From Slashdot comes a link to this story in the NY Times:
What's Bugging the High-Tech Car?
On a hot summer trip to Cape Cod, the Mills family minivan did a peculiar thing. After an hour on the road, it began to bake the children. Mom and Dad were cool and comfortable up front, but heat was blasting into the rear of the van and it could not be turned off.
Fortunately for the Mills children, their father - W. Nathaniel Mills III, an expert on computer networking at I.B.M. - is persistent. When three dealership visits, days of waiting and the cumbersome replacement of mechanical parts failed to fix the problem, he took the van out and drove it until the oven fired up again. Then he rushed to the mechanic to look for a software error.
"It took two minutes for them to hook up their diagnostic tool and find the fault," said Mr. Mills, senior technical staff member at I.B.M.'s T. J. Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, N.Y. "I can almost see the software code; a sensor was bad."
Owners across the country and around the globe have posted anguished cries to Internet forums about electronic gremlins that stop windows from rolling all the way up, that unexpectedly dim the interior lights, that drain batteries or that make engines sputter. While most automakers have had problems, quality rankings for some - particularly technology-intensive German luxury brands renowned for engineering - have plunged.
Heh... And the word from an independent researcher:
David E. Cole, president of the Center for Automotive Research, a consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., says electronics may be the cause of a third of warranty claims. The problem seems to stem from car manufacturers buying "systems" from vendors and there is no guarantee that the systems will work together in the car environment.
When Jen and I bought the tractor for our Farm and Cider business, we made sure to get the one with a 100% mechanical and hydraulic control system. They do have fully computerized ones but we avoided those like the plague. If something breaks, I want to be able to fix it. Same thing with our cars -- we have some older cars that run fine and we are keeping them. I love technology and use it and have fun with it but when high-tech is incorporated into a business with little prior familiarity (automotive for example), the tech decisions are at that point made by managers who have zero experience with tech issues. When high-tech has been used in a business for a while (say commercial aviation), tech decisions are made based on information coming from the users and the service personnel -- new introductions are more likely to be tested rigorously and not rolled out until it is know that they work on the target platform. A simple management decision but not one the automotive managers seem to be doing right now.