Vehicle Repair Industry Standards Exist for a Reason


R. Scott King, BSME, Principle Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
Vehicle repair industry standards exist primarily to promote the safety of the women and men that service passenger vehicles and commercial trucks, as well as that of the motoring public in general. Sometimes, however, these standards can protect the misfortunate few, who by improbable circumstances, are exposed to risks that often accompany a seemingly benign vehicle repair procedure.
Consider for example the case of a commercial truck owner who had taken his truck to a local repair shop to diagnose a complaint of loose steering. With his shop filled with other vehicles, the mechanic elected to perform the inspection outside his building in an area not subject to customer proximity restrictions. While the mechanic was replacing the worn steering component, the curious truck owner was standing behind the kneeling mechanic to observe the process. Continue reading “Vehicle Repair Industry Standards Exist for a Reason”

BMW HVAC Blower Wiring Recall

BMW logo

R. Scott King, BSME, Sr. Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
Earlier this month, BMW announced it is recalling over 600,000 3-Series vehicles manufactured between 2006 and 2011 over concerns of potential fire risk. According to documents filed with NHTSA, BMW initiated this recall upon learning of a September 2017 incident involving a vehicle fire it deemed related to the heater and air-conditioning fan wiring. The defect, according to BMW, is the result of microscopic wear, or “fretting”, between the mating components of the electrical connectors. Over time, and with continued wear, electrical resistance between the mated connector halves can increase, resulting in excessive electrical current passing through the connector, which in-turn leads to excess heat. This heat first melts the plastic encasing the connectors, then in the extreme case, ignites it.
Notable in the NHTSA filings, however, is the investigative chronology associated with this recall. As those records show, BMW first became aware of this potential fire risk as early as a decade ago. Specifically, BMW investigated two incidents, one occurring in late 2007 and another in 2008, both “involving heat related damage to the heating and cooling system”. At the time, no root-cause of the damage was identified. Then, between 2010 and 2011, more incidents were reported and investigated. This time however, BMW concluded the root-cause was related to deterioration (fretting) within the electrical connections in the fan wiring. This finding led BMW to change to the metallurgical properties of the wiring connectors; however, the change was implemented in new vehicles only beginning in 2012; no modifications to the existing vehicle population were offered. BMW also indicates that between 2007 and 2014, it had received no reports of injuries related to this concern; however, in 2015, it learned of three such incidents. Continue reading “BMW HVAC Blower Wiring Recall”

Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Commercial Vehicles


R. Scott King, BSME, Senior Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has decided to withdraw a March 2016 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRN) related to commercial vehicle operators and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The so-called Pre-Rule was issued to investigate what actions, if any, the FMSCA should take to mitigate the risks associated with OSA. Derived from the Greek word meaning “without breath”, an estimated 18 million adults in the US suffering from OSA will cease breathing during sleep, often as long as 30 seconds and hundreds of times each sleep cycle. Experts indicate that the effects of OSA include deficits in concentration, memory, and situational awareness. It was these potential effects on commercial vehicle operators and highway safety that became the genesis of the proposed rule. Continue reading “Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Commercial Vehicles”

Forensic Investigation of Automotive Lights

R. Scott King, BSME, Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
For many years, automotive crash investigators and engineers have utilized light bulb filament analysis as a means to determine whether a particular light was illuminated, or not, during a crash. Also used in aircraft crash investigation, this technique capitalizes on the tendency of an illuminated, and therefore hot, light bulb filament to distort when subjected to locally high impact forces. Whether finding this tell-tale filament distortion thus proving a bulb was illuminated during a crash, or not finding it when it would otherwise be expected, this so-called “hot-shock” analysis has proven valuable in many investigations wherein questions of lamp illumination status arise. However, the days of this investigative tool may be dwindling.
Historically, conventional filament-style light bulbs have been used in nearly all applications requiring illumination. From headlights to taillights and everything in between, there simply was no other option but to use them. Thus whenever a question of lamp status arose in a forensic investigation, it was assumed there was a good chance that a lamp evaluation would offer clues. However, this investigative tool works only on bulbs with filaments. Whether it’s the constant search for increased fuel economy and reliability or reduced manufacturing costs, car makers have increasingly sought alternatives to the filament-style bulb. In doing so many have elected to utilize the LED bulb. Continue reading “Forensic Investigation of Automotive Lights”

Recall Update – Autonomous Technology

Product Recall

R. Scott King, BSME, Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
Completely autonomous (self-driving) vehicle technology may not be ready for today’s automotive market place owing to the numerous complexities of vehicle systems, communication, and infrastructure required for full-scale implementation. Despite this, manufacturers seem increasingly willing to incorporate those individual elements of autonomous technology it believes are ready for current production; however, as is true with many new technologies, some of these autonomous features still require refinement. Two recent recalls demonstrate this point.
In early 2015, Acura recalled certain vehicles equipped with emergency “pre-emptive braking”; a feature that automatically applies the brakes when sensors detect an imminent crash. While it is likely safe to assume Honda believed this system was ready for public release, these vehicles were subsequently recalled because of complaints that vehicles were stopping suddenly and automatically without any evidence of an impending crash. Testing revealed that in certain conditions, metallic “chain-link” fences running parallel to the roadway confused the vehicle’s on-board sensors causing them to interpret the fence as a possible crash situation and apply the brakes. Corrective measures that were taken included reprogramming the system’s on-board computers. Continue reading “Recall Update – Autonomous Technology”

What’s That Ticking Sound in My Engine?

