Saturday, July 14, 2012

Automotive Warning Lights - Scrap a Useless System

Recent discussions in the automotive press have railed on the uselessness of the check engine light or called for an outright ban of the light.

They're on to something. Lets face it. The check engine light without the associated fault code or codes says nothing. However, in point of fact, the entire warning and indicator light system suffers from the very same problem:
What is an oil light without a gauge?
What is a charging system light without a volt meter?
What is an ABS light without a fault code?
What is any of the dozens of other lights without more information?

Of course, fault codes, gauges and meters are only of use to those with the ability to interpret them, which is the source of the 'idiot light' system in the first place. But the plain fact is that today's vehicles have the capability to display not only an indicator light and fault code, but also an explanation of what is actually wrong in plain language AND what needs to be done at that moment:
Can the car be driven under the condition?
Does the car need to be towed?
Is there a REAL danger of loss of control?
Etc., etc., etc.

Unfortunately, it is not likely that any manufacturer will step up and risk giving more detailed information to lay people out of liability fears. But the system as it exists now runs the real risk of needlessly frightening drivers with the circus of indicator and warning lights that can pop up at the drop of a gas cap. And sometimes two and three lights at a time.

Further, with 20, 30 and even more indicators on instrument panels today, is there not a risk of saturation? When is enough enough? Every new system added to a vehicle is met with a new indicator and or acronym that, despite the best industry efforts, remain a mystery to the average driver. Seriously, most drivers need to get the kids to school and get themselves to their jobs. They are not car people and simply have too much on their plate as it is.

Even experienced service personnel have to search their memory banks to correctly identify the meaning of some of the more obscure acronyms (AFS does NOT start with 'Automatic'... ). Should the industry expect more from drivers?

Seriously, before someone freaks out behind the wheel let's stop throwing new lights at every new vehicle add-on and consider some alternatives. At the very least, new and existing lights should be accompanied by real and useful information.

And since drivers should NOT be reading while driving, how about having the vehicle talk to the driver by voice? With all the discussion surrounding driver distraction and the integration of Siri and other voice command systems into infotainment systems, we are not so far from this 'Eyes Free' solution. It's just a little to the left, in the instrument panel...