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ContinuousWave: Small Boat Electrical
Safety Risk of Electronic Outboard Controls
|Author||Topic: Safety Risk of Electronic Outboard Controls|
posted 02-04-2010 04:51 PM ET (US)
In the wake of the recent news about Toyota’s automotive troubles regarding several components of their vehicles related to motor acceleration, I’ve been remembering early comments from pilots regarding the “fly-by-wire” systems in Airbus airplanes versus the mechanical systems found in Boeing planes. The discussion I’d like to have is about the risks of using an electronic throttle and shift system aboard boats compared to using the “standard” direct mechanical controls that are currently in use. Are there greater, equal or lesser risks involved? Do these systems have “failsafe” modes that automatically bring the throttle to idle and the gear selection to neutral in the event of system failure?
posted 02-04-2010 05:14 PM ET (US)
The analogy to aircraft may be not so close, simply as they have double/triple redundancy in many systems.
Toyota problem seems to be by trying to add a real life resistance feel to otherwise electronic effortless control.
Both are not present as far as I know with DTS or ICON type controls as the operation of the throttle is a push/pull and does not rely on a resistance return like a foot control. However I note your concerns. Like you, I presume under an electrical or power failure what happens to the servos on the throttle/shift linkage, how will they operate? I presume there in no UPS (uninterruptable power supply) or battery backup built in to these systems. The servos themselves are relatively simple and should be very reliable. I'm not sure if the same can be said for the parts inside the control on the helm. Regards
posted 02-04-2010 08:25 PM ET (US)
Compared to the number of transistors running the engine, and compared to the speed of the processor controlling the system, the electronic control systems has much fewer transistors and the system operates at about a tenth the speed. We don't have angst about the microprocessor running at 50-MHz that fires the spark plug. Should we have angst about the one running at 5-MHz and checking to see where the throttle lever input is positioned?
posted 02-04-2010 09:30 PM ET (US)
Steve, are the Toyota gas pedals fly by wire? My 2005 Explorer gas pedal is fly by wire, I did not like the programing at first because it was different from my last Explorer. However it has been trouble free for 5-years and 65K miles.
Can't remember if the Mercury DTS system has any redundancy but it does have feed back to double check and confirm the commands.
posted 02-04-2010 09:48 PM ET (US)
Yes. According to the wikipedia article about the recalls, the affected vehicles have electronic throttle control.
posted 02-04-2010 10:09 PM ET (US)
I don't think there is any inherent problem with fly-by-wire. Airplanes have used them safely for many years now and they're in lots of cars. We have a Honda Pilot with a fly-by-wire gas pedal and a Mercedes E320 with fly-by-wire gas and brake pedals. No problems with either.
A properly designed electronic throttle and shift mechanism should be perfectly safe on a boat. They've been in use with diesel engines for a while now; I don't see why they wouldn't work just as well for outboards, assuming they are designed and installed properly.
posted 02-04-2010 10:25 PM ET (US)
In the Evinrude ICON control system, the engine emergency stop function is operated on its own separate wiring and as a system is no more complex than the existing emergency stop systems on conventionally rigged engines for the last 30 years. If you really were in an emergency situation, you could stop the engine with the emergency stop--hence the name, "emergency stop."
If the electronic control system completely failed, the actual engine controls are still mechanical in nature. I assume that one could probably operate the shift and throttle mechanical levers by hand.
You might ask yourself what you would do if your mechanical throttle lever and cables broke, too. You don't have any redundancy in that system. You'd be forced to remove the cowling and operate the levers by hand, too.
Mercury DTS systems have been in the field since c.2004 and I have not heard of any failures. The ICON system is believed to be built on a foundation of the Teleflex i6300 which have been in use since 2001. Between those two systems that is about 15 years of use in the field. Are there any reported failures?
posted 02-05-2010 12:26 AM ET (US)
Jim, the biggest difference I see between the (potential) failure of traditional cable controls and electronic controls is that cable controls tyically give signs of failure before it is catastrophic. Whether or not this is significant in practice I do not know.
posted 02-05-2010 12:51 AM ET (US)
In a car the foot pedal and the throttle advance on the engine is moved forward by a cable or servo against the return resistance of normally a spring arrangement.
