More chips in a car than in a packet of crisps

I own a seven-year-old Toyota Corolla Altis that has served me so well that I did not upgrade to a new car after three to four years as was my usual habit. I recently drove a new Altis and realised how much cars have changed in the last few years. Apart from being a little bigger with flashier styling, it had the same engines and most other basic features. However the big differences were all electronic, because most of the new features in any modern car are driven by devices relying on electronic chips, micromotors and sensors. So there are more chips in a modern car than in a packet of wafers.

Today the doors open automatically when you get close to it (provided you have the key on you). You no longer have to insert the key to unlock the steering or start the engine because the radio waves from the chip in that key will let you start with just the push of a button. Sensors in your seat will also warn you if your seat belt is not fastened and remind you to do so through rather irritating warning beeps and lights on your dashboard. The sensors will also note whether there is a passenger in the other seat and stay quiet if it is unoccupied. The seat sensors in some cars can automatically shift your seat position and height to your earlier settings.

Sensors will also automatically switch on your windscreen wipers if it rains or your lights as soon as it gets dark. The lights can automatically dim if the car senses headlights approaching and a set of chips will also leave your lights on for about 30 seconds to let you see your way to your door. In some cars a small projector light will come on when you turn the steering wheel to let you see around a corner. The screen will also display the outside air temperature and enable you to make any part of your car as warm or as cool as you desire.

When you reverse your car an image will appear on the touchscreen on your dashboard to let you reverse with professional precision. In some cars the sensors will even park your car in a narrow space without you needing to be inside the car. A gentle finger on the same touchscreen will connect you to a radio, recorded music, your mobile and even the internet. But the internet and videos will be automatically disabled if you are driving so you are not distracted. This centre screen has navigational aids to help you find the best route to your destination. It can be linked to your mobile to display navigation data on the screen.

There are also a bundle of chips and sensors in your engine, transmission, brakes, suspension and steering. These keep your car fuel-efficient and easy to manage. They can sense the traction or load on any wheel and direct power to them to balance the unevenness of the road. Brake force will be adjusted to minimise skidding and maximise traction. The on-board microcomputer will also display your fuel consumption as you drive and the remaining distance you can travel with the  remaining fuel still left in your car.

All these and other marvellous features add to your comfort, safety and ease of driving but they can only be repaired by the auto dealers’ engineers. They are normally very reliable but cannot be easily fixed by a roadside mechanic.

The author is the region’s most celebrated automobile columnist