Electronics for enthusiasts - What Do You Reckon?

By: Glenn Torrens

Glenn Torrens wonders about vehicle electronics in our classic cars

Electronics for enthusiasts - What Do You Reckon?
"I’m hearing bad things about touchscreens and other electronics in recent vehicles"

I'd just replaced the thermostat in my 1989 Mitsubishi Pajero V6. Warming-up the engine in my garage before a test drive to see if the heater was ‘heatier’ than before, I kicked the passenger-side front door closed … And my Pajero’s engine died.

Whoa … what’s going on?

The Pajero’s EFI computer is mounted in a steel cradle on the left side of the cabin below the glovebox; which was a clue to why the engine died when I slammed the left door. With the ignition on, I gave the computer and wiring a bit of a wiggle and, sure enough, I heard the c-c-zzzt-click-clicking of an under-dash relay.

Was it the wiring? Or the guts of the EFI computer? To be honest, I still don’t know as I ‘bush fixed’ it by twisting and tweaking things to ensure the Pajero didn’t stall again, when I slammed the door. Thankfully, it hasn’t hesitated since, including during a few 500km weekend dirt-road/bush treks.

But that incident got me thinking about the electronics in older cars and what it means for enthusiasts like us.

I own two more 1980s cars with computers/electronic fuel injection: A VN Holden Calais V8 and an NA Mazda MX-5. I’m proud to say that despite being more than 30 years old, both these cars are in fine condition with little more than a few paint flaws to disturb their innocence. As much as we love some of them, many cars of the 1960s and 1970s were rusty pieces of shit by their 15th birthday, but by the late-1980s there was hugely increased factory build quality for cars. That means cars from the 1980s/’90s tend to survive much longer despite ‘they-don’t-makem-like-they-yoosta-sonny!’ claims of a few grumpy codgers.

But what of the electronics? I can’t help but feel that many of us are on borrowed time with some of our three-decades old, fuel-injected classics. For instance the radio in both my Calais and Mazda have issues … how long until similar problems happen with their fuel-injection computers, as what seemed
to happen with my 1989 Pajero?

For now, I can take comfort in the fact that some companies can fix these older black boxes (Aussie mob Injectronics springs to mind – but don’t hold me to that!) and many cars will remain popular enough, for long enough, for someone to keep fixing and reconditioning their bits. But I’m hearing bad things from mates in the car trade about the touchscreens and other electronics, used in more recent vehicles ranging from base-spec work utes, right up to decade-old $200K luxury cars, plus things such as prime movers, farm tractors and tourist coaches.

Come to think of it, I’ve noticed a strange flicker a couple of times in my daily-driver 2012 Holden Commodore Sportwagon’s touchscreen …

All this means that maybe cars made around 2000 – give or take a few years – with big grab-able radio and heater knobs might be the last breed of cars that we will be able to tinker with, in 15 or 20 years’ time.

But then again … that was the scaredy-cat attitude when fuel injection, unleaded petrol and plastic bumpers arrived in the 1980s, too!  

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