All Maine Matters

July 2006



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Designed by Laisha

By Bob Sanders

On initial power up activation the Decoder Module senses ignition circuit resistance and if this resistance is correct, the Decoder Module will send a Pulse Width Modulated signal to the Powertrain Control Module, and will also power up the Start Enable Relay. The Powertrain Control Module will process the Pulse Width Modulated signal and will in turn activate the fuel pump and fuel injectors. This will allow for fuel delivery and starter activation.

If you thought the above technical jibberish sounds kind of like the launch sequence for the Space Shuttle, then you would be wrong. But who could blame you, it sounds just contorted enough that it could pass for rocket surgery. It is, in fact, what happens every time you turn the key in your family grocery getter. The model in question is any General Motors vehicle with the Pass-Key Security System. But most vehicles have some sort of Theft Deterrent feature, either active or passive, so the above example is very, very average and other systems, although different in design, are more or less parallel in their level of complexity and the number of modules to accomplish this feat of engineering.
Which begs the obvious question- Is this level of technical hocus pocus REALLY necessary just to start your car?

I’m glad someone asked this question. In my lifetime there has been a 180 degree shift in the strategy of automotive engineering when it comes to solving engineering problems. It seems more and more the manufacturers will take systems that in the past were really quite basic in design and function and build layer upon layer of complexity into them.

They always were simple in design simply because the problem they needed to solve was, well, it was simple. The amount of unwarranted complexity in today’s vehicles is growing all the time. While there are some systems that are horribly complex because of absolute necessity, all manufacturers, not just domestic, are engineering their cars to death. Systems that could be designed with a philosophy of simplicity are swept up into the same euphoria of technical overkill that is unavoidable in other areas, such as engine and transmission control. The end result is vehicles that are extremely difficult to repair, you can read this as extremely expensive to repair, with lots and lots of little electronic gizmos that all cost lots and lots of money.

It wasn’t always like this. We all know that cars were much simpler years ago, but it goes much deeper than that. Werner Von Braun was the first director of the agency that would later become NASA, and he as well as the generation of engineers that would usher in the space age and all the flight testing for hypersonic aircraft at Edward Air Force Base had an overarching philosophy when it came to solving engineering problems. The KISS philosophy. It was originally an acronym for Keep It Simple and Straightforward, but the guys on the ground as well as cowboy test pilots quickly recoined it into Keep It Simple Stupid. The idea was all about logic. These engineers were working on the cutting edge technology of the their time, with extremely complex control, guidance, and power systems. If you solve these engineering problems by applying the simplest systems and solutions possible, then you minimize unforeseen failures.

implicity fails less often than complexity. Logical. This theory of engineering was proven time and time again, aircraft that were the first and only of their kind would fly upwards of 300,000 feet above the earth at speeds of up to 4,500 miles an hour with very few failures.

I may be getting too comfortable with my inner Luddite, but the heaping on of ever higher levels of technology just for technology’s sake is soon going to spawn a generation of vehicles that are so diagnostic intensive that most folks are simply not going to be able to afford to repair them once the ravages of time take their toll. The automotive world could really use a little KISS.

Bob Sanders is a Master Auto Technician who works in Brewer.

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