Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2010   by CARS Magazine

The Computer Guy Is Dead

A strange thing happened to me last week -- I reached a turning point. Lots of techs across the country have reached it too, or will soon. I was driving my better half's stylish Silverado when the 'Check Engine'light came on. She loves that...

A strange thing happened to me last week — I reached a turning point. Lots of techs across the country have reached it too, or will soon. I was driving my better half’s stylish Silverado when the ‘Check Engine’light came on. She loves that truck and rather than face the “You broke my truck” stare, I just grabbed the scan tool. It was what I expected — Evap Vent, better known as “she didn’t tighten the gas cap enough.”

While there’s nothing special about pulling a simple OBD II code, it later occurred to me that the idiot light was no more important to me than a squeaky belt or a clunk in the suspension. The fact that it might be related to computers or electronics simply didn’t matter. It wasn’t always this way. Some 25-30 years ago you either learnt the “Secrets of the Universe” or sought the advice of the Fuel Injection Guy. Most shops had a Fuel Injection Guy and rarely more than one.

Then came the Bosch Jetronic F.I.: It looks simple now, but in the day it was black magic and it took a very experienced tech to crack drivability problems. Early OBD simplified things, but the codes were manufacturer specific, so the in-house experts began to shake out by vehicle make. Instead of the Fuel Injection Guy you had a “Honda Guy” or a “Mercedes Guy.” OBD II has changed everything. Sometimes a code-suggested repair doesn’t totally solve the problem (like an O2 sensor code that’s really caused by poor mixture control upstream), but very rarely will it lead to the wrong system.

So what’s the point? It’s this: I’m 47, grew up on carburetors and leaded fuel and felt that the PCV valve was big-time emission control equipment. The first time I saw electronic fuel injection was on the workbench; it was just out of a Super Beetle which was being converted to carbs. Yet when the MIL light showed up on the Silverado, I didn’t for a second think that the problem would be hard to troubleshoot. On-board computers are no big deal anymore. There are more of them, yes, and they can drive you nuts with intermittents; but with data logging, even they can be tamed.

This desktop computer is a different story. I need a teenager to fix the slightest problem. Maybe they should get OBD II … which is the other point. Computers still need a “Computer Guy” unless you’re young, just like automotive electronics in the 70s and 80s, which means that the computer business has a long way to go to catch up with automotive technology. This computer should have a MIL light and self diagnose like the Silverado. Until it does, I have to pay big bucks to a pimply-faced kid who talks gibberish while he reverses the dreaded Microsoft “Blue Screen of Death.”

That kid likely makes more money than a lot of good engine techs and I don’t like it; but like the car, I need the computer, so I’m back to the Volkswagen fuel injection. I don’t understand the desktop computer, I resent it and I resent that kid making it look easy; but I have to admit that in cars and light trucks at least, things are not just better than they used to be, they’re much better. And if I can learn this stuff, anybody can.

What do you think? Have your say and speak your mind!

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