Therefore when you take your foot of the pedal the throttle is retuned back due to the spring return force. So a constant force is required to maintain engine speed/rpm.
I presume this spring return is both at the pedal (which is Toyota’s problem the sensor still thinks that your foot is on the pedal) and on the engine linkage.
With our conventional rigged by cable controls the return force on the engine linkage is not enough due to the cable and control mechanism resistance so we have to manually pull the control/cable back. This is also preferred as on a boat we are not constantly operating in the same manner as a car.
How is this achieved on the ICON/DTS ?
Is there a spring like return force so the servo is constantly exerting a force to resist this and in the event of power failure the spring will retract the servo?
Or is ICON/DTS relying on its micro processing speed to detect a change and can retract faster than losing power?
I’m not knocking ICON/DTS but without understanding how it operates we can’t evaluate if there is potential risks or if/how they have been minimised.
Is the normal small throttle return spring on our engine replaced upgraded for ICON/DTS, if this is used to retract the servo.
Is it possible to be swamped and loose electrics but the engine is still running but you can’t shift with ICON/DTS.
posted 02-05-2010 01:03 AM ET (US)
Sorry I should of noted that if ICON/DTS is only electrically powered directly by the engine then should there be no current from the engine I assumed the engine would stop and so the ICON/DTS function or position would be irrelevant.
So this only leaves us with problems of electronics failure or supply to ICON/DTS to consider and slighly more complex issue on twin engine setups.
posted 02-05-2010 07:40 AM ET (US)
My observation is that neither automobiles or airplanes with fly-by-wire controls are operated or stored in saltwater environments. A DTS failure will be just like a starter motor failure, you won't know that its failing until that time you turn the key and is simply doesn't work as it is designed and then you're stuck.
I'm a big fan of keeping the amount of electrically powered items on a boat used and stored in saltwater to a minimum.
Besides electrical system failures often accelerated in a saltwater environment which quickly finds any exposed weakness in the electrical system, the other concern I have with fly-by-wire, is that its just one more system that relies on the battery and electrical system. So there is even less diversity of systems on the boat. Years ago, the battery on an outboard powered boat served an almost singular function, start the motor in an near effortless way (motors also had recoil pull starting back then and the bigger motors without a recoil pull starting means could be started with a dead battery by pulling on a short rope wrapped around the flywheel). Now, the battery/electrical system has gone from a non critical component with respect to the control and operation of the motor to an essential component. It's already bad enough that many outboard motors need a computer to run.
posted 02-05-2010 08:44 AM ET (US)
The actuators in the Evinrude ICON control system are electronic servo actuators. They operate the same linkages that the mechanical cables operate. In the gear case there is a spring which is a normal part of any gear case that applies pressure in one direction to the clutch dog. In the throttle plate, I do not recall precisely if there is a spring which applies a small force to move the throttle plate to the closed position, but there may well be one.
With a networked control system like ICON, the number of wires running between the engines and the controls is substantially reduced. The digital signals are run on two wires which are contained in a shielded cable. This replaces perhaps a dozen or more separate wires typically run between controls and engines which were not shielded. I do not see why there would be a greater risk for damage to the one network cable than their would be to the multi-conductor cables of prior systems. In the case of twin engine or other multi-engine installations, the number of wires in the rigging is very significantly reduced. With perhaps one-tenth as many conductors, the risk of failure from physical damage seems to be less in the network system.
In regard to the use of electronic throttle control systems in vehicles, the NHTSA has been investigating these systems to see if they have contributed to vehicle accidents, but so far has not found any problems.
posted 02-05-2010 08:56 AM ET (US)
Electronic throttle control systems in vehicles may have the ability to record the data and make it available for later analysis, for example, in the event of a collision or accident. The NHTSA has been investigating such systems.
An electronic control system which recorded its operation would be useful in providing data about the control input immediately prior to a collision or accident.
posted 02-05-2010 01:55 PM ET (US)
I'm still confused
Do the electronic servo actuators require power to retract?
The only little servo’s motors I have played with are with modelled gliders. These motors require to be powered in both directions (In/Out).
