Auto manufacturers going overboard on "safety" technology? Complex and unreliable?

Has safety technology become too complex and unreliable?

Chrysler’s most recent voluntary recalls:

  • Recall 1: The active head restraint function, designed to mitigate neck injuries by automatically moving forward during rear-impact collisions, may contain faulty microcontrollers that could prevent the system from functioning properly.

  • Recall 2: The airbag control software may be inadvertently programmed to deploy side airbags on the opposing side of the vehicle during a side impact; side airbags are intended to deploy on the side of the vehicle impacted.

  • Recall 3: A problem with electronic stability control system software that causes the warning lamp to activate, indicating that the safety feature is disabled.

  • Recall 4: A programming problem with the airbag control module that could compromise airbag deployment.

Reference: Link on Car Talk Home Page.

I’m still waiting for Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Fiat to show they’ve improved reliability. So I don’t draw any industry conclusions from their problems…

Wrong side air bag, really? Probably banking on more states like WI to adopt maximum damages able to be collected rather than doing due diligence in testing.

"Former law: Previously, a defendant could be held liable for punitive damages where the plaintiff demonstrated “that the defendant acted maliciously toward the plaintiff or in an intentional disregard of the rights of the plaintiff.” Wisconsin statutes did not limit the amount of punitive damages that could be awarded, although decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court provided some restrictions on awards.

New law: The new law retains the same standard of conduct by which a defendant may be held liable for punitive damages but imposes a maximum punitive damages award of $200,000 or twice the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff, whichever is greater. The limit does not apply where the defendant was found to have been operating a motor vehicle, snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or boat while intoxicated.

Wisconsin, good for business bad for people, consider this as on of my many darts if WI governor, recall survivor Scott Walker gets a presidential opportunity.

Let us not confuse reliability of safety devices per se with reliability of safety devices on a brand with a…let’s just say…troubled history of reliability.

While–in theory–the electronic bells & whistles involved in both comfort and safety devices are trouble-prone, I have NEVER had a failure of any electronic devices on any of my cars, up to and including odometer mileage of 120k+. However, I have not owned a Chrysler product since 1974…

(Translation: The brand, and its overall reliability record, is most likely the most important factor in the reliability of these safety-related systems.

Recall 1 is the only one that might be reliability related. The others are programming errors. There is a reasonable expectation that these should have been isolated during the test process. That is, after all, why systems are tested.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean @jtsanders . I don’t think a customer cares whether a problem is the result of some gadget failing, or a programming error. If a function on the car that is supposed to work as advertised doesn’t work, from the customer’s perspective anyway, it is unreliable.

I agree, @GeorgeSanJose. I was differentiating reliability problems from problems that would have been found if they didn’t cheap out on the test program. To me, reliability is a premature failure of a system that was correctly built to begin with. The programming errors mean to me that these systems were built to fail from the start. Not intentionally, but the failure was just waiting for the proper circumstance to show itself.

I agree, I have had a heck of a time with my gm truck, check engine lights, fuel pumps, wheel speed sensors. A guy at work has a 2011 caravan, trans had to come out at 34k for a seal leak.

His mom and dad just bought a new dodge journey. It had 34 miles on it, the first day they had it home and at 50 miles check engine light came on, dealer reset it saying it was the fuel cap, yeah right, well the next day CEL back on, this time they say they need to keep it, ended up needing a valve body with 91 miles on the odometer.

I hate to say it but honda and toyota make better vehicles, whether they are made here or overseas.

My Camry was built in Kentucky

Let’s not blame the automakers for all the “features” that we see on cars. Sure, in some cases design and execution leave something to be desired. But I can’t imagine that the automakers WANT to put all the stuff on cars we have today.

The federal government REQUIRES that all cars 2007 and newer be equipped with tire pressure monitor systems. Carmakers have no choice in the matter.

The federal government REQUIRES all cars 2013 (I believe) and newer to be equipped with stability control, which necessitates ABS. Also no choice in the matter.

Now suppose there were no safety regulations. Would anyone buy a car without seat belts?

My 2005 Camry has not had electronics related issues, but then does not have side airbags. Its engine is notorious for stripped head bolts. So, at around 100K miles, I am having second thoughts about keeping it for too long, esp since it has a good resale value for an 8-9 year old car.

Even though these new gadgets add to the cost, weight and repairs, they do serve a purpose and based on safety studies they do work.

“My Camry was built in Kentucky”

More American content than any other car.

"The federal government REQUIRES that all cars 2007 and newer be equipped with tire pressure monitor systems. Carmakers have no choice in the matter.

The federal government REQUIRES all cars 2013 (I believe) and newer to be equipped with stability control, which necessitates ABS. Also no choice in the matter."

Anything they manufacture or integrate onto the car should be tested well enough to eliminate design problems. Manufacturing problems are a different issue.


I hope that your engine block never develops those stripped threads

I’m assuming it would be prohibitively expensive if Toyota offered to timesert those blocks on their dime . . .

I thought I had heard the Toyota Matrix was the most-American-built vehicle. More so than any GM or Ford model. The Camry, if it is behind, probably isn’t far behind. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that most of the popular models of Toyotas and Hondas are built mostly in America these days.

@db4690; thanks for the well wishes. I would not be using the dealer for timeserts ($4K), but even outside, the quotes are pretty high and the result is unpredictable. There is a lot that could go wrong or need to be changed when you take the head and timing chain off. I am seriously considering selling the car and getting a CPO Prius. One reason is the car is going to be my wife’s daily driver now and she feels the seats are too deep. She does more stop and go driving and her and the kids have also been fascinated by the technology of the Prius our neighbor has.

When the federal govt. “requires” additional safety devices, it does so only after working with the auto manufacturers as to their ability to do so. It is not done in a vacuume by big brother. Without the cooperation of the private sector, it would never get done nor would it be mandated.

We take for granted that the simple bumper itself and auto safety glass should be part of every personal vehicle, but we whined and complained about them too. The American public is fickled. Everyone wants to go 100 mph in perfectly safe cars but no one wants these safety divices mandated so you can walk away from a crash. Just because electronics are a welcome part of the car’s complexity making it run much better, it becomes a welcome part of the safety divices too. If you want to decrease the need for these devices then support lowering speed limits and limiting dumb driver behavior with things like intersection cameras. Otherwise, be willing to accept the fact that with complete personal freedom by eliminating govt. mandates comes a higher probability that you won’t make it home from work one day.

MOST if not ALL required safety features were lobbied very very hard by the insurance company. They spend MILLIONS every year lobbying congress to get their safety features passed. This has been going on for decades.

I wouldn’t blame the entire auto industry for Chrysler’s *%&-ups.

+1 @Whitey - all these new safety features can’t be much of a problem, cars have been getting more reliable year after year, even as more and more requirements are met.

A non-issue.