Automotive Electronics Systems are Flat Tires

In an article about the reliability of automotive brands, in-car electronics systems took the big hits for some big brands. Surprising? Not at all.

We’re putting a lot of pressure on electronics, and they, in turn, are putting pressure on our cars’ batteries and our overall perception of how well our cars are working. Batteries are becoming the most-replaced part in our cars, and it’s no wonder. With all the power accessories we depend on, such as our infotainment systems and power seats, and the increasing replacement of mechanical systems with electrical and electronic systems, we put a lot of strain on our batteries. That’s something those of us in the Northeast might want to note as we head into winter.

Strong batteries, however, won’t solve some inherent problems that I’ve noticed. Our electronic infotainment systems are slow to integrate with other systems, everything from climate control to navigation, radios and Bluetooth connections for phones or music playlists. When we’re driving and depending on our navigation system and the defroster, for example, we need speedy integration. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the road for more than a split second. We also can’t afford a glitch in the performance of either function. When a turn comes up in heavy traffic, we need to be in position to make the turn safely. And, at the same time, we need to be able to see where we’re going. If our system is slow, we get distracted from our driving, and that could cause an accident.

Distraction seems to be a major problem from reports we’ve seen. The big areas of concern are the size of the screens themselves and how the systems integrate with Apple CarPlay (which I have in my Volvo) and Android Auto. Some drivers can’t always be sure whether they’re using their phone’s system or their car’s. That confusion can be a distraction, especially if your car and your phone have you plugged into different navigation systems – and one of them may not be sending you where you want to go.

We should briefly note, too, that some in-car systems are compatible only with Apple or Android systems or can favor one system over the other. That’s something you should know when you set up your car system, your phone or both. For example, we love Waze, but it’s not available through CarPlay. Google Maps has some features that are not available on Apple Maps, and that reflects a larger problem of your car’s system telling you which apps you can or cannot use.

Just to note, there are some current topics related to in-car systems. First, Bluetooth is still an issue when setting it up in older cars or to work as an installed capability with Apple or Android systems. Second, Lexus has decided to develop its own in-car systems. They may or may not work with Apple and Android systems, but the cars will have apps that tie in with your mobile devices, giving you some control or monitoring the car and its operations while you’re not there. A few comments about kids and valet parking come to mind for that.

The other distraction is the visual distraction, and that has two parts.

Some displays are just too big, and one that comes to mind right away is Tesla’s 17-inch touchscreen. That’s bigger than many laptop computers, and there are two problems. First, it’s large area to scan when you need to change something, and that can take more of your attention when you’re driving. This may be less a consideration for a driverless car, but today, you need to drive. It also creates a large reflection or a large bright light that can be a distraction.

The flipside is that a smaller screen can take you too long to pinpoint the place you need to touch for the action you require. That can take up more of your attention, too, and lead to an accident.

Some systems don’t have a screen layout that may be good for you. And while you can overcome some of that by locking the locations of some functions in your memory, the pressure of all the decisions you need to make while driving may negate that.

With all their current problems or shortcomings, in-car electronics will play bigger roles in your car and how you drive – or don’t drive it. Many of the things we see, such as warnings, automatic braking and stopping systems, navigation and self-parking are precursors of automated or driverless cars.

But while we’re still in the present, we can help you set up and integrate Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and your mobile devices and apps in new or older cars. There are lots of set-up options, and we can help your sort them through and make sure your setup is what you need. Call us -973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.