I was thinking the other day about all the changes I have seen in automotive technology since I got into this business back in the early '70s.
I can remember the switch to unleaded fuel and some of the engine problems that the lack of lead caused. I remember the addition of PCV valves (positive crankcase ventilation) and EGR valves (exhaust gas recirculation) and the introduction of electronic ignition and how I thought I would never understand how to repair a broken car again.
Along came catalytic converters and oxygen sensors and the early computer systems that included all the vacuum hoses and early pollution control devices. There was so much junk added onto the engines back then it's a wonder they even ran -- Oh, that's right, a lot of them didn't.
A little later on, front-wheel drive cars came on the scene, and fuel injection, and climate control. Eventually, none of the cars had crank windows anymore, everything was power.
Now more recently we are into crazy awesome sound systems and navigation systems and TPMs (tire pressure monitoring systems, more on that later). Some of the latest technology is bringing us direct fuel injection, which is producing unparalleled performance and fuel economy.
For the most part all of these improvements have been good and the reliability and drivability of today's automobile is very good. It has come with a steep learning curve for the repair industry and the consumer because these complex machines require a fair amount of training, experience and equipment to repair when something fails.
Now back to tire pressure monitoring. As of 1998, TPM was federally mandated on all cars. We are not only starting to see some failure on some of these sensors, but it seems every year as the weather starts to get colder, tire pressures drop and these TPM lights are lighting up on your dashboard. In most cases this is not a system failure; in fact it is doing what it is supposed to and warning you that you have a low tire.
That is the good side of this system. If you respond and do something about it when the light comes on, you save by increasing yours gas mileage, at a minimum, or prevent a more costly flat or ruined tire. The negative side of TPMs for the driver is the added expense of the potential replacement of sensors as they start to fail over time.
It has taken me awhile to get here but I do believe the benefits of TPMs far outweigh the negatives and it seems that the sensors are lasting the five or six years that we were told they would.
So what's next? I am hearing a lot of noise these days about the autonomous car (driverless car). Scary or really cool, I'm not sure, but this could be in the not-so-distant future. We will have to wait and see but we already have some elements of this in today's production cars.
We have cars that will apply the brakes if you don't, and sensors that alert you if you drift out of your lane and assist in bringing you back to the center.
One thing is for sure: I would not have believed where we are right now if you had showed me the technology on a 2014 car when I was a young mechanic back in the 1970s. It will be fun to see what's next!
• Douglas Automotive is at 417 W. Main St., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit douglasautomotive.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.