Vehicles getting too techy

Published 10:58 am Thursday, July 30, 2015

So, did a recent “Wired” magazine article bring your complacency about automotive safety and privacy to a screeching halt?

“Wired” assigned two security experts to attempt hacking into the “brain” of a Jeep Cherokee. Working from home, they were able to control the stereo, air conditioner, transmission and brakes of the vehicle, while the driver struggled to remain in charge.

The hackers didn’t even bring out the big guns, like remotely causing the license plate to morph into a Confederate flag, inflicting male pattern baldness on the fuzzy dice or directing Siri to ask, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Make Johnny quit looking at me!”

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Some vehicles are safer than others; but given all of today’s navigation systems, smartphone-syncing setups and other electronic doodads, the problem goes far beyond Jeep.

The opportunities for eavesdropping and mayhem by car thieves, pranksters, paranoid bosses, spy agencies and terrorists are mind-boggling. It’s an Orwellian nightmare. (Especially if someone writes malicious code to run down people who are always saying “Orwellian nightmare.”)

It gets scarier. With self-driving cars on the horizon, you might just soil the “rich Corinthian leather.”

My own rattletrap pick-up truck is vulnerable enough, but at least it could only be reprogrammed via smoke signals or Morse Code. And the manual windows are still just bison hides scraped really thin.

We are ill-prepared for a world in which “dealer prep” includes administering last rites, in which “your mileage may vary” is replaced by “your ritual beheadings may vary,” in which “under factory invoice” is replaced by “under a parking lot somewhere in Jersey.”

Henry Ford allegedly said that consumers could have any color of car they wanted, as long as it was black. Now the philosophy is, “You can have any personality of car you want, as long as you rooted for the title character in Stephen King’s ‘Christine.’”

I worry about the cardiac health of all the valet parkers who will be able to drive your vehicle like maniacs without even getting off their lazy duffs.

On a positive note, the next “Fast & Furious” movie can be filmed with more crashes, on a shoestring budget, unless those spoiled stars kick out a window and escape.

Of course I’m not so sure deliberate tampering would be any worse than the aggravation we have to put up with from automotive SENSORS, which must be made of reconstituted, extra-fragile Magic 8-Balls. Admit it: you get tired of (presumably) false warnings from your ashtray, such as “Attention! You have just struck a unicorn while driving 350 mph at a depth of 20,000 leagues.”

What exactly is the automotive industry doing about the threat? Mostly saying things like, “Um, here are about 10 years’ worth of coffee and doughnuts in the Customer Comfort Area. Enjoy, while I run a few numbers past my lawyer…er, manager.”

What can the poor consumer do, besides scour the used-car lots for low-tech vehicles? (“We won’t steer you wrong — and neither will your girlfriend’s crazy ex!”)

At least wear a parachute in case someone activates those ejector seats. You know, the ones that have been standard-issue in all American-made vehicles since 1965, but the automakers have been too wimpy to tell anybody about them and rile up the Ian Fleming estate.

Oops. Now they’ll have to kill me.

Can I at least get a horse-drawn hearse?


Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”. Danny’s’ weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.