I'm presuming DTS/ICON although are far more complex and controlled by more sophisticated control box, are in principle the same.
As the ICON it is capable of retro fitting I also presume the existing throttle linkage cam arrangement has a self return mechanism caused by a spring or similar device.
This self return with normal cable control is to assist in smooth operation but not to assist in forcing the cable and so binnacle lever back. With DTS/ICON it's to ensure that a constant pressure is applied against the electronic servo actuator arm/piston.
I would be surprised if the force in the self return mechanism via the cam etc on the throttle linkage is sufficient to retract the actuator arm/piston. Certainly not at the speed of response these units work at.
In most cars the engine throttle return has always been of sufficient force along with additional return force supplied with the foot pedal spring to retract the cable. So in principle are different to boats. Therefore on cars the electronic servo actuators may work differently as it must return once your foot pressure is removed.
So I am not convinced other than reliability of components if car data is valid.
Planes are also different as the servo actuators would not be in direct contact with the aircraft control surfaces but are probably controlling hydraulic system valves/manifolds.
posted 02-05-2010 11:37 PM ET (US)
On a tangential topic, inasmuch as the Toyota recall of their vehicles with electronic throttle inspired this discussion, is this scathing rebuke in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL of Japan, Japanese manufacturing, and Japanese culture in crisis management and defective products:
posted 02-06-2010 03:28 PM ET (US)
It may be instructive to investigate other transportation areas to look at the use of microprocessor based controls. One such application is in the area of diesel-electric locomotives. There we find that a modern diesel-electric locomotive like the GE-EVOLUTION series locomotive uses microprocessor-based control systems. Imagine a pair of these locomotive linked together, something like a twin engine installation on the transom of a classic Boston Whaler, but with a difference in the scale:
Total weight = 830,000-lbs
All of this power and machinery controlled by microprocessors. I think this is a good example of how modern engine control systems have been implemented in a transportation-related system. Do you also worry that when the engineer in a GE EVOLUTION locomotive moves the throttle control forward that he's not linked by a mechanical cable to a throttle plate on the 12-cylinder diesel engine behind him?
For those who would argue that a 150-HP engine on a boat ought to be run by mechanically linked controls that are at the same level of technology as was used in 1950 because they are worried about the safety and reliability of modern electronic control systems, I would suggest you give some consideration to the advances in electronics that have occurred in the past 60 years.
posted 02-06-2010 03:38 PM ET (US)
I'm not questioning the advancement of electronics in the past 50 years. Perhaps I'm old skool, but I'd like to know that there is a physical (not electronic) reason that the throttle might return to idle in the event of a failure. Just as shift/throttle cables can fail, I'm sure that the single cable that runs from the console to the engine can fail as well over time.
Regarding the locomotive example, I'm not as concerned about failure (personally) because I don't live near railroad tracks, I'm cautious when crossing tracks at grade-level - even when signals and gates are present, and the train is, well, on TRACKS...there's only so far it will go "off track".
I'm much more interested to discuss the fail-safe protections (if any) offered by these new systems.
Mercury and others have gone the route to force owners to "rely on the advancements" of starter motor technology, but I still value the pull-cord that is available on my E-TEC engines as a fail-safe option.
In a $30 million airplane that is governed by strict regulations and operated by multinational corporations, multiple redundant systems are feasible protections against failure of any one system. This is neither practical nor affordable for a recreational boat.
Again, I'm not saying these systems aren't safe - the question was merely a quest for additional information about the relative safety and safety measures available from these systems.
posted 02-06-2010 07:15 PM ET (US)
A big concern for many is the cost difference between traditional cables versus electronic controls. The electronic control prices are significantly higher. Replacement shift actuators are high dollar items. There's a big difference between controlling just the throttle and combining the two.
In automobiles it's cost saving by easing installation during the manufacturing process and little or no price increase for the buyer. The throttle inputs or the computers will have an affect on a auto trans shifting but not control simple fwd/rev as on OBs.
