HAL Jr. Lives Under my Car’s Hood

The introduction of computers in automobiles was a great innovation.  I feel so much safer, knowing that problems are recognized before they become serious or life threatening, and guesswork has been largely eliminated from the diagnosis of problems.

But I am convinced that the computer that resides under the hood of my car is a very close relation to the infamous HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I’ve seen no evidence yet that he means me physical harm, but I am sure that he doesn’t like me.  He insists on sending me messages that I don’t want and often takes control of  the dashboard display and deactivates control buttons on my steering column.

Some examples:

I hadn’t had the car very long when one day after I turned the key in the ignition  he displayed a message on my dashboard where it normally displays the odometer, indicating that I was now 85% of the way towards my next oil change, then returned the odometer when I put the car in gear.  I patiently explained to him that I have owned automobiles for fifty years and have always paid attention to maintenance, particularly oil changes – I did not need a reminder.

Nevertheless, every time thereafter, when I started the car he reminded me of the upcoming need for an oil change – eventually indicating 90%, then 95%.  I was getting progressively more annoyed, but my annoyance then turned to absolute rage when he demanded an immediate oil change and disabled the button that controlled the various odometer displays.  I was denied access to trip meters, my cumulative mpg, estimated miles on remaining fuel and the normal odometer.

Like I was supposed to immediately go for an oil change? – do not pass GO, do not collect $200!  It was a standoff – I refused to get the oil change. HAL Jr. denied me use of my odometer control button and the display.  Naturally, I was the one who blinked first – I gave in and complied – whereupon he returned the dashboard display and  returned control of the button to me.  But I know that this is going to happen every 3,000 miles as long as I have the car.   😦


Two weeks ago while driving on the Florida Turnpike in Miami-Dade County, on my way home from the Miami Metrozoo,  going about 70 mph in heavy traffic in a very heavy rainstorm, HAL Jr. suddenly made a loud beep, lit up a flattening tire icon on the dashboard and replaced the odometer with the message “Low Tire Pressure”.   Oh — and again deactivated my odometer control button.

I wasn’t sure exactly what the warning meant.  Did it just mean that the pressure on one of my tires had dropped past some arbitrary point which was going to negatively impact my mileage and increase wear on the tire – or – was it telling me that I was close to driving on the rim?  I didn’t sense anything irregular in the way the car was handling, but I moved over into the right lane, lowered my speed to about 60 and hoped I could make it the 5 or 6 miles to the next exit where I could stop and examine my tires.  I wasn’t eager to change a tire in a raging tropical thunderstorm.

I did get to the exit OK – got out and examined all my tires while getting well drenched – and saw nothing out of the ordinary.  All four tires at least looked properly inflated.  I didn’t have my handy little tire pressure gauge with me to determine the actual pressures.  So, I decided to go on home and check the tires out when the weather was nicer – which I did the next day.  The right rear tire’s pressure  was down about 5 pounds.  After I added air HAL Jr. returned odometer control.


Last week I was driving someplace where I wanted to know the exact distance from my house – so I activated the trip meter, then returned the display to the normal odometer.  When I was nearing my destination I decided to check how far I had driven.  Without looking I reached down just under the steering wheel where there are a whole bunch of buttons, to press the odometer control and cycle through to the trip meter I’d set.  Well, I pushed in a button immediately below the odometer control and inadvertently activated this 23rd century voice operated multimedia device control system powered by Microsoft, called SYNC – which understands commands in English, Spanish and French.

HAL Jr. then turned off the CD I was playing and all the player controls and displayed a message on the radio/CD Player indicating that it was connecting my non-existent phone to God knows what.  Repeated pushing of the initial button I’d pressed accomplished nothing, so I pressed an adjacent button which is not labeled, and HAL Jr. replaced the odometer display with a harsh message indicating that he would not allow me to perform that function while the vehicle was in motion – what that function is I have no idea.

Finally, purely by accident I pressed the initial button in and held it for a few seconds and everything returned to normal.


These incidents have convinced me that HAL Jr. is not my friend.  There is a rectangular control beneath the Radio/CD Player, just above the floor that is not labeled – nor is it shown in the owners manual.  I haven’t the nerve to press it – it might be the Ejection Control!  😯



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2 responses to “HAL Jr. Lives Under my Car’s Hood

  1. naturgesetz

    I think they’ve gone too far with those “improvements.”

    In addition to the problems with Hal jr., you’ve hit on another problem with the latest cars: too many buttons. When I was in Germany earlier this month, my rented mercedes did not have an owner’s manual that I could fine. (Ditto, the rental vehicles in Ireland.) There were lots of buttons relating, apparently to radio (and other live entertainment?) and to the A/C that I could not figure out. There was one on the console that I asked my German hosts about. It had a knob that turned and two enigmatic graphics beside i. Nobody had the faintest idea what it did. Fortunately, the car went forward when I wanted to and backwards when I wanted to. Regrettably it was a diesel, standard transmission, and it took me a while to realize that when I stalled it, it would not start again until I had returned the ignition key to the completely off position. The other problem was windshield wipers and lights. It took a while to locate the controls and figure out how they worked. Well, I got from point A to point B and back again, with a couple of stops along the way, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.

    • Ed

      Right On, Bro – it has gotten to the point where the owner’s manuals are the size of some of my old college text books – and the dashboards resemble the controls and gauges in a small airplane cockpit.

      Perhaps it is a sign of my age but all I want from a vehicle is the ability to go from point A to point B; comfortably warm if its freezing outside or comfortably cool if its hot outside; and, if I’m in the mood, to listen to the radio, a music CD or audio book. All the other bells and whistles do nothing for me. There are 11 buttons on my steering wheel alone, not counting those on the turn signal thingy that also controls the wipers and the high beam; many many more for the radio/CD player; and many many many more for the climate control system. And, is it really necessary to have separate temperatures for myself and the passengers?

      Regarding auto transmissions – I learned on a standard transmission in Drivers Ed in high school. My first experience with an automatic was a wee bit traumatic. A classmate buddy of mine let me drive his new car which was automatic. I did fine for the first two blocks from my house – then while approaching a stop sign at the next intersection I casually reached for the clutch with my left foot in order to downshift. When the absence thereof registered in my mind I went into an absolute panicked brain freeze – and sailed right through the stop sign. It was a good thing we were still in a quiet low traffic residential section!

      However, I haven’t driven a standard transmission for many years now, and I’m sure that, in your situation, I would have been doing a lot of stalling and bucking the first few hours behind the wheel until I reprogrammed!

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