While testing a new generation of our BA327 Digital Battery and System Tester last week, we ran our new prototypes though their paces on a wide variety of vehicles at our corporate offices. The prototype performed well, which was great. The fifth vehicle we tested was a 2013 Chevy Malibu. The battery and system testing went fine, but we had a bit of surprise when we first accessed the vehicle’s battery compartment.
Here’s a picture of what we saw:
Seeing this, one member of our team remarked, “There goes one of the last maintenance or repair applications that your average car owner could still do themselves.” When the day comes to replace a depleted battery in this vehicle, most vehicle owners will likely decide it isn’t worth the hassle and turn to their shop or dealer for this service.
This trend toward complexity can be found throughout today’s vehicle systems. Even within the starting and charging system, alternators and charging processes have become much more sophisticated, now making constant adjustments for battery voltage, electrical demand and temperature. Other vehicle applications that were once tackled by the average DIYer are also becoming difficult to handle. Two that come immediately to mind are fluid changes and tire rotation/replacement.
I remember growing up with half my neighborhood changing their own oil and other vehicle fluids, such as coolant and transmission fluid. Like the battery illustration above, fluid changes are getting increasingly difficult, especially when it comes to sealed systems. Many late model vehicles feature sealed transmission systems, for instance. We first started to encounter these systems in the early 2000s with our T-TECH products. Shops looked to us to help them solve the challenges related to servicing these systems, particularly when it came to ensure a proper fill prior to turning the vehicle back over to its owner after service.
These sealed systems are found on more vehicles every year and the trend shows no sign of slowing. This has resulted in a proliferation of tips and service procedures to help DIYers continue to perform this service themselves, such as the example at the link below:
Fluid Level Checks on Automatic Transmissions Without Dipsticks
It has also resulted in negative feedback from many sources. The following link is very old, from 2004, but it is representative, as it covers the major criticisms found in forum posts all over the internet:
Mechanic’s Tale: The Disappearing Dipstick
The complications of checking fluid fill in these systems make a long, potentially dirty task even trickier than normal, adding fears that an inaccurate fill could harm the transmission systems. Would it stop you from performing this service?
Like changing a battery, tire rotation was always pretty straightforward. Until the advent of TPMS. Now, in order for the system to work correctly, steps need to be taken to ensure future warnings indicate the correct tire position when a warning is flashed. Here’s a quick overview article in Popular Mechanics covering the different types of TMPS systems and some simple steps for resetting tire position:
How to Troubleshoot a Tire Pressure Monitoring System
Of course, things are never as simple as they seem, and this is certainly true of TPMS. A quick survey of forum posts shows that this is another vexing issue for DIYers, causing a wide variety of issues. Some of these issues were resolved by the vehicle owner, while some appear to have required a trip to the dealership. Here’s a quick video from Two Guys Garage addressing common tools needed to reset TPMS sensors or swap out seasonal tires:
These are just three vehicle applications that have become increasingly complex in recent years. We could find similar examples throughout today’s vehicles and we suspect we haven’t seen anything yet. The drive for greater fuel efficiency and safety will bring even greater complexity to future vehicle systems.
How about you? Has the evolution toward more complex systems deterred you from doing maintenance and repair projects you once took for granted? Or, do you see recent developments simply as a continuation of previous system upgrades and assume continued learning is just part of the life of a DIYer? We’d love to hear you take in the comments.