The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

7 September 2007

Supporting all that hardware

Every new car has some sort of computer, which costs a fair chunk of change. It doesn't occur to us, though, that those computers have software, and rather a lot of it:

A study conducted by Strategy Analytics found that a vehicle contains on average almost $2,000 worth of software, close to 9% of the average showroom price tag. In cutting-edge luxobarges such as the Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-series you can expect to see a much higher cost of software (even though the cost as a percentage of the vehicle would probably be less).

Since you presumably can't get this software at retail, I'm wondering just where this price tag comes from. But there's no doubt that there's a lot of bytes at work during your daily drive.

Software, inevitably, has a downside:

Features like adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, lane departure warning and engine and gearbox management are all driven by software. Of course, the more complicated these systems get the more chance of them developing bugs, some of which could even lead to cars not being drivable.

There exists a Technical Service Bulletin pertaining to my car, which comes into play when two conditions are met: diagnostic code P0420 is set, yet there are no symptoms. Says the TSB, the first thing you do to resolve the issue is to check the version of the operating system, and upgrade to the most recent version if necessary. If not, you replace the pre-cat tube. The benefit of this approach is that it saves a ton of diagnostics, hence time and money, although it doesn't seem so if you've just written a check for tube installation. But the reason there's a TSB in the first place is to acknowledge that the operating system, at least in its prior versions, has a bug, one serious enough to trip the dreaded Malfunction Indicator Light.

The hardware involved, incidentally, costs just on the far side of $700, just for the computer itself: the dealership will transfer the operating system from their box to yours for not too small a fee, and I suppose eventually there will be third-party software to be had.

Posted at 11:28 AM to Driver's Seat


Wonder if some hacker-head out there is working on an open source version... The Linux powered Lexus?

Posted by: Winston at 7:09 AM on 8 September 2007

Oh boy... back to the horse and carriage for me...

Posted by: SnoopyTheGoon at 9:36 AM on 9 September 2007