Monday, July 26, 2010

Hack your car

In the good old days, modifying your car was a physical affair. Messing with needle jets. Bolting on goodies. Tweaking stuff here and there. Whilst a lot of this is still true, more and more you'll find people modifying their cars with a cable and a laptop. Essentially, it's now possible to hack your car. Anything from minor functional changes to full-on engine remaps are all possible, but for the DIY-er, it's generally best to stick to the less risky end of things. I'll give you an example. My new VW Tiguan came with a lot of nanny features - things that were put there to appease the lawyers but have no real purpose. With the right piece of kit, I've been able to modify my car to suit my tastes. In this case I've used a Ross-Tech MicroCan. It's a package with a piece of software for my laptop, and a USB cable with an OBD2 connector on the other end. Using their software, I've been able to turn off the seatbelt warning chime, turn off the daytime running lights, make it so that I can have high beams and fog lights on together, alter the behaviour of the trunk release (so it now opens, instead of just unlocking) and a bevvy of other minor tweaks and mods. The interesting thing with VW in particular is that a lot of options for their European models are available, but simply disabled in the onboard system for the US. Using the software, I've been able to re-enable those features.
The other nice thing about this particular piece of kit is that it allows me to see DTC and error codes - the things that turn on check engine lights - and clear them if I want. I can even reprogram my own TPMS monitors when switching from summer to winter wheels and back.
It's the brave new world of car modifying - try it - you'll like it.


Ars.Gladius said...

I've read your page on Nanny Cars and agree with what you were saying there.

I can see turning off the seatbelt chime if you habitually use your seat belt anyway.

But why kill the daytime running lights?

It's bad enough that most cars don't have any marker lights on anymore, save for their headlights and sometimes not even those, unless you turn the light switch all the way on.

Personally I'd like to see all cars have their rear running lights and headlights turn on (dimmed) as soon as the engine is running, and normal brightness on the headlights as soon as it is in gear.

Why? Because no one seems to be bothered enough to turn their lights on until they can't see the instrument cluster and by then is well past dusk. For the sake of the rest of the people on the road, the extra visibility of any car is always a plus.

Chris said...

I disable the DRLs for three reasons. First because the original light switch had on and off positions. The DRLs made the lights come on all the time so the light switch was totally redundant - off meant "on" and on meant "on". I changed the light switch to a European version where you're still trusted to know how to turn your own lights on, and adjusted the onboard computer to turn off the DRLs.
Second, because I think its pointless having them on - in many cars they also cause the dash lights to come on and then when it goes dark, drivers think their lights are on when they're really not.
But mostly, because I ride a motorbike. Motorcyclists ride with their lights on in the daytime to make themselves more visible - being a smaller vehicle and all. The problem is now that so many cars have DRLs that the motorbikes have become invisible again. Now in your rear view mirror, instead of one light that would typically be a motorbike, it's a sea of lights and the bike is lost. I'd rather not contribute to that problem, that's all :-)

Ars.Gladius said...

Is disabling them just the headlights or your tail lights as well? Valid point if "off" is not "off" for just the headlights, but really the tail / marker lights should always be on (in my opinion anyway).

I can see your second point, my sister had bought a Honda Fit, and one of her friends had to tell her to turn her lights all the way on at night, she had just assumed that they were not very good. (RTFM)

I can also somewhat see your point about the motorcycles. Though I am not sure how much better off you'll be. Most drivers don't even see the riders that are wearing the lime green reflective jackets.

Chris said...

Off was just the headlights. Tail lights were off unless the headlight switch was on. Confusing eh?

Re: luminous jackets on bikes - no kidding. Lights, bright outerwear, loud pipes, shouting, looking at the other drivers - there's just some drivers who will never see a motorcyclist no matter how hard you try. The one who took me off on a roundabout in England never saw me even when I was hanging off the hood of her car.....

Ars.Gladius said...

I have had enough close calls with cars on just a mountain bike, that quite frankly made me never to want to try it with motorbike.

Silas said...

Trying this would require me to buy a new car, and that's unlikely. On the other hand, I can pull codes from my pre-ODB2 car without needing a reader, and my car's old enough that modifying the brick is still a physical proposition. My seatbelt chime stopped on its own, though, and I'm not going to mention it to anyone who might want me to fix it. I always wear the belt anyway.

A question - how easy are headlamp bulbs to replace on your VW? I've heard horror stories about VW bulb replacements, and if they're true, that would be a good reason to disable the DRLs.

I choose to keep my headlamps on all the time. It really is a choice, too - the off position really does turn them off. The major change I want regarding lights is allowing actual European-type lights - the rubbishy things the DOT specifies are utterly pants...

Ars.Gladius said...

I know you directed your question towards Chris and his Tig, but I also have a VW and changing bulbs are quite resonable.

For my MK III Jetta:
1) Twist the lock ring 90ish deg and remove socket / bulb.
2) Pull bulb out of socket
3) Reverse for new bulb.

Though it can be a bit tight where the lights are, but nothing horrible.

Chris said...

Yeah - easy peasy. The foglight bulbs on mine are a bit more involved - you need to undo a plastic flap in the wheel arch liner to access the back of the lamp but then it's twist-and-pull.