3 Facts About Vehicle Computer Control Systems for Students in an Automotive Technology Program

careers in the auto industryGone are the days of cars being a mere collection of simple parts interacting to get a person from point A to point B. Nowadays, every car that is sold stashes a secret collection of computers inside of its body, with sensors and wiring and other electronics working together to keep occupants safe and the car moving optimally.

Professionals working in the automotive space work extensively with these computers and electronics, which means it’s good to get an idea of how they operate if you plan on working in this field.

Here’s a little primer on the computer control systems found in cars.

1. A Controller Area Network Allows Car Control Units to Interact

There are many control units around a car, each controlling multiple different components like power windows, locks, fuel injectors, and more. Each unit receives data from sensors on the components it controls, and relays the information to other control units over the “Controller Area Network,” or CAN. This makes it so that all components can interact, even if they aren’t controlled by the same unit. For example, if a cabin temperature sensor detects that the air inside of the car is cold, its control unit could relay an instruction to the seat warmers’ control unit to tell it to heat up.

Professionals with careers in the auto industry might know that a large advantage of this setup is that it reduces the amount of wiring required to make complex features function within a car—no need to run tons of wire from every component to a single computer. The fewer physical components there are, the less that can break. You may find this simplifies some of the work you do throughout your career.

2. For Pros with Careers in the Auto Industry, A Specialized Control Unit Helps Identify Problems

With so many control units present in modern cars, each linked to multiple units, it’s a good thing that one specialty control unit is tasked with monitoring reports sent by the other units and alerting the driver (or mechanic) when something is wrong.

The process works like this:

  • All sensors make frequent reports about whatever component/variable they monitor
  • When a sensor makes a report that suggests an error, or that a variable is not right, it flags the error
  • The error is sent to the control unit, and then on to the error-detection unit
  • The error detection unit signals the appropriate dashboard notification to light up

Though an automotive technology program will teach you to use more advanced tools for determining what is wrong with a car with greater precision, these lights provide a good, broad idea for both you and the owner. Odds are good that you will rely on these lights with some frequency in your automotive career.

automotive technology program
Notification lights are the last step of a thorough automotive computer process

3. After Your Automotive Technology Program, You Might See Lots of Remote Car Updating

An unfortunate reality of computer software is that it is rarely perfect, and often programs contain vulnerabilities or deficiencies that are later corrected through updates. While it’s incredibly simple for many computers, like laptops or mobile phones, to update, it’s trickier with cars that are not connected to the internet.

A big recent shift in automotive computer technology has seen remote update capability added to vehicles from companies like Tesla, GM, and more. Everything from minor updates on how sensors collect data, to big updates on the safety features for brakes, can conceivably be adjusted through these updates. The result, like most computers, is a product that is constantly changing to better address the needs of its owners.

car mechanic in Cambridge
Remote updates are allowing cars to download and install updates wherever they are

This feature is still relatively uncommon, but big promises from major automakers like Ford, Toyota, and others will likely see it become much more widespread. This could become a standard feature during your auto career.

Do you want to become a car mechanic in Cambridge?

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