- Electronics are the new grid
- Looking for the defect
- Spare parts become as valuable as gold dust
- New fields of work could arise
Electronics are the new grid
Electronics expert: Daniel Knoll troubleshooting a Jaguar XJ40
Source: Thomas Koy
The welding machine used to be the most important tool used by car mechanics, but it is now the diagnostic device. Because the highly complex technology of youngtimers is increasingly becoming a problem.
A.In the parking lot belonging to Daniel Knoll’s garage there are a few old cars from England. "They only serve as part donors," says the 45-year-old electrical engineer who runs a specialist workshop for vintage cars in Stahnsdorf near Berlin operates. At first glance, the cannibalized vehicles don’t look too bad. But because of their electronics problems, they are no longer worth repairing.
Even the silver jaguar XJ 6C built in 1975, which is currently on the lifting platform, does not suffer from the outside, but deep inside. A rare and timelessly beautiful car, only it doesn’t start anymore. “Many screwdrivers are already desperate about the Prince of Darkness,” he says, leaning over the engine compartment.
“Prince of Darkness” sounds like a fantasy novel. In fact, it is a household word among classic Jaguar owners. The evil prince refers to the electronics manufacturer Lucas, who supplied the British automotive industry until the 1990s and made sure that the lights went out on many Jaguar cars.
The screwdriver scene is changing. Cars used to die of rust. Thousands upon thousands ended up in the scrap press because their body had turned into a ruin. And if these vehicles did survive and passed into the hands of enthusiasts, then their owners are usually still busy fighting the rust to this day. The welding machine was the most important utensil in a restoration workshop.
Malade cable harnesses, creeping currents that are difficult to locate: the complexity of their vehicles is becoming more and more of a problem for youngtimer drivers
Source: Thomas Koy
In the meantime it is more and more popular as a diagnostic device. Because the younger the old and young timesr, the more problems the electronics cause. The cars that came on the market 30 years ago were often very good in terms of their sheet metal substance. Later examples of Daimler’s S-Class-W126 series, for example, but also bread-and-butter cars like the Audi 80 B3 rolled off the production line with galvanized sheet metal. For this, the technology became more and more complex.
"There used to be three reasons why an engine didn’t run," explains Daniel Knoll: "No fuel, no air or no sparks." When you look into the engine compartment of an Opel C-Kadett or Ford Taunus from the seventies, you are surprised how wonderfully tidy everything looks there. Engine, carburetor, ignition system, that’s it. Today, however, the engine compartments are filled to the last centimeter, everything is full of cables, sensors and ancillary units.
The first 16-valve and turbo engines came out in large-scale production in the mid / late 1980s. Whether the Opel Kadett GSi or Honda CRX: Suddenly, normal earners could also drive powerful cars with 150 or more horsepower. The basic principle was the same for all manufacturers. An optimal firing curve brings the best possible performance out of the displacement.
Looking for the defect
But in order to get more and more horsepower out of the machines, more and more processes in the engine had to be monitored: How good is the fuel? How much air is there right now? Does the fuel burn optimally in the combustion chambers? "In order to measure this, there must be computers," explains Daniel Knoll. Knock sensors, air mass meters, throttle valve potentiometers – parts are installed everywhere that tell the control unit what state the engine is currently in.
But computers can break. They age just like sheet metal. A rusty wheel arch or a hole in the sill catches everyone’s eye. First of all, you have to find the reason for an electronic defect. Control units were already being installed in the 1970s, but their number was still very limited. Had a VW Golf II just two control units (for engine and overrun fuel cut-off), there were four in the Golf III (engine, ABS, airbag, automatic transmission) and 45 in the VW Golf IV.
“That was a leap in complexity,” says Stephan Joest, electronics expert at Deuvet, the old-timer umbrella organization in Dusseldorf. As a particularly bizarre example, Joest mentions the VW Phaeton, which is already on the way to becoming a youngtimer. You should only buy this car if you are an electronics expert: 3860 meters of cable are built into it and 2110 cut-to-size cables. “In other words, highly complex and, from a statistical point of view, highly susceptible,” says Stephan Joest.
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The development worries the Deuvet, because its primary goal is the preservation of automotive cultural assets. But a normal car workshop is not in a position to understand how electronic components work – "unless you connect a diagnostic device," explains Joest.
But even then you may only know which component has a problem. But not why. For example, oldie electrician Knoll spent five hours looking for a Jaguar XJ 40 until he found the reason for an ABS error message from the on-board computer: a corroded contact on the sensor on the front wheel. Knoll changed the lead from the sensor to the wiring harness. problem solved.
But often things don’t end so well. "Sometimes I also have to tell customers that their car can no longer be repaired at a reasonable cost," says Knoll. The Jaguar XJ 40 is one of those cars that many youngtimer enthusiasts use to make themselves known. The noble limousines once cost around 80,000 marks upwards, today the dealers almost throw you the cars for 3000 euros and less. The reason: The XJ 40 may be a chic classic with all kinds of comfort extras. But in old age these extras often give up the job.
Spare parts become as valuable as gold dust
The S-Class of the early 1990s, the W140, is a prime example of this phenomenon. Helmut Kohl liked to be chauffeured in the two-ton vehicle. Automatically closing doors, parking aid, various driver assistants: the engineers came up with wonderful things for the W140 to make the journey as comfortable as possible for the occupants. But with age, these complex electronics often start to spin. "And then you are lost as an ordinary screwdriver," says Daniel Knoll.
But it doesn’t have to be an S-Class. An E-Class is enough to make you lose heart. Like Tobias Melchow. The Berliner has been driving a W124 for a year, which is often referred to as the “last real Mercedes” because of its solid construction. But for a few months now, the 22-year-old car has been plagued by strange engine failures at higher revs.
His workshop tapped a ramshackle wiring harness and replaced the part. New price at Daimler: 800 euros, without installation. But the dropouts remained. In the meantime, the suspicion lies with the throttle valve, but the air mass meter, the overvoltage relay or the camshaft sensor are also possible culprits. “I’m slowly desperate,” complains the young timer driver.
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After all, most parts are still available as replacements for a 1990s E-Class, even if they are expensive. It looks different with other models and manufacturers, usually the answer is: “No longer available.” Jaguar drivers are also familiar with this problem, for example Lucas control units. If such a part quits its service, then it is difficult if not impossible to find a replacement. Because the automobile manufacturers usually no longer carry such old parts.
The silver XJ6C on Daniel Knoll’s lifting platform also has Lucas components installed. The series suffers particularly often from malfunctioning engine wiring harnesses. As an example, the electrical engineer holds up an engine control unit for a Jaguar XJS. “Many control units are no longer new,” he explains. And if such a part does show up on the parts market, it’s gold dust. "That can also cost up to 2000 euros."
New fields of work could arise
In order to improve the supply of electronic spare parts, Deuvet demands "strategic measures" from the automobile manufacturers, for example the archiving of source codes and accompanying media as well as software and hardware. The increasing technical or electronic complexity of youngtimers could also lead to new fields of work opening up, for example the profession of "digital restorer" or "digital archivist".
Daniel Knoll is more skeptical. At the moment he is one of the few experts who specialize in the electrics of classic cars. “Hardly anyone wants to do electrics,” says the 45-year-old. 20 inspections are more financially worthwhile for a workshop than spending hours troubleshooting an old car.
The post was updated on October 17, 2017.
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