The Grumpy Old Astronomer

Questions You Need to Ask When Buying a New Vehicle

August 6, 2017

Nearly 700,000 Chevy, GMC trucks recalled - because a SOFTWARE problem can cause loss of steering! Link

Here's a new one - The ELECTRIC steering on these vehicles can "spontaneously lose their electric power steering assistance for about one second".

So, aside form having this happen SPONTANEOUSLY - if your battery dies - you can't STEER!???

For more than 100 years we've had cars that had manual or hydraulic assisted power steering, and now we've got vehicles where a COMPUTER PROGRAM determines whether you can steer or not?!! When is this stupidity going to stop?

Three things to question when buying any new vehicle.

1. Door lock test.

  1. pick a hot summer day - say above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit)
  2. tell the Salesman, the Sales Manager, and the Service Manager to sit in the car
  3. no tools are allowed
  4. tell them to put up the windows
  5. tell them to lock the doors
  6. tell them to turn off the engine
  7. now have a service technician disconnect the battery simulating an alternator (charger) failure, or a lightning strike, or a minor collision that wrecks the battery
  8. tell them you'll wait 20 minutes to see if they can get out of the hot car
  9. This test determines whether or not people inside the car can open the doors (all of them) without the battery running the computer.

    Many newer cars have theft-resistant door lock "pulls" (or none) that cannot be pulled up from inside using your fingers,

    AND... the lever to open the door just tells the computer to trigger the door lock solenoid - it is not a mechanical linkage. In these cars, you cannot open the doors without the battery and computer operating.

If they refuse to attempt this test - look for another vehicle.

Don't believe that some cars have this deadly "feature"?

These drivers were NOT stupid - they COULD NOT open the doors from inside their burning vehicles.

2. Steering and brake test

  1. Tell them you want the car parked on a hill pointing downwards
  2. Tell them you want the Salesman's car, the Sales Manager's car, and the Service Manager's car parked at the bottom of the hill.
  3. Tell them you are going to get in the car and put it in neutral
  4. Tell them you then want a technician to open the hood and disconnect the battery
  5. Tell them you are going to release the brake(s) and head towards the cars
  6. If the brakes do not work without the battery and computer running you will crash into their cars.
  7. This test will determine whether basic survival things like brakes work with mechanical links or whether the computer is the only one controlling the actual brakes (and steering).
If they refuse to attempt this test - look for another vehicle.


Car manufacturers are replacing direct mechanical control of vehicles with "computerized features" that actually do what a human should be able to do.
This is how Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin died. He probably thought the shift lever would
actually put his vehicle in "Park" - but no - the supposed "shift lever" was just a "joystick switch"
that was read by the computer and the computer decided he did not click it enough times for "Park",
just for "Neutral". Result - he got out to get his mail and the vehicle rolled down his driveway and killed him.

I have a friend that has a car with automatic "lane wander" correction. If he is not paying attention, the car will automatically put him back in his lane if it wanders. Great. - So I asked him what will happen if he begins to rely on this "feature" and one day the CAR can't see the road markings (new road, snow, fog, dirt on the camera, heavy rain, etc.). He did not know what the car would do in that situation. Let me repeat that - He DID NOT KNOW what the computer THAT CONTROLS HIS STEERING would do in a situation. (BTW - His car also had interior door lock "pulls" that cannot be gripped by your fingers to unlock a door in an emergency. See point 2 above.)

When are car manufacturers going to stop saving a few dollars per car (and maybe a few pounds of weight) so they can make more profit by eliminating direct human control of a vehicle then which fails in an emergency?

3. Can the vehicle be hacked while driving?

If the car's major systems are controlled by a computer, AND the computer software can be changed WITHOUT YOU KNOWING (i.e. automatically download either during service or "pushed out" by the manufacturer or a hacker) then THEY can change YOUR vehicle's behavior and you may not be aware of this new "feature". Imagine if the new software contains a bug that affects braking, or steering, or accelerating... or whatever.

So, ask them how to disable this capability so it cannot be done on-the-fly i.e. WITHOUT YOUR WRITTEN PERMISSION.

Think your car's behaviors cannot be changed "on the fly" (or hacked) over a wireless connection?

and finally: