Niagara Gazette

December 19, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: GM, Dodge recalls and other automotive news

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — General Motors has announced two recalls that together cover nearly 60,000 Chevrolet Malibu sedans in the U.S. The more serious of the campaigns seeks to address a wiring issue that has resulted in two vehicle fires. The problem, which affects 14,930 2013 Chevrolet Malibus equipped with power-adjustable front seats, stems from a wiring harness that can chafe against the frame causing the insulation of a circuit on the wiring to wear through to the conductor and create a short to the grounded seat frame.

This in turn can result in a bevy of maladies, including unintentional seat movement, flickering lights, sparks and melted wiring. Of course, the latter two problems can cause a fire. There are no known crashes or injuries connected to the issue, but GM does say it is aware of two fires in unattended vehicles that burned out on their own. GM has yet to announce when it plans to implement a fix for the defect.

Separately, GM is calling back 44,406 2014 Malibus due to HVAC controls that may not function properly when the car is turned on, instead reverting to the setting selected the last time the car was driven. Simply an uncomfortable annoyance in most instances, the flaw can turn into a safety issue in situations when the driver needs to clear the windshield using the defroster. GM will begin notifying owners of the problem next month, at which time dealers will reprogram the HVAC module free of charge.

For Dodge Ram owners, a mis-aligned steering system tie-rod assembly has prompted the recall of more than 1 million examples of its heavy-duty pickup truck range.

The affected vehicles are 2003 through 2012 Dodge Ram trucks, around 453,000 of which it says will likely need to be repaired. The remaining roughly 726,000 won’t need to be fixed, the automaker said in a release issued to members of the media.

Technically, three separate recalls are being issued:

• One, which covers 842,400 2003 through 2008 Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks will involve inspection and, if necessary, replacement of mis-aligned tie-road assemblies.

• A second covering 294,000 2008-2012 Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks and 2008 Ram 1500 4x4 Mega Cab trucks, will address the same concern. Chrysler says it is related to an earlier recall.

• Finally, a third recall will bring back 43,500 2008-2012 Ram 4500 and 5500 4x4 Chassis Cabs for a similar inspection. Notably, Chrysler says that parts for this particular recall may not be available until early next year.

Chrysler will begin notifying owners of affected vehicles by mail next month. The inspections (and, if necessary, the part replacements) will be handled by dealers at no cost to owners.The vast majority of the trucks are believed to be in the US and Canada.

Toyota concerned over WiFi expansion

Toyota told the federal government in Washington, D.C. last month that it is concerned that an expansion of the wireless spectrum for Internet use could pose a problem for in-car safety equipment. Speaking with the House Energy and Commerce committee, Toyota research manager John Kenney said that more testing needs to be done in order to confirm that “no harmful interference will impair the safety-of-life mission for which that spectrum is allocated.” Kenney spoke in Washington alongside representatives from Cisco, Comcast and the FCC. 

Specifically, Toyota’s concern addresses the impact of a wider WiFi spectrum on features like collision avoidance technologies. Toyota, like most other automakers, makes use of radar and camera-based technologies to scan the road ahead. The most basic systems alert drivers to potential obstacles, while more advanced systems pre-charge brakes or even automatically stop vehicles to prevent or mitigate the impact of an accident. Speaking on the government’s behalf, Nebraska Republican representative Terry Lee told the committee, “There is room for both.” 

While Toyota isn’t necessarily concerned about existing technologies, it is worried about how an increase in the use of the digital spectrum could affect future car-to-car communication necessary as automakers and legislators begin a push toward autonomous vehicles. Toyota also expressed some concern about passengers using WiFi-enabled devices inside of the vehicle that could interfere with the car’s safety technologies. 

Texas toll rates

Fluctuating toll rates based on road occupancy aren’t anything new, but a Texas highway’s tolling lanes set to open (at least partially) this month bring with them a promise that traffic will always move at a minimum of 50 mph. That relatively high rate of speed is promised even in the heart of rush hour on Dallas’ Interstate 635, which traversing the 3.2 mile stretch set to open in December will cost drivers 95 cents. No other road with fluctuating toll rates has promised a specific minimum speed. 

Sensors posted throughout the road will monitor speeds and change posted tolls accordingly. A driver will only be charged the rate at which they entered the toll roads, even if it increases while they are traversing the 3.2 miles. At a minimum, the optional TEXPress toll lanes — conventional, free lanes will also be part of the highway’s redo - will cost drivers 15 cents for the stretch between Preston Road and Greenville Avenue. The ring road around Dallas, one of America’s most congested roads, is currently undergoing a $2.6 billion redo that will add several toll lanes to what was a free highway. As the project nears its completion, more miles of 50 mph-guaranteed toll roads are set to open.

Of course, the TEXPress lanes won’t be immune to slowdowns caused by wrecks. If, for some reason, drivers aren’t able to average at least 35 mph, they could be eligible for an automatic rebate, although the Dallas Morning News reports that the rebates won’t apply to incidents out of the road operator’s control — like wrecks.

Nissan to introduce 3E Google-Glass like device

Nissan will use its Tokyo Motor Show platform next week to unveil a Google Glass-like device called the 3E. Scarcely any details have been disclosed, but though it is still under development, prototypes will apparently be available for demonstrations during the show.

The 3E looks like a Bluetooth headset, but suspended next to the wearer’s left eye instead of by his or her mouth. A small, clear screen displays information and, presumably, overlays augmented reality data.

According to Nissan, the 3E will be connected to the Internet and wireless communication will be one of its primary functions. The automaker has not yet described how the user will control the device. Nissan has released only a teaser website and the video below.

And just when you thought drivers were distracted by enough going on in vehicles, Google adds this toy to distract even more drivers!

‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin’

“America’s Car Show” with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.