Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Electronics interfering in Mechanics

  1. Nov 28, 2009 #1
    Hi guys
    This is not a question!
    I wanna discuss something.

    Why can't cars be more mechanical than electronical? I mean every new day i see some electronic component being developed for cars and companies attract the fools who really don't know what really a car is (at least to it's driver)? More and more electronics are entering cars day by day and i hate it , because it reduces our effort. And soon there will be cars whom you just tell where to go and they will take you. Where is the driving pleasure in it?

    Those won't be cars actually but "transporters" (not as in the movie though!).
    The young engineers should think of making more mechanical innovations rather than developing more more electronics.

    e.g. I hate the traction control systems in cars and those are in sports cars like Ferrari too!!
    I would never expect ferrari to join the same crowd though.

    However, true car racers and drivers and lovers will always look for the real Mech-Cars.
    Any thoughts? Love to share.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 28, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 28, 2009 #2
    The most trouble-free car I ever had was a 1949 Ford with an in-line 4 cylinder engine. When I opened the hood, I saw only a cast iron block with a carb and manifold, a distributor, fan, generator (not alternator), and the road. Lots of road. No air conditioning, power steering, power brakes. Most of the other stuff under the hood now is EPA required. Adjusting the valve pushrod clearance was a pain (no hydraulic lifters).
    Bob S
  4. Nov 28, 2009 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I saw a show on Discovery Channel about the new Ferarri production cars. The main test driver mentioned that the car would not handle nearly as well were it not for its traction control system.

    I think you may be a bit biased in that your experience with cars ha lead you to a certain result which really can not be used to extrapolate an overall opinion of all electronic systems. Personally I think, just like any other thing in the universe, there are benefits and drawbacks. In this case, the benefits I think are obvious. The main drawbacks are that car companies are always producing cheap crap that breaks and gives the notion a black eye.

    I guess the argument goes cross platform in that even in other areas, arguments like this exist. For example, in aviation, there a pure stick and rudder guys that can't stand the technology that has been developed. Of course, a ton of that technology is pretty sweet but has, perhaps, diluted the flying experience.
  5. Nov 28, 2009 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Yeah, I have thoughts. Since the introduction of electronics and computer control in cars the expected life has gone from 50k-100k miles to 100k - 200k. I have not even thought about points for the last 15yrs. Seems to me that electronics has improved both life and reliability.

    No way would I go back to a pre electronics car as my main form of transportation.
  6. Nov 28, 2009 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The best car I've ever had is the one I have now. Just an old '93 Buick with a 3.3L V-6. I bought it used at 44 kmiles and it now has ~220 kmiles. It gets over 30 mpg on the road and overall about 26 mpg. I've never had any problems with the electrical system and the computer does its job just fine. I had to change the O2 sensor that cost all of $20.
  7. Nov 29, 2009 #6
    If electronics used in lmits that's ok and even good. But if exceed their use then the real car feel is lost. It just becomes a computer with auto controls, auto pilot.
    I am not saying that electronics are no worth to use but using them excessively makes the car feel lost atleast to car lovers like me!
  8. Nov 29, 2009 #7


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The electronics are used (among other reasons) because the "feel" is superior to an all mechanical car. There is just no way I'd ever get a car that didn't have power steering and brakes.

    ....And my car's electronic variable ignition timing results in higher efficiency and power. Why would I want to give that up?

    So I can't fix it on my own. Why does that matter? My car's 5.5 years old, has more than 100,000 miles on it and has never needed any non-regular service/maintenance! [knocks on wood] So even if I knew how, there wouldn't be anything for me to do*!

    *Of course I could always change my brakes, spark plugs, tires and oil myself if I felt like it, but I don't feel like it.
  9. Nov 29, 2009 #8

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The only thing I really miss is rear-wheel drive. You just can't do a good power slide with FWD.

    Beyond that, that advanced technolgies make home auto maintenance impractical is the biggest favor the auto industry could have done for me. "Honey, I would do it myself, but I just don't have the equipment" is a much easier excuse to sell than any I ever conjured up in the past. :biggrin:

    Yesterday I had my car in the shop for a service. As a result of the fuel filter being replaced, it took a few minutes for the fuel pump control system to adjust for the reduced restriction. Cool stuff! You just can't get that level of control using mechanical solutions.

    About fifteen years ago I was writing the programs for automatic transmissions in diamond mining equipment. The advantage of electronic control over the traditional automatic transmission is undeniable. What once took a huge block of intricately machined steel is now accomplished with a small and relatively inexpensive industrial computer. The controls responded to changing conditions within about 1 ms. There is simply no comparison. Electronic solultions are generally far superior to mechanical solutions.

