Some people with long memories will remember, possibly fondly, how simple telephones used to be. They were used to make telephone calls and that was about it: Well, we’ve come a long way since then and real-time phone calls are just a small part of the many ways in which we use what are now termed smartphones.
As this technology has advanced so automotive science has followed suit. Cars today are very intelligent; the dashboard that once held perhaps an oil pressure gauge and an ammeter now boasts a massive screen with many, many functions.
All new cars have a multi-pin OBD (on-board diagnostics) port, usually located somewhere beneath the dashboard. Into this the modern motor engineer will plug a diagnostic device or computer and be able to assess faults and service requirements. They are a standard piece of equipment and over the years have increased greatly in sophistication.
The power to control important vehicle functions either within the engine itself or the technology that we take for granted on our screens means that today more thought and attention needs to be given to what is essentially the beating heart of the car. Everybody knows that a vehicle needs mechanical servicing; not everybody knows that, just like the software updates to our smartphones, our on-board automotive computers can need updating too.
Coding computers is one of the great mysteries of life to most folk. We accept that there are millions of lines of code in every smart device even if we have no idea how it got there. Increasingly every vehicle on the road has to constantly assess a huge amount of functions from simple things like the oil level and tyre pressures to the vital safety functions performed by the RADAR and LiDAR sensing equipment that these days can even stop the car automatically in an emergency. If any part could be said to be absolutely vital to the smooth operation of the vehicle then it is the software.
What Needs To Be Done?
Thanks to leading industry figures like the boss of Tesla, Elon Musk, whose vision has lead to so many advances in electric car design and the associated technology, it is now possible to download software updates ‘over-the-air’, a significant step forward; but not all car makers are ready for this yet. For the most part, especially with the latest model vehicles the chances are that some updated software will be available at some point. The car industry has reached the stage now whereby this is not an ‘add-on’ that a client can choose to apply or not, but rather an essential part of vehicle operation and this is work that needs to be done at a professional garage with trained technicians.
Basically, this is the same as updates for our home computers to fix bugs, to repair or replace corrupted or out-of-date software or to simply make improvements. Often this alone can correct some issue a driver is having with their vehicle. Software upgrades can also improve the functionality or efficiency of one or more vehicle systems to make the car more efficient or safer.
How Is It Done?
Until such time as ‘over-the-air’ upgrades become the norm, this is a job for the professionals. Many independent garages and car dealerships can install software updates when a car is bought in as part of its annual service schedule or as part of a manufacturer recall. The engineer is able to determine which, if any, software updates are available for any given motor and install them on the spot.
This may or may not form part of the cost of a regular service but, for the sake of a little extra cost, it will be good to know that the car is working at its optimum level. That means motoring peace of mind.