R. Scott King, BSME, Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::

As consumers of automotive repair services, we know that from time to time a mechanic might not always fix it right the first time. Whether it’s an annoying dashboard squeak or the mysterious “Check Engine” light that shyly disappears on our way to the service shop, mechanics sometimes need a second shot at an effective repair. However, what about a third or fourth attempt, or even more? How patient is too patient and what recourse is available upon reaching patience’s limit? Most people likely do not yet know the answers to these questions and with luck never will, but some unfortunates do, having found their answers through their own experiences. The following is what happened to a recent client.
Initially happy with her auction lot purchase, the new owner took her vehicle to a local dealer for routine maintenance and a “once-over” to ensure the vehicle was safe and reliable. Additionally, she asked the mechanic to investigate a minor “ticking” sound coming from the engine. At the dealer’s suggestion, the car owner purchased a one-year used-car warranty to insure against major repair costs. All routine maintenance and inspection services were performed to her satisfaction; however, the mechanic did not attempt to repair the “ticking” sound. Rather, referencing a manufacturer’s Technical Service Bulletin written to assist diagnosis of similar customer complaints, he suggested the noise was normal and likely related to the fuel injectors. Although a plausible explanation, the noise persisted and worsened. Over the course of the eighteen months, she returned to the dealer five times for routine service each time complaining about the ever-louder “ticking” noise. Finally, and only when her vehicle would no longer run requiring a tow-truck’s help getting to the dealer, did the mechanic there report the unwelcomed although predictable news; she needed a new engine. Continue reading “What’s That Ticking Sound in My Engine?”

Industry Update: Electronic Logging Devices in Commercial Trucks


R. Scott King, BSME, Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
In March 2017, we provided an industry update on a December 2016 ruling mandating the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in commercial trucks ( Set to become effective on December 16, 2017, this ruling establishes data recording criteria which, in general, require truck owners to install new equipment capable of detecting and recording changes in driving status and provide law enforcement a means of easy data access. Since becoming law, the trucking industry has been preparing for the looming December deadline, with many trucking companies already compliant. However, on July 17, 2017, the House Transportation Committee attached additional requirements to the 2016 ELD mandate that could delay, or even repeal it.
The rationale for this latest development includes lingering trucking industry concerns over the potential for individual states to implement mandated rest and meal times as well as enforcement, cyber-security, and connectivity concerns. The committee also expressed its own concerns over what the financial burden compliance may place on smaller trucking companies. Our research shows that of the estimated 1.2 million registered trucking companies in the US operating an estimated 15 million trucks (approximately 90% own six or fewer trucks – all of which would be required to purchase), install and maintain these new devices. With a fleet-wide projected implementation cost of nearly 2 billion dollars, the cost of compliance to smaller trucking companies, and in particular, individual owner-operators will be significant.
Continue reading “Industry Update: Electronic Logging Devices in Commercial Trucks”

Automotive Air Conditioning Systems

R. Scott King, BSME, Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
The automotive air-conditioner is a marvelous example of a simple system relying on the complex properties of the refrigerant within them. While refrigerant can be thought of as a remarkably efficient medium that carries heat from one area to another, it has at least one significant shortcoming: it does not like water. Even the microscopic water molecules in the surrounding air can significantly reduce an AC system’s performance. To combat this, AC systems utilize a cleverly-named component called a dryer.
An AC dryer is nothing more than a small chamber filled with desiccant. Most people are already familiar with desiccant but perhaps don’t realize it; it is the granular material within the curious little white bags often found in new electronics packaging. Wherever it’s used, desiccant soaks water molecules like a sponge.
In an AC system, however, careful steps must be taken to ensure that the desiccant remains contained within its chamber. If it escapes and circulates through the system, the damage it causes can be disastrous. This, on an extraordinarily large scale, is exactly what happened to a leading manufacturer of automotive-style AC units. Continue reading “Automotive Air Conditioning Systems”

Recreational Vehicle Recalls On The Rise?

R. Scott King, BSME, Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes weekly summaries of recent vehicle recalls. The summaries are listed according to manufacturer and provide a link to the NHTSA website for additional information. As a subscriber to these summaries, I’ve occasionally noted what seems to be an over-representation of the Recreational Vehicle industry relative to total vehicle manufacturers subject to NHTSA regulation. This week’s summary mirrored previous observations, so I did some research for a more quantitative assessment. Continue reading “Recreational Vehicle Recalls On The Rise?”