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High-tech problems affect vehicle dependability

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Did you know that a modern car these days has 100 million lines of code, 19 times more than that of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner?

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I’m referring to a car that is equipped with state-of-the-art infotainment and connectivity systems that consumers expect when they go shopping for a new car.

In one episode of the final season of American Idol, there was a scene where the host Ryan Seacrest was driving a car and turned a rotary dial on the dashboard to switch off the engine.

So instead of a Stop/Start pushbutton or an ignition switch, a rotary dial switches on and off the engine and instead of a gear stick , the dial operates the Drive, Neutral and Reverse functions.

Advanced technologies in a car attract buyers but, unfortunately, don’t always work well, according to an article in The International New York Times (INYT).

Problems related to cars’ rapidly advancing technology top the list of consumer complaints, the 2016 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study reported.

Twenty percent of all consumer complaints were about balky voice recognition systems and problems with Bluetooth pairing.

More than half of the car owners who complained about Bluetooth pairing said the vehicle did not find or recognize their mobile phone or device.

One complainant, a technically adept man who works as an e-commerce project manager, said that even when he got connected, the Bluetooth system seemed like it would randomly decide to either connect or not connect.

Among those who complained about troublesome voice recognition, 67 percent said the system did not recognize or misinterpreted verbal commands.

The complaints resulted in a 3-percent decline in vehicle dependability in the study.

Complaints about technology have gone from fifth most troublesome in the 2014 study, to third last year, to being first now, the INYT article says.

Software patches meant to fix the problems don’t always work. The owners who had problems with these systems when they acquired the vehicles were still vexed by the same glitches three years later.

Driver assistance systems can also malfunction. In another J.D. Power study, owners of cars with blind-spot monitoring complained that they had been getting false readings in which the system said it was safe to change lanes when it was not, and vice-versa.

I myself have experienced problems with reverse parking cameras that are confusing or prematurely sound alarms when the obstacle at the rear is still far away.

These days, the first time you drive a new car loaded with high-tech gizmos, you undergo a hit-and-miss learning process with the infotainment and communication systems. Not to mention the driver assistance technology.

You can always read the entire operating manual before you begin to drive, but many consumers, like me, don’t have the patience or time. Or hate to read manuals.

A few car manufacturers make the mistake of designing systems that are too complicated, not user-friendly. Word gets around and they risk losing customers.

Auto makers have to keep up with new technologies that add more capability and integrate innovations to remain competitive. But they have to redo the interface to add the new stuff, replacing an interface that has been fairly stable for a few consecutive years.

The vehicle dependability study is closely watched in the industry and problems like those with Bluetooth, connectivity and voice recognition indicate that automakers face a challenge as they introduce increasingly sophisticated technologies in cars. (Reprinted with permission from AQ Magazine, Vol. 7, No.1)

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