Like it or not, car tech is changing. And as that technology changes, so does the way that we maintain and service our vehicles.
As proof, look no further than a problem currently affecting the 2013 Chevrolet Volt.
According to the Detroit News, General Motors has begun contacting owners of the 2013 Volt about a potential flaw in the car's control-system software. Some owners report that the Volt's electric motor has suddenly shut off while the vehicle was in motion, forcing drivers to coast to a stop, turn off the car, and restart it.
The problem only seems to affect vehicles whose owners have made use of the Volt's delayed charging feature. That feature allows owners to schedule times at which the Volt's battery recharges, based on local utility rates. (For example, it's often cheapest to recharge in the middle of the night, when usage is at its lowest.)
Though no accidents or injuries have been associated with the electric motor shut-downs, having a car suddenly lose power is unnerving. GM is asking all 4,000 owners of the 2013 Volt to visit their local Chevy dealer, who will re-boot the car's software. Until that update is carried out, GM asks Volt owners to switch from delayed to immediate charging, which seems to solve the problem.
Two of the biggest trends we're seeing in the auto industry are increased autonomy (i.e. "smart" functions and "self-driving" cars) and increased reliance on computers. (Come to think of it, we're seeing those trends in other parts of our lives, too.) As the industry evolves to incorporate new safety, autonomy, and infotainment features, the reliance on computers and electronics will grow exponentially.
Shade-tree mechanics have seen this coming this for a while. Thanks to the increasing ubiquity and complexity of onboard computers, the number of vehicles on which owners themselves can tinker is shrinking.
This is both good and bad. On the good side, greater reliance on electricity often means fewer moving parts -- and moving parts are the ones that typically fail first. This will likely result in more expensive vehicles, but those vehicles will last longer.
On the bad side, we all know how glitchy computers can be. It's possible that automotive computer viruses could become a problem down the road, or that ne'er-do-wells could hack through alarm systems. But more likely, the biggest problems will come when software like the Volt's goes awry, leaving us stranded -- or worse.
Prepare for mechanics that look a lot less like Mr. Goodwrench and a lot more like the Geek Squad, is what we're saying.
For more in-depth discussion of the 2013 Chevy Volt's software flaw, visit our sister site, Green Car Reports.