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When I decided to pursue an automotive career, I entered the industry through a Honda Canada pilot apprenticeship program geared towards preparing young technicians for new technologies. What was that new technology, you ask? I’m dating myself, but that new technology was electronic fuel-injection (EFI), a way for computers to control adding fuel into an engine that gained popularity in the 1980s. I fondly remember all the older technicians in the dealership I worked at relying on my explanations to help them make the leap from fully analog, carbureted vehicles to EFI. All these years later, I can now relate to them. Now I’m the one desperately trying to keep up.

Fast-forward to my recent purchase of a new 2018 VW Sportwagen. I complicated the process by requesting that the car come equipped with four-wheel drive and a manual transmission. The scarcity of manual-transmission cars in general is a topic unto itself, but in my case, this unlikely combination yielded limited product availability, with VW Canada only having two vehicles to choose from. And they both came with VW’s driver-assist package – an option I had no interest in but reluctantly agreed to. Adaptive cruise control, lane assist, self-parking and emergency braking are the main features of this VW upgrade.

Which brings me to my point, which is a discussion about what I hear commonly referred to as “nanny technology.” Today’s cars nearly drive themselves, requiring far less input from the driver than previous generations. As a vintage-car owner and manual-transmission enthusiast, I’m the last person who would rely on nanny tech. I am analog to the core. But here I am, admitting to the world that I don’t think I could live without my adaptive cruise and lane assist on my day-to-day commuter car. Have I gotten lazy? Maybe. But maybe I recognize that my car just might be smarter, faster and safer. It has taken me a long time, but I’ve come to embrace new technology and not fear it. Years ago, when features such as power windows were a paid-for option, the frugal-minded person stated that they would happily live with wind-up windows, as all those fancy gadgets would cost more to fix. While that may have been true, power windows are now the only option.

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The automotive world is slowly plotting a course towards a fully automated driving experience, though admittedly it won’t happen overnight. There are always going to be those who resist any kind of technological change. To be perfectly honest, some of the items in vehicles seem useless to me. For example, my VW has the ability to park itself – a novelty feature I could only see myself using if I was showing off to a passenger. I am also keenly aware that my daughters, who are new drivers, may rely heavily on such a feature. In much the same way, I’m reminded that cursive writing is no longer taught in schools, and I’m torn because I want them to have all the skills I have. But criticizing them for not having a skill they may not require seems counterintuitive to me.

Is it your turn to embrace some new technology? The one thing I’m sure of is that it’s not going away.


Your automotive questions, answered

Hi Lou,

I own a four-cylinder 2009 Forester with only 60,000 km, and it has been a very reliable up until recently. Occasionally now, when I go to start the car, the engine doesn’t turn over at all, but all the electrical indicators and lights come on and are operational. However, I will come back to it later (sometimes in 10 minutes and sometimes the next day) and the engine starts up perfectly fine. What could be the issue? It is also notable to state that occasionally when the car is started, the radio console is blank and non-operational but then works at a later time when I start the car. The only pattern I can identify is that when it doesn’t turn over, it is usually in inclement weather (not when conditions are perfectly dry).

Thanks,

Michael C

That’s not much to go on Michael, but here are a couple of thoughts. Getting to the core of issues like this is usually done by process of elimination. Start easy with your battery and its connection points. How old is the battery? If it is over five years old, then it owes you nothing and should be on your short list to replace soon. The battery terminals are also highly suspect points, as a loose or sulfated connection can wreak havoc on a reliable, consistent start. Quite often, drivers are thrown off by lights still illuminated on their dash during a no-start condition. Generally, the energy required to turn on dash lights and power up onboard computers is around 5 amps, while the energy required to crank over the engine and start the vehicle can be as high as 200 amps. This fools people into thinking that their battery and its terminals are good, when in fact their issue might be right there. Next up on the obvious list will be the starter-motor circuit, which will require professional help to test.

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I doubt that your inconsistent radio operation is part of the same problem, and, yes, elevated humidity levels will usually worsen the situation, as you have noted.

Hi Lou, I have a 2014 Fiat Abarth standard that sometimes won’t start. Already checked the battery and the starter, and the mechanic says everything is okay with those. It’s very random when it happens, and the car just won’t start at all; everything else works – lights, radio, etc. Then all of a sudden, it starts sometimes 30 minutes later, sometimes two hours later. Would you have any idea what it could be? What else we should check on?

Thanks,

Christina O

The same things apply to your vehicle as written above for the Subaru owner. In addition, starter motors can sometimes be more difficult to diagnose than initially thought. There are two electrical circuits within the typical starter motor. There is the starting circuit, which draws the high current, turning over the engine of the car. There is also a low-current half, which is part of the control side. When a starter-motor draw test is completed by your repair shop, they are only effectively testing the high-current circuit. The low-current half, typically referred to as the solenoid, is very difficult to test when the car is not acting up. If your mechanic tested your vehicle while it was starting normally, they may not have been able to give you 100-per-cent assurance that the starter motor is not the culprit. You might want to revisit them on this issue for clarification.

Also, considering your Fiat has a standard transmission, you will have to have the clutch pedal switch tested. This is the switch that prevents you from starting the car without fully depressing the clutch pedal. Have this tested, and keep in mind that if you have an abundance of car mats piled on top of each other, the mats may be preventing you from fully depressing the clutch pedal, thus causing a no-start condition.

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Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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