Car Computers

I want to buy a used Toyota Corolla LE but one without a computer or mother boards. Even my old 1992 Corolla has electronic egnition, but no computer. However, I do not want to buy a car that is too old. How far back do I have to go to find a Corolla with out computers. My wife does not want a car with a computer or mother board of any type because she thinks they are not reliable. Thanks all.

Your fear about these computers not being reliable is unfounded. My 1998 Civic has a computer. It also has 186,000 miles. The computer has never caused a problem. I haven’t seen a problem with an automotive computer since the 1980s.

Perhaps you should be looking for a car with no transmission. Transmissions are less reliable than today’s computers.

To find a car with no computer controls you’d have to go back to the 70’s. Any car you buy that is that old will be far less reliable than a newer car with computers onboard. Your wife is very wrong about the reliability of new cars. Cars have never been as reliable as they are today, not even close. What has made your wife fear the modern automobile so much?

Your Corolla has a computer. It’s called the OBDI Engine Management System.

If you want to drive a Corolla that has no computer, you’re looking at a late 70’s early 80’s Corolla. Good luck!


Electronics are far more reliable than mechanical systems. That’s one of the reasons they are used so much today in so many control applications. Another advantage is that computers allow the car to change it’s operating parameters to provide better power and economy as you drive. You could use an older car with a distributor and points, but you’d have to change them periodically and reset the timing. Today a tune-up means just changing the spark plugs and maybe the plug wires - at way over 50,000 miles.

Here’s a news flash; Your '92 Corolla has at least one computer. Your car is fuel injected. A computer operates the fuel injection and monitors the engine’s emissions.

Has your Corolla been reliable? Of course it has, and the computer is one of the reasons it runs so well and continues to be reliable.

You’d have to go back many, many years to find a car without a computer, but it’s not necessary. Your wife’s fears are unfounded, and your Corolla proves it. The computer in a modern automobile is one of its most reliable components.

Whenever I hear people say, “They don’t build them like they used to”, in regard to cars, my response is, “Yes, thank God”.

The greatly improved reliability of modern cars is largely due to their electronic components, but it is also due to better lubricants, manufacturing with “tighter” tolerances, and the public’s expectation of a very reliable vehicle.

The cars of yesteryear may hold sentimental interest for many of us, but in almost every case, their modern successors last longer, are more economical, require less maintanance, handle better, have better brakes, and–most of all–are far safer.

Everybody is right. The computer hardware really is reliable AND the computers let your car be more fuel efficient while reducing pollution. Do you remember the late '60s mechanical contraptions for smog control – air blowers, dashpots, …

However, while there seem to be very few reports of software glitches, we do see reports of sensor malfunctions (I just paid $300 plus labor for a sensor in a 2004 Camry). But those sensors are necessary for the computerized efficiency, and the failure rates are not all that bad.

However, these rational explanations might not address your wife’s concerns. She might have to ask herself WHY she wants to avoid computers. Did she have some specific bad experience with a car computer or a personal computer? Fixing THAT concern may be beyond the ken of the automotive experts here.

My wife does not want a car with a computer or mother board of any type because she thinks they are not reliable.

The computer is probably the MOST RELIABLE piece of equipment on your car. Electronic components are hundreds more reliable then mechanical parts.

From Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert:

Dear Dogbert,

I am changing careers, and I don’t know how to use a computer. What kind of career should I pursue?


Dear Crust,

I recommend seeking employment in a wax museum that ran out of wax. You’d also be a good candidate for a medical cadaver, provided you’re not ticklish, and not a screamer.


Whitey, That’s Funny!


However, while there seem to be very few reports of software glitches

I hope you never see software glitches…The software is EXTREMELY SIMPLE. First year CS students could write this…in fact high-school students could write this. All it is read the sensors…look up in table and set accordingly. Very very little logic involved. I’d be surprised if there is more then 2000 lines of code for this.

‘I read that a technical degree becomes obsolete in five years.’

Dilbert (at computer)-
‘Do you mind? I’m trying to get some work done on the…uh…doohickey.’


I defer to your superior knowledge. I am, after all, a hardware guy, suspicious of software. To me, 2000 lines is a LOT of code. I guess I succumbed to a bias of attributing any unexplained, non-repeatable malfunction to a software error. (I think I’ve encountered situations where just turning the car off and restarting appeared to fix a problem.)

I’m just waiting for some modern car with an unexplained glitch to give me a message saying it is uploading an error report to Edsel Gates :>)

If you are serious about avoiding computers, look for a car with a carburetor and a distributor. There may still be some electronics in the ignition, but you can ignore that probably. Most manufacturers switched to electronic ignition and some form of fuel injection in the 1980s. Be aware that the car probably won’t actually be more reliable than modern computer driven vehicles but you do eliminate the small possibility of being subject to expensive parts hanging expeditions when the Check Engine light comes on.

The vehicle will need periodic maintenance – distributor points, timing adjustment, maybe a carburetor rebuild every decade or so. Be aware that the number of mechanics willing to rebuild a carb was never all that high, and is much smaller now. You may have to do it yourself. That is not for the faint of heart.

A car that old will also probably need occasional chassis lubrication as well.

You’d have to go back to the '70s. I did love my '76 Corolla. I wish I still had it.

In the '60s the EPA Air Quality Act was expanded to include automobiles. INitial efforts included such things as raising the operating temperature of the engine, adding some air to the exhaust, and adding a catalytic converter to reduce the oxides of nitrogen out the exhaust. Of course we didn’t have many fancy microcircuits back then. The first hand calculator didn;t even come out until 1972.

As the EPA requirements became tighter over time, these efforts no longer were sufficient. That began move from carburators to fuel injectors. The reasons have to do with active surface area per volume of fuel and other such stuff, so I’ll skip all that. In short, the only viable way to effectively manage fuel injection to accomplish combustion complete enough to meet the requirements was through the use of sensors and then-crude computers. By the late '80s just about everyone was using fuel onjection and controlling it with computers.

Short version: you’d need to find a restored '70s car. And that would come complete with marginal 4-wheel drum brakes (that disappear when wet), sloppy steering, few if any amenities, chassis lube requirements, 3,000 mile oil changes, and occasional engine operating problems if the maintenance was not kept up RELIGIOSLY.

Oh, and no air bags, rude beginnings of “crush zone” technology, and perhaps 60 or 70 horsepower. Of course you could get a big V8, with almost all it’s weight on the front wheels and little ability to corner.

Here’s a thought: find aome way to cop a drive for her in a '70s econobox. She’ll be happy to go to a new car instead.

While I’m in total agreement with your every point, I still wish I had my '76 Corolla back.

Sadly, I cannot say the same for my '72 Vega.

I agree the cars where bad but how did that one regular of ours get 400K on his Dodge Dart (or was it a friend of one of the regulars?) Must of been one tough hombre to stick it out for 400K in a Dart.

These figures came up when we were discussing/arguing if new cars lasted longer.

My F-150 has a motherboard in it, but as soon as I can get it out of the truck without anyone seeing I bought parts for a new computer it won’t anymore.

They were not “bad”, but handling, braking, reliability, power (except the big V8s), and longevity were not what they are today. Sure, some ran forever, but generally if we had 100,000 on the car we started looking for a replacement.

Well, okay, my Vega was “bad”, but that car excepted…

My 59 VW didn’t have a computer or electronic ignition. It had a carb and points. If the points weren’t replaced every 2000 miles on the dot, it would leave you stranded. Now that’s dependability. You could always depend on it to stall.