Let's slow down the electronic race

Posted by Allan Whiting

We all have our favourite electronics-failure horror stories and here at Outback Travel Australia we've had our fair share of dramas, with our own vehicles and with road-test machinery.

Self-locking 4WDs are great fun: we had to use a two-metre length of eight-gauge fencing wire to tease up a door lock button in a Jeep, after it self-locked with the key in the ignition. We forced the wire through a gap between the tailgate glass and its frame.

That couldn't work for the poor bloke who lost his Discovery key at Purni Bore in the Simpson Desert. After a search for the key turned up nothing, he needed a tilt-tray to get the vehicle to a Land Rover dealer and there aren't many of them in the bush anymore. Cost thousands and ruined his holiday.

We had drama with our own Discovery 3 and when we sold it we warned the new owner what he might face. Its favourite trick was losing power on one particular hill near our home. After a stop and engine restart it was fine again. It did this from new; Land Rover couldn't fix it and refused warranty on the problem after 100,000km.

There were other issues too, like the time the remote locking stopped working. The cause was flooding of the roof-lining-mounted sensor when the sunroof rain gutter drains blocked with dust. Land Rover fixed it, but an hour later, after rain, the new sensor died. Then they removed the blocked non-return valves at the base of the sunroof drain tubes - why not take the damn things out in the first place?

Let's not pick only on Land Rover. Lose both keys of a modern vehicle and you can be up for a new computer, as well as a set of keys. Pencil in hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for this exercise.

Our mate has a Mercedes-Benz ML and his horn stopped working. (The horn in the car.) No problem, said the dealer: just give us a couple of grand and we'll put on a nice new steering wheel! The horn failure can't be fixed any other way.

Get a dose of dodgy fuel in the tank of a modern, electronically-injected diesel 4WD and you'll not only be stranded, but up for thousands of dollars in repair bills that won't be covered by warranty.

Trigger an airbag release by hitting a 'roo and your vehicle will most likely be immobilised, where it is.

For those of us who venture into the semi-unknown the quirks of vehicle electronics are no joke. We think it's gone too far, too soon and some system redundancy or safeguards against a stranding need to be incorporated.

We're sure you all have electronics horror stories and if you want to share them, let us know.