Will In-Car Tech Last as Long as the Car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 13, 2015

Dear Car Talk:

I keep my cars for about 10 years and drive a lot of miles. I am ready for my next car, and am considering the new Lexus NX 200t with the four-cylinder turbo. My concern is that these new cars have a lot of high-tech gadgets, like adaptive cruise controls, a system that keeps you in your lane, cameras and sensors all around the car, and most especially the turbo system. Will these gadgets last 10 years or so?

-- Jose

I suspect they will, Jose.

This is a very nice car, by the way: powerful, comfortable, practical, reliable and good-looking to boot -- all the things I'm not. You can read our Test Drive Notes on the Lexus at our website, www.cartalk.com.

The safety technologies they're using are pretty basic computer and sensor technologies. Sonar and radar have been used for generations on more-expensive vehicles -- like planes and ships. It's only recently that they've been miniaturized and mass-produced on a large enough scale to make them cost-effective in cars. And now they're trickling down from luxury cars to the heaps most of us drive.

The technologies are all great. If I were buying a new car, I'd get every one of them. For instance, lots of cars now come with blind-spot warning, which tells you if there's a car pulling up alongside of you before you change lanes. It's fabulous.

You can now get adaptive cruise control, which detects when cars in front of you are slowing down and automatically slows the car, then speeds it back up. Some even work in stop-and-go traffic.

And best of all, a technology called pre-collision braking is seeping into more and more cars. If you're looking away from the road to text your bookie, for instance, and a car in front of you suddenly slows down, the system will warn you, and even stop the car for you if you don't stop it yourself.

The system can sense if you're closing in on a hazard up ahead, how quickly you're approaching it and whether your foot is already on the brake (i.e., if you're paying attention). And if it needs to, it'll hit the brakes to keep you from crashing. It could save a lot of lives. And downgrade the lifestyles of a lot of autobody-shop owners.

Of course, these technologies all are precursors to the self-driving car -- which will add steering, navigation and car-to-car communication to the mix and allow you to text your bookie all you want.

It's not that I think these technologies are infallible; everything can potentially break at some point. Thank goodness for that, or we mechanics would never make our monthly boat payments. But the electronic safety systems seem pretty reliable so far. They perform really well, in our experience. And their benefits absolutely outweigh the risks of having to repair them someday.

As far as your turbo is concerned, turbos were always designed to last the life of the car. Unfortunately, back in the old days, they rarely did. Back in the '70s and '80s, it wasn't uncommon for turbos to overheat and cake the oil and ruin the engine. They'd do that at about 75,000 miles. That was always good for several boat payments. But with the advent of synthetic oil and, mostly likely, improved design, turbos generally do last the life of the car. We almost never see turbo failures anymore.

So I'd say go for it, Jose. And when you're ready to sell it with 200,000 miles on it, give me a call.


Get the Car Talk Newsletter