The majority of new OBs are basically computer controlled so adding throttle control by wire is really nothing new, it just eliminates a cable with a high cost in dollars. Safety wise there's little difference as long as the components are well designed, made and installed properly.
posted 02-07-2010 11:46 AM ET (US)
The cost of electronic controls compared to mechanical will probably begin to become cheaper as the number of engines and number of control stations increase. It is probably not possible to have a boat rigged with triple outboard motors and dual control stations in which all the throttle and shift controls were mechanical and all the electrical controls were conventional wiring harnesses with individual control circuits. It would be very complicated to install such rigging and likely very difficult to operate and maintain it. To scale up to four engines and dual stations would require even more complexity for conventional control rigging. Electronic controls scale up to multiple engine and multiple station installations with very low added costs compared to single engine and single control station installation.
If you compare mechanical versus electrical for only a single engine and a single control station, you will find a high cost increase associated with moving to electronic controls. This high cost will begin to be offset if the rigging is for multiple engines and multiple control stations.
There is also a considerable reduction in labor in installation of the control systems. In a complex installation the electronic systems can save a great many hours of labor. Owners of small boats often perform their own rigging and installation, so they tend to think their labor cost is zero. A boat builder or a dealer fitting out a boat will be charging for the labor needed. Electronic controls will save labor on installation.
On Mercury VERADO motors the electronic controls are mandatory. On Evinrude E-TEC motors the electronic controls are optional. You can decide if you want them. This is a distinction that should be noted.
The initial inquiry of this discussion was about safety, and inspired by the recent problems of TOYOTA. So far there has been no disclosure that the problems associated with TOYOTA were electronic problems. The remedies they have provided so far have all been mechanical modification to the pedal to prevent interference from the carpet of the floor mats. I have not seen any information that there was an electronic problem or a software problem in the electronic throttle control system. Similarly, I do not recall any problems cited with the Mercury DTS, the Teleflex i6000, or the Evinrude ICON electronic controls.
posted 02-07-2010 01:03 PM ET (US)
[Moved to the SMALL BOAT ELECTRICAL discussion.]
posted 02-07-2010 02:09 PM ET (US)
Some of the Toyota problems are related to the electronic controls programing. The system is supposed to recognize brake pedal inputs and reduce power when applied in some circumstances. Apparently sometimes this does not happen. There have also been many reports of uncommanded engine accelerations unrelated to the sticking pedal issue.
If you look at the environmental use section and note humidity on these spec sheets from CTS some clues may be provided of potential problems with their product.
posted 02-07-2010 03:49 PM ET (US)
Heres a bit of info I found on DTS that may be of intrest from BWBmag.com :
For reasons of safety and reliability, Mercury has engineered its digital system with a great deal of redundancy. An electronic control module at the helm converts analog input to a digital signal, and a control module at the engine converts the digital information back to analog to actuate the stepper motors. In turn, these drive the throttle plate and shift mechanism. (A stepper motor moves as the signal directs, then stops.) Both control modules compare data, and if one fails, the system continues to operate using data from the active module, while displaying a fault code on the required SmartCraft System View SC5000.
According to Mercury’s engineering department, the DTS components have been cycle-tested for reliability far beyond what would be considered the normal life expectancy of the engine.
Physical movement of the throttle actuates a potentiometer in the helm control. Called a triple-trace potentiometer, it has three separate blades that wipe three separate windings. The control module looks for uniform voltage from each blade — and, if one fails, it compares the other two readings to select the correct setting. It also sends raw data to the engine-mounted module for verification purposes.
The throttle plate stepper motor is geared. When throttling down, the plate closes completely — but should a failure occur, or if power is lost, the plate opens slightly to allow the engine to run at approximately 1000 rpm.
A linear ballscrew actuator moves a ram fore and aft to operate the shift lever. Again, the redundancy of the two control modules and switches, and their ability to cross check, ensure proper operation. Should a failure occur, a pin on the actuator ram can be pulled and the engine can be placed in gear manually. It is not convenient and you won’t have shift control —but at least you’ll be able to get home.
