RepairPal Blog: Technology

All the latest news on technological advances in the automotive industry

Today marks the launch of the Skycar Expedition.  The Skycar is, for the most part, a high-tech, flying dune buggy.  The 42 day, 3,600 mile Expedition starts in London and ends in the middle of the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu. There's an entire ground crew following the Skycar to keep it in tip-top shape.  I wonder what kind of repairs and maintenance this fancy dune buggy will need along the way -- there probably won't be any issues with the air conditioner or power windows.

Researchers from Baylor University have been experimenting with producing auto parts out of coconut husks. They believe the husks can be used to make interior parts such as trunk liners, floorboards and interior door panels. Currently these parts are made out of synthetic materials but since coconuts are so prevalent in countries near the equator, this is a good way to put trash to use. The husks currently are burned or piled up to become breeding grounds for malaria carrying mosquitoes. This offers a viable alternative and another source of income for poor coconut farmers. To produce the husk material, first the husks are combined with polypropylene and then molded into the shape using heat and pressure. Read more about it at LiveScience.

I ran across an article today on that discussed a recent announcement from BMW of North America regarding turbo-lag problems with the twin-turbocharged inline six cylinder motor that currently powers the acclaimed 335i, among many other new BMWs. From our perspective at RepairPal, what was interesting about the news is that BMW originally updated its engine software to address an engine noise problem, and in doing so, the new software fix created a small turbo-lag problem.  This is a terrific example of the deep importance and extreme sensitivity of computer controls in modern automobiles.  It wasn't long ago that a mechanic manually adjusted the air-fuel ratio and "tuned" an engine by listening to it run.  Now, software can address the specific behavior of turbochargers so subtle that many drivers would probably not even notice it--in fact, the engine computer and emissions control systems are constantly measuring and varying every step in the combustion process.  In other words, a modern car is constantly being tuned up by its engine computer.

According to the Associated Press, Dean Kamen, the inventor of the famed Segway scooter, has created the first hybrid electric car based upon the Stirling engine.The Stirling engine was first developed by Robert Stirling, a Scottish clergyman and inventor, in 1816.  A Stirling engine uses external heat to drive the internal pistons – the heat is applied to the outside of the cylinder walls to power the engine. 

SEMA is in full-swing today, and alternative fuel applications are all the rage.  Yesterday, I wrote about air cars, and today I'm blow away by the Ronn Motor Company's Scorpion. The primary innovation that the Scorpion features is on-board creation of hydrogen gas from water using an electrolysis process.  The hydrogen gas is then combined with a more traditional combustion fuel to power the V6, and the result is 600 horsepower and more than 40 projected miles per gallon.  I'm sold, but I'm also somewhat short of the $250,000 asking price for the Scorpion HX.

Today, the Internet is alight with information and speculation about investment in Air Cars, or cars running on compressed air as fuel.  You can see details in Carol Bengle Gilbert's article. The excitement over alternative fuels and approaches to powering our cars is great for the industry, but one thing we've taken note of at RepairPal is that change in the automobile industry is very slow.  New models have a life of about 6 years, or longer, and new technologies take a long time to catch on and prove to consumers that they work.  Case in point: how long was the Prius around before it gained serious support?  Additionally, the auto repair industry is still learning the fundamentals of hybrids!