Last weekend at the Gorman Ridge Rally, Ryan Millen was excited to test out his newly prepped 2016 Toyota RAV4. This alternate car was made for the showroom circuit, and instead of taking the time to “fake it” the team just went ahead and built a second Rally RAV4. Part of their marketing strategy is that this car is showroom stock; Beyond safety, suspension, and tries – most of a Toyota RAV4 remains. Ryan and his co-driver Christina Fate have been competing in rally events supported by Toyota since last year. On Saturday they got 4 stages in and then never left service. Overheating? Engine troubles? Problems from a slashed tire? Nope.
The car thought it was being stolen.
“Millen/Fate were unable to leave service after stage four because the theft deterrent system on their Toyota RAV4 would not let them start the car! They hope to get it sorted out by the next service. On the plus side, it is really difficult to steal a modern Toyota!”
(From Erik Christiansen RallyData.com Live Text)
When you turn a street car into a rally car there is a list of items that you need to address. Removing the airbags, steering column lock, and adding a race steering wheel. Somewhere in that process the immobilizer that detects that the steering column hasn’t been messed with – even though it was no doubt strewn about the shop for a few days during fabrication – proceeded to no longer function.
CAN BUS; A network for cars where every switch and sensor in your car is not just powered, but a network node that sends and receives data. With its adoption, this computers in cars have become A LOT more integrated. Now instead of “a switch” or “a sensor” performing a function – the Electronic Control Unit is looking for [0F 13 24 AA 09 74 FA 2B], and if your replacement sensor or switch doesn’t have that address it just ignores it. Dashboards and Theft Prevention Systems pass encrypted data over the CAN BUS network to handshake with each other. You can’t just swap out the steering column or the dashboard on your rally car any more. I have a spare ECU for our “new” 2003 Dodge Neon. It had to be programmed with the immobilizer and dashboard at the dealer before it would ever work. These programming tools are not available to shade tree mechanics and are usually thousands of dollars if you can get a hold of them.
In 2016 car systems are so integrated that hot-wiring a car with just copper wires is impossible. Even if you bypass the shutdown relay and override the fuel pump, the fuel injectors will never fire. The most frustrating consequence of these systems is that they are all proprietary. There is software on modern cars that you own, but yet are not allowed to tinker with. From a liability standpoint, it’s just easier for manufacturers to lock these systems down. Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are trying to help us gain the access that we deserve: Automakers Say You Don’t Really Own Your Car
What a wiring harness gave us in the 90’s, and reprogramming options helped in the 00’s, the 10’s now require complete standalone engine management systems. You’re not going to coax your Prius into spinning the front tires while left foot braking – ever.
Not getting to finish a rally because of an electrical DNF sucks, and we wish Ryan and Christina better luck in the future.