I realized how much cars have changed. Gone are the days of the tuneup, mixture adjustment and timing set. There I was, driving westbound on Route 237 with the windows wide open (no AC) and trying to shift into fifth gear, only to realize that it was a four-speed. I do have to say that it was exhilarating – and for just a moment, I felt my dad, both my mentor and life coach, in the passenger seat next to me.
Because everything in my industry is now computer-controlled, I thought I’d fill you in on some of the key auto vocabulary that we use each day.
• OBD II (On-Board Diagnostic II) and OBD II connector. This system is large, but I will try to condense it into a few sentences. Basically, the car of today is one big computer network. The power control module (PCM) main computer is like a server, and most of the other components – sensors, actuators, potentiometers – are the workstations. All these devices work in a larger control area network. In the end, your car is like its own private Internet, with each component transferring data to one another to make the car go down the road as efficiently as possible.
• Reflash or reprogram. The human race is amazing and can wreak havoc on most things it comes into contact with. Once 500,000 people get their hands on a car, they will put it through tests 10 times harder than the engineers could ever dream up. As engines wear out, things change. In the past, if something changed mechanically, you would have to repair it. With modern cars, though, there just might be a reflash or reprogram to help the PCM circumnavigate the problem. The late-model vehicles have up to 50 control modules, and most of them are reprogrammable.
• Interface. Most new cars come equipped with an interface, such as a USB connection, navigation and Bluetooth. How well these interfaces work differs from brand to brand. Some work well and others are still trying to catch up. If interfaces are important to you, make sure to test it as much as the car. I cannot tell you how many of my customers are unhappy with their interface: “My interface does not understand me.” “ I cannot download to my interface.” “I do not understand my interface.”
The days of mechanically basic cars are gone – and I don’t miss the smell of gasoline.