Early Adoption - Whale Watching
I’ve driven a bunch of trucks in recent months that I wanted to lower the tires’ air pressure. In some cases it was for sand or other off-pavement terrain for the bigger footprint and softer sidewall. In another event it was for handling—The truck had new tires still in the high 40/low 50-psi range where they probably seated the beads, rather than the truck’s placard number at 15 psi less, so it skittered and bounced all over. And most often I wanted better ride quality in an empty pickup designed to carry 35-50 percent of its own weight.
Every time I made adjustments, and while snow plowing with inflated tires at about -10 degrees outside, I got tire warning lights and more grumbling or cursing trying to make corrections. I imagine many trucks popped a light this winter past.
"I’d not be surprised if designing one requires more electrical than mechanical engineers."
Like Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which just announced it will build an SUV, I am not an early adopter. Indeed, this is the first time I’ve even written the phrase. But before relegating me to antiquity as one who won’t try anything new, there is a manual-gearbox supercharged gasoline-electric hybrid in my garage bay.
I don’t rush out for the latest and greatest electronics, nor do I “update” to revised software at the earliest opportunity and get sent back to the Stone Age. I’m fine letting others work out the bugs. But electronics have worked their way into almost every aspect of modern trucks. I’d not be surprised if designing one requires more electrical than mechanical engineers. I have to consider this a plus in many ways:
Bluetooth and voice-to-text are a helluva lot more convenient than using hands, and they’re easily switched off if you want peace. Many call it a safety feature—I think it the lesser of two evils. At least this can be switched off.
Last week I spun an electronic-injection and ignition engine rebuilt after years sitting in pieces to build oil pressure, jumped the pump relay to get fuel to the injectors, turned the key, and it immediately fired to a normal fast idle. My carbureted, breaker-point engines never did that.
When four-wheel ABS debuted on an SUV, I recorded the same dry-ground full-effort braking distance as without it. Only in wet or split-µ surfaces did it stop slightly shorter, but the big payoff was steering ability. Anti-lock brakes keep improving as software and actuator speeds increase, but a recent winter test with everything from ¾-tons to Renegades reminded that less mass is even better.
Early forms of electronic traction control were rudimentary, driven by a single tone ring on a diff’s ring gear. It wouldn’t know which wheel was slipping, but a good driver would be able to feel it or see it in the mirrors.
Arguably the greater advance was sensoring and activation for each wheel. Even a great driver has only one gas or brake pedal for all the tires and individual wheel control simply works better once a wheel’s begun to move. Where you might have sawed the wheel to find front grip, now you keep it straight ahead so as not to confuse the electronics. And the same principles apply to hill descent and ascent controls—you won’t do better since you can’t control each wheel. Software is so quick now a properly programmed automatic is faster than someone controlling it with shift paddles.
But with more capability come more of those sensors and wires, and occasionally, things to go wrong. I’ve had traction and brake controls throw the yellow flag when fine dust or snow “blinds” the sensors. That continues improving as well, but it’s a good reason why many expedition vehicles are as simple as possible.
And while electronics have made cars and trucks safer, they’ve arguably made driving no safer. When aviation moved to glass cockpits and computer control, questions arose as to whether pilots had enough flying experience—as opposed to inputting experience—to notice when something was wrong and then fly the airplane.
I believe the same is happening in vehicles. Available assists, more and more of which will be mandated sooner rather than later, make drivers where I live lazy and even less attentive. If they never spun or locked a wheel, nor understood a warning light in their dash and have only marginal control on a good day, will they have any idea how to control their vehicle when something goes wrong?
Me? All I want is a comfortable ride that doesn’t require resetting when I adjust pressures.