Car Computer Systems: A Brief Guide for Those Considering Automotive School

Auto mechanic uses the tablet to check.
Car computer systems are responsible for ensuring that a vehicle’s engine runs efficiently, and that the car is safe to operate. Made up of an advanced network of sensors and microprocessors, car computer systems control a variety of mechanical systems within a vehicle, utilizing advanced technologies to communicate. While prior to the 1980s, computer systems were not used in cars, today every modern vehicle is equipped with some form of automotive computer. 
If you’re seeking a career as a mechanic, your technological skills will come in handy when it comes to working with car computers to diagnose and repair a number of different automotive issues. Let’s take a closer look here, with an introductory guide to car computer systems to learn more about their function and purpose.

The Function of Car Computer Systems Explained for Those in Auto Mechanic Training

A vehicle’s computer has many different functions, controlling a variety of aspects of a vehicle’s performance and operation. The car computer receives information on the status of a vehicle from many different sensors, including the air pressure sensor, air temperature sensor, engine temperature sensor, the knock sensor, the throttle position sensor, and the oxygen sensor. The computer processes the information it receives in order to control other components of a vehicle and achieve optimum engine performance and minimize emissions. The spark plugs, fuel injectors and idle speed are all examples of components directly controlled by the vehicle’s computer. 

Car computer systems utilize sensors to control the operation of a vehicle
Car computer systems utilize sensors to control the operation of a vehicle

As you may learn during auto mechanic training, a vehicle may be equipped with multiple computers, depending on how advanced its technology is. For example, vehicles with automatic transmission may be equipped with a computer designed to control the speed of the vehicle. Other common vehicle computers include those for air bag systems, climate control systems, cruise control systems, anti-lock braking systems, and more.

The Communication System of Car Computers Explained

Car computers are equipped with complex communication systems that enable the data obtained from different computers and sensors to be transmitted throughout the vehicle. This communication system is called the CANbus network, which can be described as a constant flow of information through the use of signals broadcasted across the network. While the electronic features of vehicles were controlled by a network of wires running between different components, the CANbus network was developed in the mid-1980s in order to mitigate the need for excessive wiring in a vehicle. CANbus only requires one central wiring system, enabling rapid communication between a vehicle’s different components and sensors.

The CANbus network controls the communication within a vehicle’s computer system
The CANbus network controls the communication within a vehicle’s computer system

Common Problems with Car Computers

While the technology utilized within car computers has come a long way, these systems can still create problems. Once you become a mechanic, your knowledge of car computer systems will enable you to diagnose and repair issues that occur in them. As an example, car computer systems may experience electrical shorts, as their sensor circuits are often vulnerable to overloading. Additionally, malfunctioning sensors can result in inaccurate inputs, leading to problems throughout the network. Lastly, just like any other component of a vehicle, car computer systems are not immune to corrosion, vibration, and high temperatures, all of which can damage these systems. Throughout your auto career, make sure to look out for the signs that a vehicle’s computer system isn’t working properly, as your ability to spot a problem will enable you to keep drivers safe on the road.
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