By Jim Kerr

Automobile manufacturers are continually introducing new models with more features, more powerful engines, computer networks to rival a small office, and more gears in transmissions. So what does all this complex automotive technology really do for drivers and passengers of these high tech vehicles?

When fuel injection was first installed on cars, drivers feared the technology would leave them stranded. True, some faults will stop a vehicle, but most�vehicle computers compensate for faults and let the vehicle “limp” home. Some even allow the engine to run without coolant by turning off cylinders in sequence to prevent overheating!

Most drivers have forgotten about having carburettors adjusted Spring and Fall or changing sparkplugs every 16,000 km. Technology has improved engine performance so that many vehicles can operate for years without engine adjustments. Improved driveability when cold, better fuel economy and lower exhaust emissions are other benefits of engine computer technology we often overlook.

Transmissions use computer control to reduce engine power for a split second during shifts. Computer technology provides smoother shifts, longer transmission life and can even adapt transmission shift patterns to match your driving style. Many cars are now using five speed automatics and six speeds are becoming more common. Mercedes even has a 7-speed automatic transmission that reduces 0 to 100 km acceleration times nearly a third of a second yet improves fuel economy up to .6 litres per 100 km compared to a five speed automatic. That’s technology at work!

Safety has also improved. Electronic sensors deploy air bags during life threatening accidents. Dual stage frontal air bags can deploy with less force when full deployment is not required, and Cadillac is even using a dual distance passenger airbag that only inflates part way under some collision conditions.

ABS and stability control systems help drivers maintain control on slippery streets. Many new vehicles use “brake assist” technology that senses the rate of brake pedal application and automatically apply brakes fully if necessary. Drivers may step on the brake pedal quickly but take time to react fully to dangerous situations. The computer can already be providing maximum braking force, stopping it that few feet shorter necessary to avoid an accident.

Radar cruise systems, available on several models such as Toyota’s Sienna van, Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac and Jaguar sedans automatically keeps your vehicle a preset distance behind the vehicle ahead when the cruise is set and can even brake the vehicle to warn the driver if a sudden obstacle is detected.

Sometimes technology isn’t obvious. Computer Assisted Design (CAD) is used to crash test virtual cars and trucks, enabling quicker changes in design or materials to improve crash safety. Now during an accident, vehicles are designed to crumple in specific zones, protecting the passengers by gradually slowing the vehicle. Without the use of computers, years of study about real accidents would be required before life-saving changes could be incorporated.

Technology has increased vehicle durability and safety greatly over the years, but some things never change. Engines still need oil, filters get dirty and tires need air. Be sure to have routine maintenance items checked often to protect your high tech automobile.

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