Youngtimers have electronic problems more and more often

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Electronics are the new grid

Youngtimers have electronic problems more and more often-parts become valuable gold dust

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.

Youngtimers have electronic problems more and more often-electronic

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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12 thoughts on “Youngtimers have electronic problems more and more often”

  1. Well, I guess I did everything right. Dash-8, W123, Peugeot 205GT, Fiat 500 (old) and 190E. The latter has already made a couple of control units, but very solid. I haven’t had a retirement yet, even though the vehicle is approaching 30. There are no longer any newer vehicles – out, end. The dash-8 will ALWAYS drive – because NO electronics. The Fiat 500 anyway. With the others, well, I’m not so sure yet.

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  2. A friend of mine works in electronics development for an automotive supplier. He once told me about their effort to develop sensors, which also includes the provision of an adequate storage system, correct packaging, choice of materials, protective coatings, manufacturing processes, etc. in order to achieve the longest possible service life. And despite everything, he said that there are decomposition and conversion processes at the smallest level that lead to electronic components only having a limited lifespan and failing at some point – even if they are slumbering in a warehouse in their original packaging and never installed. That will be the death of all vehicles at some point…
    Freely programmable engine control units have been known in motorsport and tuning for years. Perhaps a developer will recognize the signs of the times and build a family of control units, which can then emulate an original control unit. It would be a shame if the body were to be fully galvanized "eternal" lives and the defect of earlier Cent articles mean the end.

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  3. In various PS articles from various magazines, one is soon beaten into the fact that only and exclusively the extremely motorized models equipped with all the bells and whistles are interesting. Nobody can fight this humbug anymore, but these are the tips that make life difficult. The early highly developed engines in particular must be treated with great care. In addition: What is not built in cannot break. life can be so easy.

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  4. How do you repair these young timers in countries where there are even fewer spare parts, let alone diagnostic devices?

    There you remove the components that are not so important and improvise.

    Is also possible

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  5. You don’t need to look back that many years…
    Clio 3 BJ 2006, purchase price 1000 €. After 3 months, the engine electronics flooded because leaves and dirt clogged the drain on the cowl. Repair costs: 500 €. Clio’s disease and a known design flaw. Shortly afterwards, the electronic power steering says goodbye. € 200 for an overhauled steering system, € 75 for flashing the control unit. New price at Renault directly with installation and training around 1000 €. In addition, a few small things repaired here and there. Sold after 1 year for 1200 € – after about 3 months of standing around without much interest in buying. If I had known about the upcoming Odyssey earlier, you could have held a match right after the engine failure…
    All of a sudden, my E46 blew only digitally from the air conditioning: all or nothing. The blower stage was broken. Cost 50 € and 30 minutes of fiddling. Don’t want to know what BMW would have wanted for it….

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  6. Unfortunately, electronics is a problem in almost all cars – even very young ones – mainly because the so-called specialist companies rarely have competent staff for this topic.

    The situation is even more blatant with, for example, boilers. Good iron quality leads to a very long shelf life (theoretically). Then the specialist stands in front of it (when the box goes on strike and looks like a pig into the clockwork). I recently had several times.

    No wonder given the current good school education with a focus on languages ​​and all sorts of other skills.

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  7. You raised a real problem! The dimension behind it is enormous. Anyone who buys complicated building technology now will not find anyone who can do it in 10 years’ time. You just throw a car away. But a house can quickly become very expensive if you suddenly need good craftsmen!

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  8. The ABS control unit of my 99 5 series BMW was defective, at some point during the construction period BMW said it would be moved from the interior to the engine compartment next to the manifold. Very hot and very cold are not electronics’ best friends. The repair took 45 minutes and cost 170 € (nice hourly wage), a new one would have cost 500 € plus installation and training. The repaired one has lasted for almost two years. Furthermore, I have voltage fluctuations when the seat heating is on, then the cockpit gets lighter and darker and even the taillights. Well, it’s an old car, with the newer I certainly wouldn’t have any fewer problems.

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  9. "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."

    Sorry, but that – exactly like that – was a hidden mistake in my journeyman examination (2011). Transfer resistance on the plug contact of the wheel speed sensor was the correct solution at this test station. It was a BMW E46 328i. So not a vehicle that is easy to get to everywhere. There was a default time of 30 minutes and it was definitely feasible.

    Such errors are easy to measure out; The fact that he often advises his customers against financially viable repairs does not surprise me at all with 5 hours for the most common electronic faults after a cable break.

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  10. The old V8 with error tolerances beyond good and bad, rigid axle and leaf springs, can be brought to the blacksmith if necessary (in a figurative sense). Also has something for itself…

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  11. It will get worse with the electric car. Less mechanics but everything electronic with countless assistants. What I find out is that the built-in electronic parts are the cheapest in the auto industry that the market has to offer and are sold at high prices. Compared to the high-end mainboard and graphics card of my PC where the best components are installed, what is currently available. Then also the pharmacy prices from the control units in the vehicle.

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  12. The assistants have nothing to do with the electric car; they are built into all types of vehicle.
    Except for the power electronics (ok, that’s enough) an electric vehicle probably has almost fewer mechanics and electronic components than a vehicle with a combustion engine and Euro 6 emissions classification.

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