Q: In the last three months, we’ve watched several television shows with plots that involved a criminal hacking into an automobile’s computer to take control of the vehicle and cause a fatal crash. Is this possible?
A: Theoretically, yes, but a single vehicle owner is unlikely to be targeted. Though some models may be more vulnerable than others, any car with an internet connection, Bluetooth connectivity or a Wi-Fi hotspot can, in theory, be hacked.
Perhaps the most famous demonstration of this vulnerability occurred six years ago for Wired magazine. In this exercise, two hackers successfully took control of a Jeep Cherokee’s brakes, steering, gas pedal and climate control. All it took was a laptop computer, an internet connection, knowledge of the car’s IP address and more than a year of development work. During this time, they kept Jeep informed of their activity, and the company was ready with a fix.
To protect yourself, verify with a franchised dealer that your car is using the latest software. Then take care in selecting apps that are used on devices linked to your vehicle and review the content of any flash drive that will be connected to your car’s USB port. Or, you can buy that 1965 collector car you’ve always wanted. Hacking it would be like trying to hack a manual typewriter.
A SLIPPERY SLOPE
Q: Our new house has a steeply sloped driveway. When we park either of our cars in the driveway, we have a very hard time shifting out of Park. There is no problem when we park on a level surface. A technician suggested expensive repairs requiring the removal and disassembly of the transmissions. Is there another option?
A: When you shift a car into Park, you are placing the transmission in Neutral and pushing a small metal pin, called a parking pawl, into the output shaft of the transmission. This maneuver keeps the car from rolling away.
Usually, the parking pawl has little to do, but if you park on a steep slope, you will end up placing the weight of the car on this little piece of metal. This can make shifting out of Park a physical challenge, if not impossible. If the weight of the car damages the parking pawl, replacing it will be expensive.
Fortunately, there is a simple alternative that may eliminate your problem. It is called the parking brake. Set it, shift to neutral, and then remove your foot from the brake pedal. If the car moves, set the parking brake more firmly until the car stops rolling. Then shift to Park. Doing this means the weight of the car is held by the parking brake, with the parking pawl serving as a backup to keep the car from rolling away.
When you return to the car, shift out of park before releasing the parking brake. This is actually the technique everyone should use when parking a car.