Electronics don’t really like the cold

Recently I’ve had some car troubles. Well, I always I always have in some form, but when the car you’re driving decides to leave you standing in the yard of your customers’ factory, then something is wrong.

Living in a colder region of the world has its share of problems when it comes to modern day products. The amount of electronics that are put into anything nowadays is rather mind boggling. Cars are a good example how a simple product is filled with unnecessary electronics, relatively speaking. I can’t state that driving computers, power steering, ABS system and Lord knows what else is standard nowadays in cars, as those are things most customers seem to want. What I can state is that when the car has relies far too greatly on the electronics to function, then there needs to be a concern about different climates during the very design process of the car.

Middle-European car designers don’t really think of other regions than their own while designing a car, or at least so it seems from a northerner’s point of view. When I was in a driving school, I noticed that most cars at the time were well sealed, were warm to drive and had little to no troubles in starting. This was because most of them were automatic and less reliant on the driving computer. Nowadays the standard has changed that every car has a driving computer. This poses a problem, and as I was being towed away, the tow truck driver did slip information how most of the jobs they have during coldest frosts are cars with high amount of electronics. That, and the occasional people who have driven out of road into a snow bank.

It is true that not all cars fit every environment. They can be modified and adapted for sure, but that’s often extremely expensive. Sometimes regional laws may prevent you from even making some of the needed modifications. I know that local laws are so strict that deviating from the factory-ready models can’ really be changed. Some people have troubles with the legality of imported cars and I know few cases where a person had to fight against the government to get his German car noted street legal due to some minor differences between the local and German variants.

There used to be a saying that a Lada will start even in -40 Celsius around here. This doesn’t apply anymore, as even Russian cars have become more or less electronics driven. The market for cold region cars exists for sure and it is explored without a doubt, however I have always felt that having your driving computer to freeze and making the car a huge pile useless scrap has always been a mistake in the design of the cards. The electronics have become an irreplaceable part of the cars themselves, and if they fail the cars usually lock themselves down. I would imagine that a certain degree of separation between the digital and analog parts of the cars should exist, where you could have the driving computer utterly fail and still be able to drive the car just fine. Without some of the smart systems, but it’s never the computer that drive the car; it’s the driver. Much like in Zone of the Enders, it’s the Runner and not the Frame.

One could argue that cars have become too electronic and that nowadays the Joe Everybody can’t really go in and fix these things by himself without any specific tools. More often than not I hear that somebody needs to reset a car’s driving computer so it shows no errors. I was taught by my neighbour some car mechanics 101, but nowadays those are somewhat moot as you can barely lift the hood without the car going berserk. Actually, I know a case where two different sensor would prevent the car from running. This is because one temperature sensor is near engine oil that is heated via wall socket, and the other has no pre-heatable components near it. The driver has a cold spray with him in the car so that he can cool down the heated sensor. This sort of thing is absolutely stupid and unforgivable from consumer standpoint.

Then there’s the whole thing that batteries seem to hate cold places with a passion. There are stories about the frost shortening the life or even killing all sorts of batteries. I can say that this is true, as experience has taught me that certain batteries just can’t stand negative degrees. However, if you hold pocket electronics inside your jacket and near your body, they shouldn’t experience the cold. Still, using an iPhone or any other smarts electronics that is easy to damage anyway isn’t really recommended. Ultimately, cold climate demands robust design coupled with somewhat low level but well designed products, not the likes that consume the battery even when shut down.

I have a bias against cars with high amount of electronics. I prefer manual cars over automatic in real life and most of my driving life I drove a Ford Escort mk4. It was a rough car that required the driver to be able to handle its somewhat stiff steering. The time had done its deed to it as well as the trunk door didn’t keep itself up anymore, the seats were well loved and the gear shaft didn’t recognize the positions all that well. Nevertheless, it was a car that responded to the driver’s skills and intentions very well and the driver knew everything the Ford was doing. No bullshit suspension or power steering here, sometimes it felt like driving a tractor on an icy road. Many times I was able to save the car from a crash because I could tell how the car behaved because there was nothing in between me and and the wheels. This doesn’t apply to cars with ABS systems or other stuff. The electronics are in-between the driver, and driving an automatic makes me feel like I’m playing OutRun arcade cabinet with an actual danger. It’s a horrible feeling when you realize how little control you have over the car your driving when you switch from the Escort mk4 to any automatic. No longer I could tell what the car was doing or thinking, which meant that I had learn the finer aspects of driving an automatic car.