Blog: Graeme RobertsWhen auto electronics go bad

Graeme Roberts | 15 February 2012

Received an interesting email this morning from Australian colleagues in Sydney about a 12km (about eight miles) morning rush-hour tailback and up to four-hour delays caused by an Audi A8 breaking down with total electrical failure in a tunnel.

The car's steering wheel, handbrake and keys were stuck and it took an hour to get it off the road, transport authorities said. Audi Australia got one of the first calls from the driver and a spokeswoman said: "It appears to have run out of battery power." The driver was talked through the release of the electronic handbrake.

That prompted local motoring writer Toby Hagon to recall being trapped a couple of years ago with his family inside a A$400,000 Porsche Panamera.

"What turned out to be electronic interference with the transponder key caused by signals from the TV and radio towers near Artarmon on Sydney's north shore shut down all the electronics for the then-new four-door flagship.

"Windows up, no air-conditioning and a car that refused to start. After 45 minutes of a cabin fast heating up - and calls to the police and Porsche's assistance line - it quickly turned into a frightening experience. Especially with a none-too-impressed wife and a newborn baby on board.

"It ended when a window was smashed from the outside, allowing us to exit via the front passenger window," Hagon wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"It then took two tow-truck drivers 90 minutes to get the stricken Porsche on to a tow truck, battling with releasing the electronic handbrake and locked steering. Porsche has since instigated a worldwide fix to eliminate the interference.

"The experience gave me a first-hand understanding of how badly things could go wrong in the event of complete electronic failure."


Hagon noted that the local Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries is understood to be working on new regulations that would make it impossible for people to be locked in cars, in much the same way as many cars now have internal boot releases to prevent children from being locked inside [this is law in the US - ed].

"Of course, what happened to my family is an extreme example and one that highlights a near worst case scenario," Hagon added.

"But it's an example of how far electronics have come in the operation of modern cars."



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