Cars Are Just Like Macs

I took out a Nissan Murano for a 100-mile test drive this morning. I drove Texas State Highway 130 down to Seguin. SH130 is a toll road that bypasses I-35, and its drivers enjoy the highest posted speed limit in the United States: 85 MPH. I wasn’t out for a joy ride or to drag race though, and it wasn’t a new car I was testing out either.

Last month, our family went to Port Aransas for summer vacation. About 50 miles into the trip, on the same stretch of SH130, the Murano dropped out of warp speed cruise control. No matter how far to the floor I would press the accelerator, something about the car was limiting it to 2,800 RPMs. I could barely maintain 70 MPH, relatively slow for that stretch of road. Undeterred from our vacation plans, we forked over for an expensive tow back to the Nissan dealership in Austin, and a week of rental car.

Naturally, not even the “master foreman” at the Nissan dealership was able to pinpoint the cause of this, despite my detailed symptom report. Fortunately, they didn’t charge us to fix a problem they weren’t able to diagnose. They did in the process, however, do a software upgrade for one of the computers in the car.

Today’s test drive was, first and foremost, an effort to rebuild confidence in the car’s reliability. I put the Murano through its paces, and maintained cruise control at 85 MPH on the same stretch of road. When heading up hills, I challenged her to even higher speed and RPMs, to try to get the problem to occur again. “Maybe it’s heat related,” I thought, even though her temperature gauge never broke a sweat during either of these trips down 130.

The Murano did just fine, and never showed the same symptoms as on our Port A trip.

I’m convinced that the problem we experienced was not a mechanical one. The mechanic claimed to have fixed nothing. So what could it have been?

I’ve been around software for more than 20 years. Software crashes. I’m more convinced than ever now that today’s cars are not much different than Macs – a tight marriage of hardware and software – both of which can fail. I’d bet bucks that if we run into the problem again that we had on our trip last month, we would fix the issue by “rebooting” the car, either by turning it off then back on, or by temporarily disconnecting the battery.

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