Die, ag­nos­tic tool

Herald Sun - Motoring - - On the Web - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

‘‘ COM­PUTER says no’’ is my favourite line from the wickedly clever Lit­tle Bri­tain tele­vi­sion se­ries, be­cause it’s such a telling re­flec­tion of mod­ern life.

Com­put­ers rule the world and if you can­not get along with the lit­tle black boxes, or at least ar­range some sort of nonag­gres­sion pact, life is not fun.

My time on the road over the past 25 years has been rid­dled and riled by com­puter prob­lems of all sorts, from re­cal­ci­trant cars through to lap­tops that needed ma­jor in­ter­ven­tion by a man­child named Nick at the other end of an in­ter­na­tional tele­phone line. The power of the PC is rammed home to me, once again, as Volk­swa­gen flails and fights against the surg­ing tide of bad news in Aus­tralia about its Golfs and DSG gear­boxes.

Those dra­mas are noth­ing new to any­one on the

Cars­guide crew. We’ve been field­ing com­plaints and try­ing to help peo­ple for years, usu­ally bat­tling the ar­ro­gance and de­nial that led Volk­swa­gen Aus­tralia to where it is to­day.

But, as I face a fresh tide of in­com­ing emails this week, I get to think­ing about the power of the com­puter and how it could quite eas­ily have con­trib­uted to the VW dra­mas. There was a time, not so long ago, when a qual­ity me­chanic was worth his or her weight in Sid­chrome. Th­ese days, newage tech­ni­cians have flooded work­shops across the coun­try and old-fash­ioned ex­pe­ri­ence and in­tu­ition have been re­placed by plug-and-play com­puter anal­y­sis.

No one re­ally wants to waste time on a test drive or hand­son di­ag­no­sis when it’s so easy to plug the ‘‘ di­ag­nos­tic tool’’ into a socket, in­ter­ro­gate the car and see whether any tell­tale

‘‘ er­ror codes’’ pop up. The first time I saw one, a com­bined ef­fort by BMW and Bosch, it was a rev­e­la­tion. It was ob­vi­ously a key to the fu­ture.

But that fu­ture has ar­rived and ‘‘ er­ror codes’’ have be­come both the ob­jec­tive and the ex­cuse for far too many of the peo­ple on the ser­vice side of a work­shop counter. Ev­ery week I get dozens of dis­grun­tled emails and the power of the com­puter di­ag­no­sis is re­flected in the num­ber of peo­ple who are dis­sat­is­fied with their work­shop out­come. Of­ten they re­port be­ing dis­missed be­cause their com­plaint or con­cern does not match the print­out from their car’s elec­tronic con­trol unit.

I’m hear­ing ‘‘ Com­puter says no’’ al­most ev­ery day.

Even when a real per­son takes a car for a real-world test drive, it can end in tears when the com­plaint is dis­missed as ‘‘ within tol­er­ance’’. Is that just an­other ver­sion of ‘‘ Com­puter says no’’?

Doc­tors are taught that bed­side man­ner is as im­por­tant as any di­ag­no­sis of ill­ness, be­cause it hon­ours pa­tients’ con­cerns and makes them feel they are part of the so­lu­tion and not just cre­at­ing a prob­lem. Per­haps that’s a les­son that now also needs to be taught in the world of mo­tor­ing, be­fore the rise of the com­puter be­comes to­tally ir­re­versible.

I, for one, don’t en­joy the prospect of a world where— to twist an­other line from Lit­tle

Bri­tain— you ar­rive at a work­shop to hear, ‘‘ I’m the only me­chanic in the vil­lage.’’

Just say no: Car ser­vice tech­ni­cians take a lead from Lit­tle

Bri­tain’s Carol Beer and her com­puter

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