Mercury designed its fly-by-wire system to be as foolproof as possible. If the engine is running, yet out of gear, and someone accidentally shoves the throttle forward, the engine simply goes into a fast idle. Push it farther forward, and you still only get a fast idle. You can’t send the engine to the redline without it being in gear and under load. To engage forward or reverse, you must first push the safety button on the handle. You can then advance the throttle and apply full power.
When shifting directly from forward to reverse (such as when docking), it is not necessary to push the button — that is, as long as you don’t pause in the neutral position. Once this happens, the safety détente engages and you’ll have to push the safety button again before shifting.
Another safety feature that prevents operators from abusing shift and throttle functions is a preprogrammed slowdown; if you shift from forward to reverse at a high speed, the system will slow the engine to approximately 750 rpm before allowing the unit to shift. Once in reverse, engine speed will ramp back up depending on the throttle setting.
posted 02-07-2010 09:54 PM ET (US)
Regarding problems with the DTS, see the U.S. Coast recall information below obtained from www.uscgboating.org ):
posted 02-08-2010 10:30 AM ET (US)
The vast majority of the time, having a computer protect the engine from "abuse" by the operator is a good thing...
....then there are the few emergencies in life when you need to abuse your mechanical equipment to protect human life and/or property.
It is a little disconcerting that a non-thinking algorithm overrides or prevents the necessary equipment abuse in those cases.
Other than that, I don't really have any "problem" with these systems...again, I was curious about the relative safety factor...sounds to me like for the most part, the manufacturers have done a good job to build redundancies into the system to protect against failures (except, as in the case of mechanical failures, when the owner/operator ignores "failing" components - in this case, error/fault messages).
posted 02-08-2010 02:26 PM ET (US)
If someone was kind enough to donate me ICON or DTS I would gladly install it, if possible (maybe they should also give me a new engine to make sure )
I just find it strange that it was extremely hard to find the information on the fail safe measures employed.
As Jim notes the reliability of the components are excellent at worst.
The DTS info I found seems to cover issues with the shift control and the power failure appears to have some cover but I'm not sure if this only applies to during deceleration. What happens at WOT or acceleration I'm not sure.
However it seems with DTS as long as you are in gear you can move forward at 1000rpms as a worst case scenario with the option to manually (by taking the engine cover off) to alter the shift. The throttle appears not adjustable by manual intervention other than completely removing the servo.
This is probably the only plus point of conventional cable rigging as it's not susceptible to power failures.
I'm still trying to track down some ICON info, but assume similar facilities.
It seems that on DTS/ICON equipped boats that dual or triple batteries with addition precautions fuses/MCB's/minimal exposure etc is mandatory to minimise risks.
posted 02-08-2010 05:08 PM ET (US)
Jim, I don't think anybody doubts the quality or sophistication of the electronics. I don't think that was really the thrust of Dave's initial post. The question was more about fail-safes in the event of a malfunction of the electronics.
For instance, what happens if you're out in the middle of the lake and your boat equipped with fly-by-wire throttle and steering controls gets struck by lightning, frying all of the electronics? Will the vessel be sufficiently operable to get you home? Can the electronic controls be overridden?
The Mercury DTS recall pointed out by Steve identifies another potential problem. When the malfunction identified occurs, the motors apparently cannot be shifted out of whatever gear they happen to be in at the time of the malfunction. See: http://www.uscgboating.org/recalls/recalls_detail.aspx?id=090005T That could present real problems if you're under way in a marina at the time of the malfunction. (Of course, a broken shift cable in an old-fashioned mechanical system could result in the same problems.)
My 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee has an electronic throttle control. When I start the vehicle in the morning and I'm backing out of my garage, the engine will sometimes momentarily accelerate with no input from the throttle pedal. I usually have my foot on the brake at the time, so it doesn't cause me any problem, but there is clearly something wrong with the electronics associated with the throttle control. Are you suggesting that a similar malfunction could never occur with electronic throttle or steering controls on a boat? A brief sudden acceleration in a boat could be very dangerous under various circumstances.
posted 02-08-2010 06:31 PM ET (US)
Most cars now have power windows. I imagine when power windows were first introduced there was a lot of worry about what could happen in a car if the power window system failed.
Power door locks operated by a radio remote control are also common. I imagine when power door locks were first introduced there was a lot of worry about what could happen in a car if the power door lock system failed.