    I don't mourn the loss of the horse and buggy either.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2009
  10. Nov 29, 2009 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Do you have some examples of "electronic gizmos" you don't like, so we can refute your claims specifically rather than generally?
  11. Nov 30, 2009 #10
    yes, the traction control system
  12. Nov 30, 2009 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Traction control systems are pretty amazing pieces of technology, and really help in adverse conditions like ice or loose sand. I suspect you dont like it because you feel the "driving experience" should include doing burnouts, and if that's how you feel you should get a car that has a button that disables the traction control system.

    There are examples of traction control systems that are able to do some pretty amazing things, like the systems on the 2010 Toyota 4Runner and Toyota Lancruiser which have hill decent assist, and ATRAC which agressively prevents wheel slip in adverse off-road situations. The systems are user-controlled, and can be activated in stages from off to full-on.

    In addition, traction control on a car like the Corvette Z06 has different stages like standard, competition, and off. Test drivers for the car have found that it actually performs best in competition mode, because the huge amount of torque the engine has makes it difficult to put down the power without roasting the tires; the TC system helps limit that without being too intrusive.
  13. Nov 30, 2009 #12


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    That sounds glorious. Cup o' joe and a morning read on my way to work. Traffic? What traffic.
  14. Nov 30, 2009 #13
    IMHO, the modern electronics have bred a whole generation of driver with very poor skills.
    the ABS system works well, so people stomp the brake at every stop light never anticipating anything less than a perfect stop. a little glitch, computer takes a monent longer, SMASH, wow what happened, sue ford, bendix, autozone and anyone else, cause its not my fault.
    wet road, normally 65mph on a good day, everyone still running 70+ cause of the false sense of security. something happens 10 sets of traction control, and abs better work perfectly, otherwise crash, and law suits. I would like someone to do the calculations of how much current all the management systems use and see how much that drags down HP.
    proper tuning maintainance will yield the same reilability, possible better fuel ecomony, decent emissions and something simple and repairable
    the reason new engines run longer is that the cylinder walls are harder, making the use of hard chrome rings possible
    I hate plastic new cars, airbags, asking the computer permission to turn on the heater, etc
    I get 30 MPG out of my totally stock "al bundy" 72 Dodge dart and never notice the lack of power steering, or power brakes, (but I will upgrade to front discs eventually)
    and its all steel made to take a 5 mph impact with no damage...bring on the crumple zones...lol

  15. Nov 30, 2009 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    This just isn't true. The electronic aids available in vehices these days (it appears ABS and TC are the two big ones "purists" don't like) have done nothing but increase safety on the road. An "unskilled" driver with ABS can stop faster in 99% of situations compared to a "skilled" driver without ABS; how is this a bad thing?

    I've known plenty of bad drivers, the electronic aids had nothing to do with their lack of skill.

    This is obviously an exaggeration. It's very rare that a person stops at a red light at the last possible second resulting in an activation of their ABS system. If someone is, they are obviously a menace to the roadways.

    People obviously need to take responsibility for their actions. I'm not seeing how taking ABS away will fix this problem though... It's not like people were safer drivers back in the "good ol' days" because the cars had less electronic aids.

    While they're in monitor mode, the current draw is negligible. All the systems do is compare wheel speed sensors to an accelerometer.

    You're right that rigorous maintenance helps reliability and efficiency significantly. Just because you can't fix it doesn't mean it isn't servicable. I've done lots of work on cars with oxygen sensors, ABS systems, wheel speed sensors, etc. They aren't impossible to figure out, and are surprisingly simple in their fuction.

    Tighter tolerances in machining, better quality control, computer controlled diagnostics, and better oils have played a large part in that as well.

    So basically you hate stuff that's newer than the 70's, is that what I'm hearing? What could you possibly have against air bags?! Apparently if it wan't in a car in 1973, it shouldn't be in a car now...

    So, a '72 Dodge Dart is the benchmark that all cars hereafter much be measured to? Yuck! Power steering and brakes are a necessity for any car IMO. 30 mpg is a real feat for a car like that (at what speed, by the way?) but is relatively easy to attain in modern cars at 75 mph with slick aerodynamic bodies, and efficient fuel injected engines.

    There's nothing wrong with technological advancement!!!
  16. Nov 30, 2009 #15
    The lack of electronic control mechanisms did make, IMHO, persons who grew up driving these cars much better drivers. I live in Houston, and if you have never driven here, you would not believe it, and understand that it is no exageration. yes, many people do slam the brakes at the last minute. since traction control, few know how to drive out of a skid. air bags are sometimes inconsistant, and in a multi-impact crash, you have shot all your safety in the first impact, leaving you unprotected for any added impacts. my comment on the sensors was not ABS or traction control, but everything active and passive. The newer cars are not hard to work on, given the proper scanning and specialty tools, but its the sensors that cost $30-$350 each that go out, that drive the cost of ownership of used newer cars thru the roof. (vs old cars) A simple "fender bender" can result in a late model car being "totaled" just because the fenders shattered, and they can't easily be replaced. The interior of the "plastic cars" degrades and becomes un-repairable. my intrepid, the door handle broke, so when the dealer wanted $100 I was shocked until I found out it is the whole door panel (and you can't even get it in the original color)

