Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2000   by Jim Anderton

Live better electrically

Remember that slogan? In the 'Fifties, electricity was the wave of the future, and homeowners were encouraged to use as many kilowatt-hours as possible. "Living better," meant filling the home with ev...

Remember that slogan? In the ‘Fifties, electricity was the wave of the future, and homeowners were encouraged to use as many kilowatt-hours as possible. “Living better,” meant filling the home with every labour saving device and gadget imaginable, and the electric bill be damned. Sound familiar? If you’ve been following the steady move towards the 42-volt automotive electrical system, then you know something’s up. Simply put, cars and light trucks are becoming home entertainment centers an wheels, and along with the convenience of on-board Internet and satellite TV is the “bill” in the form of a power load so great that conventional 14 volt systems shrink to approximately 50 percent efficiency. If we stay with 14 volts, the resulting wiring nightmare of more wiring carrying more current will create a service headache that would make Joseph Lucas proud. While Lucas was for years the Prince of Darkness (they say Lucas equipment is good these days), imagine modern vehicles with seven or eight kilometers of wiring, and a nasty intermittent short. I can see the customer now: “the radio quits when I turn left, but it comes back on when I hit a bump…but then the “check engine” light comes on…” Automakers will leverage 42 volts to do more than power the VCR. Look for the AC compressor and the water pump to become electrically driven, and the further spread of electric power steering assist. And of course more power accessories inside the cabin such as heated seats and mirrors, computers everywhere, and satellite navigation. Automakers claim that the gadgetry is strictly in response to consumer demand, but I suspect that what’s really happening is that the glass and steel of modern cars just doesn’t have the profitability of a rolling video game. Several recent SSGM test cars have featured electronic digital blower motor controls. Not blower as in supercharger, but the defroster kind. What’s wrong with a four-position switch? I may be missing the point, but I have to wonder why after over twenty years of driving, I can no longer figure out the heater without the owner’s manual. If we can’t figure out how to use it, how are we going to fix it?

I seriously doubt that I’ll be surfing the ‘Net during my morning commute, but I’m equally certain that many people will, and that will change the face of service as we know it. Jobbing out electrical work to specialist shops may eventually mean walking away from the majority of the car’s systems. If your shop isn’t absolutely proficient in electrical systems, then it needs to be, and in a hurry. I recently saw a Warner Brothers edition Chevy Venture minivan, with two kids in the back watching a video. If it’s built into the chassis or body, your customers will expect you to be able to fix it. And with the legal requirement for licensed technicians to service even stereo equipment in many jurisdictions today, there will likely be fewer subcontract options in the future, too. Nominal 36 volt systems will mean more than a different battery: we need to get ready for the tidal wave of equipment which auto company engineers are about to throw at us. Now is not too soon.

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *