Top 12 emerging technologies

Nov. 3, 2010

Technology is advancing rapidly, with automakers jumping through hoops to offer the “latest and greatest,” both to meet ever-more-stringent federal mandates and to make their vehicles more appealing to the buying public.

Listed here is what we feel are significant technologies that tire dealers and service shops will likely face in the near future.


Since it’s obvious that the roadways are in short supply of “smart drivers,” the “smart car” of today and tomorrow will incorporate an increasing number of “accident avoidance” systems.

These systems, to name but a few, will address closing speeds (“forward alert” to either alert the driver of an oncoming obstacle, where the braking system engages automatically), back-up warnings, blind-spot alerts, lane change/merge monitoring and warning, and road departure (alerting the driver that the vehicle is wandering away from the marked roadway).

Mercedes-Benz has designed a “braking bag” (displayed in their 2009 S400 Hybrid) that is situated in the vehicle floor. If a pre-crash sensor determines that an impact is unavoidable, the braking bag is deployed shortly before the crash and contacts the road surface, stabilizing the vehicle via a friction coating. This helps to decelerate the vehicle (vehicle acceleration increases the friction, serving to slow the vehicle — a sort of expanding skidplate that scrapes the road in an effort to slow the vehicle).

Warning alerts and sensors may be either optical (i.e. cameras) or radar based.

Systems also are being developed to minimize pedestrian injury by deploying external airbags in the event of a vehicle-pedestrian collision. Software and sensors also are being developed that will (in theory) actually identify a pedestrian based on movement and surface texture.

We’re definitely entering the Buck Rogers era of technology. Shop techs can now look forward to facing an increasing use of video, radar and sonar systems. Unless you want the vehicle to be referred back to the dealer, you’ll need to become familiar with these systems and their circuits.



It’s no secret that the service industry will be facing the challenge of dealing with hybrid engine systems (systems that combine a gasoline, ethanol or diesel internal combustion engine along with electric motors and regeneration braking systems). In addition, the internal combustion engine continues to develop in the pursuit of lower emissions and improved fuel economy.

Towards this end, we will likely see more of a trend toward intake and exhaust valve control via hydraulics and/or electronic solenoids.

NOTE: Hybrid systems feature extremely high voltage levels in their battery packs, and specific hybrid system training is absolutely essential in order to service these systems, both in terms of diagnostics and repair and to avoid injury to the technician.

While the use of hydraulics to control (de-active) select valves/cylinders is nothing new (General Motors Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., BMW Group and others have been using these approaches for years), we can expect to see more systems that “de-activate” select cylinders to improve fuel economy (and to activate cylinders according to engine load demands).

In addition, we can expect to see engines that do not utilize camshafts for valve operation, but instead use a series of solenoids, with valve “switching” controlled by an electronic control unit (ECU), controlling not only when a valve opens and closes, but the duration as well. The goal is to improve the engine’s breathing (performance and economy) under idle, low-load and high-load conditions.

The increased use of “exotic” component materials is always a potential development (increased use of titanium or sophisticated composites for lighter weight, ceramics for better heat deflection, etc.). Of course, unless you’re an engine builder, these material developments may not have a direct impact on your business.

Also, especially for low-ride-height sports car applications, expect to see an increased use of dry sump systems, where the engine oil reservoir is remotely mounted and plumbed to the engine, which allows the use of a shallow oil pan and a crankshaft-driven external oil pump (the pan serves only as an enclosure, instead of an oil reservoir).

Dry sump systems have been commonly used in race cars for decades, with the trickle-down effect now entering mainstream production vehicles. One example of current dry sump use is the Corvette equipped with the LS7 engine. Dry sump systems also allow more-immediate oil delivery to critical engine areas.



Look forward to new and different tire pressure monitoring systems. A sensor (mounted to the inside of the tire as opposed to the wheel) may monitor not only inflation pressure, but lateral forces and loading as well.

The systems will alert the driver when more (or less) inflation pressure is warranted, based on operating conditions, which can include hot/cold ambient temperatures, when the recommended inflation pressure is reached during manual inflation, and possibly more. Data received from the tire sensor may also share this information with other vehicle systems such as ABS to help optimize braking performance. The new tire sensor systems may also have the capability to transmit warning signals to nearby (similarly equipped) vehicles if tire slip is encountered (icy road surface, etc.).


Once an aftermarket add-on for motorhomes and tow-vehicles, rear-view camera systems are becoming more common as optional equipment on passenger cars. A rear-mounted video camera (mounted on the rear hatch, bumper area or license frame area) sends a video signal to a dash-mounted monitor. Automakers may refer to this as a backup camera, a parking-assist video system, parking guidance, rearview monitoring system, etc. Expect to see more of this technology, and not only for viewing what’s behind the vehicle — expect to see side and rear-quarter area video, as well.


Incandescent light bulbs are increasingly becoming a thing of the past, being replaced with LED lighting “clusters.” Instead of replacing a bulb, now you’ll be replacing an array of LED units, which, depending on the application, can be a bit on the pricey side.

Night vision capabilities also are being adapted to vehicles, allowing drivers to view dark roadways, pedestrians, animals, etc., via an infrared camera and display screen.

Be aware that in some applications, removal of the front bumper fascia may be necessary to perform a light replacement, so be sure to check with the vehicle repair manual before quoting a labor price.


In an effort to take advantage of available technology (and to make our lives more miserable), an increasing number of vehicle systems are, and will be, operated by electronic signals as opposed to cables and linkages.

“Fly by wire” technology is here to stay, with increasing use in areas such as throttle, steering, braking, etc. Expect to see more of this. The automakers obviously like this concept, since it reduces weight and the cost involved in a variety of traditional linkages, cables, brackets and pivots.



While the use of diesel engines has long been viewed as the domain of commercial trucks and equipment and heavy-duty passenger pickup trucks, we’re seeing more diesel applications today (many that also run on E85) with plenty more to come. The reasons: better fuel mileage and more torque (great for towing, obviously).

While the diesel engine has traditionally been “urban unfriendly” in terms of operating noise and exhaust smoke, car makers have made — and continue to make — great strides in efficiency (less smoke) and noise levels, making diesels much more palatable for the average motorist.

Just about every marque now offers a diesel, including Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Isuzu, Jeep (Grand Cherokee and Liberty), Lincoln, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Pontiac, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

In short, it’s time for your shop technicians to begin boning up on current diesel technology.


A multiplexed CAN Bus (Controller Area Network) is a system that connects ECUs to specific “controlled” systems, using a one- or two-wire communication line. The CAN system was originated by Bosch in the mid-1980s and began use in high-end luxury production vehicles as early as 1992. Applications for a wider variety of vehicles began around 2003. Its use is becoming more common in virtually all production vehicles.

CAN Bus allows all of the modules and ECUs to communicate with each other using a common data bus circuit.

Each system features a module, or “node,” that connects to the CAN Bus system. Each module features its own “address” on the network. This allows each module to receive inputs, while ignoring data information for other modules on the network. Each module receives its own “coded” message. The CAN Bus system reduces the number of wires needed, but incorporates a greater number of increasingly complex modules.

From a service standpoint, problems with the modules may occur (if grounded, if battery voltage drops, etc.) to the point where the module(s) operating code may be lost, requiring a re-learn. If a module requires re-learning, a factory-type scan tool will be needed to bring the module back to life.

Systems that are (or will be) controlled through this network include turn signals, dash displays, ABS, power windows, GPS, electronic throttle valve, fuel injection, active suspension, keyless entry, climate control, electric-assist power steering, steer-by-wire, brake-by-wire, adaptive cruise control, force-feedback accelerator pedal, sunroof, power seat, airbags, etc.

In a conventional electrical circuit, each voltage signal between components requires its own dedicated wire. The voltage —supplied via a switch or sensor — controls the operation of a component. In a multiplex circuit, a computer chip on one end of a single wire can transmit a series of coded voltage signals that are interpreted by a computer chip at the other end (the chip inside an ECU).

In theory, each module sends signals to the network to verify its operating condition. In theory, the network will be alerted if a module has a problem. However, it’s possible for a malfunctioning module to also create interference that can fool the system into thinking that other modules also have a glitch. As more and more electrical systems and gadgets are added to the vehicle, the CAN Bus system will become more complex. It should be clear that training is essential for your tech personnel to stay updated with regard to this network approach, since problems may become more difficult to trace.

While CAN Bus systems are already solidly in place, expect to see more individual circuits added to this multiplexing network.



Also known as “human machine interface,” heads-up displays provide pertinent information for the driver, displayed on the inside of the windshield (vehicle speed, ambient/road temperature, oil pressure, water temperature, cruise control setting data, GPS directional information, etc.). This allows the driver to obtain and monitor information without the need to avert attention from the road to the dash cluster.

Originated in combat aircraft applications, this technology will see increased use in passenger car applications.


Expect to see more electronic steering assist applications (ESA). This concept, in a nutshell, allows the driver to more quickly swerve to avoid a potential collision. This system doesn’t remove steering control from the driver, rather, it uses wheel speed and braking data to alter the torque required to operate an electronic rack and pinion unit.

The ESA reduces required steering wheel torque in the direction that you want to swerve and increases torque in the opposite direction. This enables the driver to better maintain control during a “panic” steering maneuver.


From a geometry, measuring and adjustment aspect, wheel alignment theory and practice essentially remains unchanged (camber, cast, toe, SAI, Ackerman angle, etc.).

One area to keep an eye on will be the need to re-set the vehicle’s steering angle sensor. Traditionally, adjusting the toe setting was the final step in wheel alignment. Today and in the future, with vehicles that feature steering angle sensor technology, the final step requires re-setting of this sensor, based on the finalized wheel angles.

Major alignment equipment makers have addressed this issue by offering recalibration capabilities as part of their equipment package.


One change that is currently taking place, and one that will continue to evolve, is the composition of brake pads. On a state-by-state level, copper content in the friction material is being phased out due to concerns for water-table contamination.

According to Wagner Brake Products’ friction technical specialist Dr. James Fash, by the year 2021, all brake pad manufacturers will be required to produce brake pads that contain no more than 5% copper by weight. The long-term intent (again, per state mandates) is to eventually eliminate the use of copper in friction material.

This move has no real effect on repair facilities, other than the importance of being aware of any legislation regarding pad material when selecting replacement pads. Copper is an important element in brake pads (regarding heat transfer and friction interface with the rotor), and development is underway by pad makers to determine suitable replacement materials, such as the use of composite fibers.

Naturally, leading brake friction manufacturers must also continue to consider consumer demands for quiet brake operation and reduced pad dust emission, while maintaining or improving frictional qualities. Their task isn’t an easy one.

Brake rotors will, in all likelihood, continue to be made of cast iron, due to its exceptional thermal performance and cost benefits. However, rotor manufacturers are exploring various surface treatments and coatings to reduce or eliminate rotor corrosion potential, such as the use of ferro nitriding. This is worth mentioning with regard to rotor resurfacing, since any specialty coatings or surface treatments may be eliminated if the rotor disc surfaces are machined beyond an acceptable limit.

Brake caliper materials continue to feature either cast iron or aluminum, with perhaps greater use of aluminum from a weight-savings standpoint (driven primarily by the nation’s increased concern for fuel economy).  Electronically actuated brake calipers (true fly-by-wire operation) is still years away. However, we will be seeing a greater use of electronic parking brake systems. The cable-puller systems are being superseded by a system that includes a dedicated electric motor and planetary-gear-driven-apply mechanism integrated into the caliper. This trend, initially found on “higher-end” vehicles, will likely trickle-down in coming years to include a wider variety of vehicle models.

About the Author

Mike Mavrigian

Longtime automotive industry journalist and Modern Tire Dealer contributor Mike Mavrigian also is the editor of MTD’s sister publication, Auto Service Professional. Mavrigian received a bachelors degree from Youngstown State University in English literature with a minor in journalism in 1975.