    Is the Dart a benchmark? Well maybe it should be, being it is almost 40 years old, is very inexpensive and easy to repair, (with a basic wrench set, some sockets and screwdrivers) has one of the most bullet proof engines known to man, and at 65 mph with NO overdrive, in a 3600 pound car, gets me to work just fine with 30 mpg. If I were to "upgrade it" (OD trans, turbo, injection, I feel I could push economy well into the 40's) I just feel that for 40 years of improvements we, as consumers, have been short changed, somehow.
    I am not being mean, I would gladly buy a new car if you can justify why one should cost 1/2 the price of my house (yes, its old and cheap too...lol)

  17. Nov 30, 2009 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    All straw man arguments aside...

    The OP was really about electronics taking over the driving aspect. Aside from cruise control and intermittent wipers, there aren't any other systems on a modern car that actually reduce the driver's workload. OK, there is the whole automatic headlamp turn off feature too. All other systems are refinements but do not reduce driver workload. Most electronics are added under two categories; safety and performance. It has been said many times so far in that there is no mechanical methods to accomplish what is being done in modern cars.
  18. Nov 30, 2009 #17


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Frankly this isn't an argument. You FEEL that drivers were better when they didn't have electronic aids, but can't back it up. In the end a vehicle is a tool, and people take driving lessons to learn how to utilize it effectively and safely.

    This has nothing to do with electronic aids. As Fred pointed out it is a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man" [Broken].

    This isn't true. Driver's ed courses teach you how to handle a vehicle during a skid.

    This has little to do with the original post, but still I have to address it... Air bags have been proven effective in a variety of crashes, and are certainly more effective than no air bags at all! Surely you must concede a vehicle with proper crush zones and air bags is safer in a collision than your 1972 Dart...

    More straw man... None of this has to do with the issue of how traction control and ABS diminish the driving experience.

    I'm glad you love your car; that is of course why you have kept it all these years. You said yourself though, that to "upgrade it" (a.k.a. make it better) you would need to add a more complex transmission, a turbocharger, and fuel injection. That isn't exactly sticking with your "keep it simple" mentality...

    How so? Cars are more efficient, safer, more comfortable, faster, and more agile; what's not to like?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  19. Dec 2, 2009 #18
  20. Dec 2, 2009 #19


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    The first link is useless because it just gives overall numbers. They are not referenced to anything. They need to be referenced like the second link does in that the numbers are per vehicle miles traveled. There is nothing in there that doesn't say there was another 20 million more drivers to skew the data. The data from NHTSA all showed decreased accidents from the previous year based on VMT. Could it be possible that the numbers have been steadily decreasing for years as vehicles become better and better?

    Again, attempting to disprove a different argument to prove yours is not logically sound. Please provide some kind of source that states that current drivers are worse drivers because of the electronics added. Personally I think younger drivers are worse for different reasons not related to car design.
  21. Dec 2, 2009 #20


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I live in the Houston area (2.5 miles from Houston Raceway Park actually :P ) as well and although I hate Houston drivers, I'd say that you're definitely exaggerating. On your point about driving capability I'd say that even though we get plenty of rain, there's not enough exposure to skid conditions that people here would be experienced enough even if there was no TC or ABS (as I'm typing this I'm watching the weather predict possibility of snow for friday). Every car I've owned (3 V8 camaros, 1 olds 88, 1 nissan murano) has had ABS and one with traction control. When it snowed last year, I passed wreck after wreck on the overpasses of I-10 as I drove down the feeder on my way home from work. I'm 26, lived here my whole life, seen snow/ice a handful of times, yet I knew better than to drive normally and not to take the overpasses in those conditions.

    The common link between those speculating about driving capability and myself is not driving without electronics, but simply a passion for cars/driving. There are going to be bad drivers regardless of vehicle capability. Those that enjoy it/practice it are typically going to be better just like with everything else.

    I love my electronics even though they come at a cost (pricey sensors), but I have the capabilities to work on and modify the stuff I have myself (TunerCAT for OBD-1 LT1). I also have the capabilities to do away with the electronics that I don't want, but so far that's been only small stuff like eliminating the need to shift from 1st to 4th gear during slow acceleration, removing tables to pull timing in unneccessary cases, etc.

    I know somebody already mentioned a corvette Z06, but I'll add that even a new base model LS3 powered corvette will prove to require a lot more skill than just feathering a pedal or two. I wasn't a fan of the mid-late 90s models with traction control, but the 2008 I drove had it pretty much nailed. Sorry for those of you that have to deal with REAL weather related traction issues.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook