Last week I was riding high—figuratively and literally. I had a 2017 F-350 four-wheel drive, Powerstroke pickup at my disposal for a full seven days. Equipped with a Lariat trim package, this truck had no shortage of high-end features and a host of computer-controlled smart technology.
Of course, Ford didn’t just give me this truck because they liked me. It was here so I could do an extended road test, put it through its paces at a variety of jobs, and then publish a report in an upcoming issue of Grainews. It’s a dirty job, I know. But someone has to do it.
During the downtimes, however, it was parked in my driveway beside my own, older Super Duty pickup, which is a bottom-of-the-line XLT model that spent its formative years as a police truck before being retired from the force and ending up with me. So you can image the difference in options and interior comfort between the high-end F-350 and it.
When a friend pulled into the yard and saw the shiny new truck, he just assumed I had upgraded. Sadly, I had to set him straight. I didn’t own it. And it sort of seemed like my own truck—if it had a mind—made the same assumption, that it was being replaced. As if to voice its objection to the younger upstart parked beside it, my own Super Duty simply refused to start—for the first time ever!
Coincidence? I wonder.
The computer in the new truck was functioning perfectly, controlling everything from injector timing to the adaptive cruise control. The computer in my truck, on the other hand, didn’t have all those chores to handle, but it suddenly decided it didn’t even want to recognize the ignition key. So I could unlock the doors, listen to the radio, but not start the engine. I was stuck there (except I had the new F350 if I needed to go anywhere.)
It kind of reminded me of that exchange in the movie “2001: A space odyssey”, when the actor asked the computer to do something it didn’t want to. “Open the pod bay doors, Hal,” he said. “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” was the response. Hal wouldn’t let the crew out.
Now, of course, I know the computer in my truck is no Hal 9000, and it can’t argue with me—or can it? But that incident drives home this point: the days of grabbing a screwdriver and a couple of wrenches and dealing with most problems in a modern vehicle or machine are well and truly over. Getting my truck to work properly again is going to require someone with special tools, which will allow them to convince Hal to close the ignition circuit and let the engine run—opening the pod bay doors, so to speak. Either that or he gets replaced.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of all the things digital technology can do in modern machinery. Clearly, it’s driving vehicle and equipment design forward, and we’re never going back to the days of pickup trucks with carbureted engines and a “three-on-the-tree” gearshift.
But there are days when I think I’d be much happier with dumbed-down technology again. And I wonder what the future has in store for more modern vehicles like that F-350, which has many times the level of technology in my older truck. What will the maintenance picture look like for it or any other highly sophisticated, computer-controlled machine in 10 or 20 years?