The computer system on the VOYAGER space craft has been operating for 37 years. I imagine that when the spacecraft was first launched there was a lot of worry about what could happen if the system failed.
Like anything else, an electronic throttle and shift system will be as reliable and work as well as the design, engineering, manufacturing, installation, and operation that went into it. I don't think they are infallible. There does seem to be a lot of "what if's" being proposed.
My favorite "What If" off all time is: What if Superman were on the side of the Nazi's in World War Two?
(This was a skit on a very old Saturday Night Live.)
posted 02-10-2010 06:35 PM ET (US)
The number one fail-safe for an "out of control" revving engine is the simplest of all devices, the ignition key.
posted 02-11-2010 06:23 PM ET (US)
Well, regarding power windows, there is still a lot of concern, DECADES after they were introduced, that the rocker switches used by many American manufacturers is a chocking hazard to young children. The "pull up" style switch used by many German automakers makes more sense, and eliminates this risk.
Also, I know VERADO DTS systems are expensive, but hardly as expensive as the computer system on VOYAGER. My hope is that for what my parents and grandparents paid for that system in taxes, the system operates for ANOTHER 37 years.
Having your doors come "unlocked" via a power lock system failure is not a catastrophic situation because there is a good old analog safety feature - called a latch, that keeps the doors closed while you drive down the highway.
Mostly, what I wanted to ENSURE is that if this system FAILS, you aren't aboard a runaway train.
Further discussion of the "safety features" built into the system have revealed another disconcerting feature - that the computer takes over and prevents mechanical abuse of the engine. This is faulty in my opinion - because it places the value of a machine's well-being above the value of a human's well being.
Regarding the key switch - that is true in today's automobiles as well, but it's not the first thing people think about when faced with a runaway situation. Even a trained police officer didn't have the know-how (or his wits about him) to shift into neutral or pull the ignition key when his LEXUS hit runaway speeds of more than 120 MPH and crashed, killing him and his family.
From the discussion above, my question has been answered satisfactorily that there are fail-safes in the system that reduce engine speed, etc.
I still have concerns over the electronically controlled "mechanical-protective" measures, but that's just me.
Systems - even the best ones - fail. All technology does at some point.
To JimH's point, the quality that comes out is equal to the value that is engineered into these systems - which is also a significant concern of mine.
Not much value needs to be engineered into a mechanical cable - it works or it doesn't, and generally gives external signs of failure long before a catastrophic failure occurs. Electronic systems don't typically give this physical signal, and rarely provide the "average" user with outward signs of imminent failure - they just either work or not.
posted 02-21-2010 09:53 PM ET (US)
Good thread - this might be interesting if you haven't seen it - dissection of Toyota foot throttle
posted 02-21-2010 11:23 PM ET (US)
The Toyota throttle sensor uses a non-contact position sensor that employs a patented magnetic sensor arrangement. As far as I know, this patented device is not used in any outboard motor control systems, and, unless someone has knowledge that it is used in outboard control systems, I cannot see any relevance of a recall related to this device to outboard control systems.
The U.S. Patent that protects this invention is described in a Google Web Page.
posted 02-22-2010 11:34 AM ET (US)
This is a related question, can a modern computer controlled fuel injected engine be pull started if the battery is dead? The manual for my Suzuki says it can't if the battery voltage is too low to operate the electric fuel pump. Will the engine keep running if it's jump started, or does it have to have a battery. I bring this up because I had discussion with a forum member who took the position that a carbureted engine was more reliable because it could be started and run without a battery.
posted 02-22-2010 12:00 PM ET (US)
I can only speak for Evinrude's E-TEC, but for sure, the E-TEC can be pull started and run with a completely dead battery.
posted 02-22-2010 10:50 PM ET (US)
Dave is correct. The E-TEC can be pull started. However, I do not think it would be feasible to pull start my V6 225-HP E-TEC. The E-TEC is apparently unique in this regard; as far as I know the other modern fuel-injected engines all need a strong battery connected to them to power the electrical and electronic components needed to run the engine and hence to start the engine.
posted 02-23-2010 09:54 PM ET (US)
I was driving home tonight from work. In the last two days we have had about 8-inches of new snow. The main roads were clear, but the neighborhood roads were snow covered. As I came to a stop sign, I applied the brakes in my 1995 truck. The brakes switched to anti-lock brake mode, where a small electric motor runs in the brake controller and modulates the brake pressure to the wheels. My truck came to a stop in the ice and snow without skidding off the road.
It then occurred to me that for the past 15 years I have been driving a truck where there was an electronic system monitoring my brakes. This evening was only about the third time in 15 years the anti-lock brakes actuated themselves. Thanks to this thread, I was suddenly aware of the enormous safety risk I had been exposing myself to for the last 15 years. My heavens, I had been driving around with an electronic control system operating in a crucial system--the brakes--on my truck. If only I had read this thread 15 years ago I would have insisted that the manufacturer remove the safety risk of this electronic control system from my truck. How could I have been so stupid to drive for 15 years with electronic anti-lock brakes on my truck? They could have failed at any moment! I could have been killed. I don't know what to do, now that have become aware that a crucial system on my vehicle has electronic supervision overseeing its operation. I feel at risk.
I want to warn readers that their vehicles might have anti-lock brakes. Anti-lock brakes represent an electronic control system. Beware of the risk.
posted 02-24-2010 09:58 AM ET (US)
Honestly, you're starting to sound like Larry.
If your anti-lock system fails, you still have brakes. The system doesn't take over and prevent the brakes from working. If your anti-lock system fails, it doesn't degrade the response time from depression of pedal to application of pad to rotor. It just means that you no longer have anti-lock brakes. You can still MASH THE HELL out of your brakes going down a mountain and stop the vehicle - even if it means the ultimate destruction of your pads and rotors. There is no "self-preservation" mode. You can still ABUSE the mechanical to PROTECT the human.
With 8 inches of snow on the ground, I'm surprised you chose to drive a rear wheel drive truck instead of a front wheel drive car.
posted 02-24-2010 12:46 PM ET (US)
Dave - and Jim for that matter.
With all due respect, I had a 2004 Infinity QX56 that had a software issue with the anti-lock brake system.
I was maneuvering in tight quarters in a parking lot when I pressed on the brake pedal. To my surprise the pedal kick back in anti-lock mode. This happened in the middle of the summer about 85 degrees outside temperature.
I stopped the vehicle just short of the car in front of me. I shutdown the ignition and when I restarted it, it was normal.
I drove it to the dealer a couple of mile up the highway and told the service tech who in turn cleared a bay for me.
He told me that they installed a software update to the brake system and I wouldn't have any more problems.
Anything can happen to systems driven by EPROMS which depend on coding by software engineers.
posted 02-24-2010 01:11 PM ET (US)
Dave--My sarcasm was excessive. It was from my winter boating withdrawal. But the point I was trying to make, with too much sarcasm, is that we are surrounded with a lot of electronic systems that we seldom think about, like the anti-lock brakes on my truck.
More electronic systems are being added to our vehicles all the time, and often as a result of regulatory mandates. The tire inflation pressure is now subject to mandatory monitoring and must provide an alert to the driver if tire pressure is low. This is done with radio-frequency devices. A colleague of mine bought a new car with such a tire inflation pressure radio-frequency warning system, and found it was subject to interference from the particular model of wireless personal digital device he was using, but only when used with a particular type of charger that was plugged into the cigar lighter socket.
I would expect that outboard motors with electronic controls should be well tested for immunity to interference from a VHF Marine Band radio, but I wonder what could happen if someone put their Blackberry next to the electronic throttle and shift control. The radio transmitter in the Blackberry (or other wireless device) could have the potential to create interference. You have to wonder if a manufacturer can test for every possible contingency or situation that might arise.
posted 02-24-2010 03:49 PM ET (US)
I don't know if it's changed or the sensors have got better or there are additional sensors etc. Originally you could turn off ABS as it was suppose to be less desirable when braking in dense snow or gravel as the ABS prevented the build up/wedge effect of the snow/gravel in front of the wheels which asisted in reducing braking distance
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