Tag Archives: Technology

Roadtrip: Say ‘Aloha’ to the 2018 Honda Odyssey video

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Roadshow Asks: How did you get to be the Queen of Chaos?


Pitell-Vaughan taking her Toyota race truck, “Lil’ T” through tech inspection at the Mint 400. 

Paolo Baraldi Fotografo

Nicole Pitell-Vaughan has earned the nickname “Chaos.” A woman with a seemingly endless source of energy, she is an accomplished off-road racer and motocross rider, recently taking fifth place at the prestigious Mint 400 and a second-place trophy at the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles in Morocco. Every weekend you’ll find her behind the wheel of her specially prepped “Morocco Taco” Toyota Tacoma, or with a leg thrown over a Honda CRF 250 motorcycle, catching air in rugged locales from the desert of Mexico to the mountains of Mammoth. Pitell-Vaughan is definitely living her best life, having turned her passion for off-road into a successful aftermarket supplier business, with several million dollars in sales and 10 full-time employees. 

Pitell-Vaughan has a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Sports Marketing from Cal Poly Pomona. After learning all about independent front suspension in trucks from her then-friend-but-now-husband Matt Vaughan while helping him prep his race truck for the SCORE desert series, the two went into business together, opening Total Chaos Fabrication in 1998. The company manufactures beefier control arms and long travel suspension, mostly for Toyota trucks, but also for Chevrolet, Ford and Nissan.

I caught up with Chaos on the phone to chat about how she turns dirt into gold. 

Q:  What was your first car?

Pitell-Vaughan: I had a 1989 Toyota V6 standard-cab pickup when I was 16. I loved Toyotas since I was a freshman in high school because of Ivan “Ironman” Stewart. (Editor’s note: Ivan Stewart raced off-road for Toyota and is famous for winning the Baja 1000 desert race, having driven all 1,000 miles himself.) Ivan was the man! He could make his truck fly, and I totally thought I could do the same thing. I rolled it in, like, the first six days and had to drive it around all wrinkled for eight months before I could get it fixed.

What was your first automotive job, and how did you get it?

Pitell-Vaughan: My very first automotive job was as a cashier and DMV liaison at a Nissan dealership in Temecula, California. I went in to pick up some parts for Matt’s truck and just asked the general manager for a job. After two years, I moved to a Toyota dealership processing all their service orders. I learned the corporate and dealership side, I learned all about the parts and I learned the mechanics with Matt in the garage. These skills, plus my business degree, set the stage for Total Chaos.

Total Chaos fabricates their own designs. What is that process like?


Measure twice, cut once.

Total Chaos

Pitell-Vaughan: Our goal is to enhance travel and ride quality. We sometimes start by purchasing the specific part we are trying to improve in order to get initial measurements. We also get a truck on-site, usually from a private party. 

When it comes to design, we don’t do anything on a computer. Ever. We design using a paper and pencil and then use cardboard templates to make sure our part will work with proper tolerances around all the existing parts on the truck, like brake lines, tie rods, and sway bars. We don’t change the factory steering geometry ever. We will add caster to the tires if we need to since it’s lost when you lift certain models. That helps balance steering effort, high-speed stability and front-end cornering effectiveness, but no, we don’t do anything on a computer.

Each step of the RD process is documented, so we have finished goods photos for the website, part numbers, stock measurements and the measurements for the aftermarket Total Chaos part.

Once we have a new part installed on a test truck, we beat it in the dirt for 500 off-road miles before it becomes available to the public. It means we’re generally not first to market with our products, but we know our products can withstand hard-core off-road abuse.

What is the most tedious thing about your current job?

Pitell-Vaughan: Trying to abide by the California rules. I don’t like rules. Rules are made to be broken.

How does tech affect the future of your job?

Pitell-Vaughan: It makes it harder for the aftermarket to modify a vehicle. For example, when you put a long-travel kit on a truck, it amplifies the yaw sensor and causes the ABS to engage for no reason. We are always dealing with ABS integration in our parts. The advancement of electronics has its place, of course, but it’s nice to go back to the simple stuff. Analog buttons and dials… you know what I mean?


What automotive trend makes your blood boil?

Pitell-Vaughan: I try not to let anything drive me crazy, because I’m already there. However, I see a lot of aftermarket companies design their parts on a computer and not test them. There is a company in this industry that just built 50 sets of Chevrolet control arms. They never did a test fit, and it turned out they couldn’t get the wheel back on after installation. I just laugh, but that’s what is going on in this industry. Unless you’re in it, you don’t know about some of the shady RD that’s happening. Everybody thinks they’re an engineer.  


Pitell-Vaughan’s 4.0-liter supercharged Tacoma, nicknamed the Morocco Taco as she and Chrissie Beavis took second place in the prestigious Gazelle Rally in Morocco. 


What is the one project you’ve always wanted to tackle professionally but have never been able to do?

Pitell-Vaughan: I’m living the dream, but I’d like to race the Dakar. I’d have to build a Toyota Hilux with four-wheel drive. Maybe the Morocco Taco could be converted. Man…you got my wheels spinning. I’m gonna make the Morocco Taco a Dakar truck.


Pitell-Vaughan flies so high on her motorcycle you can’t even see the ground. 

Troy Snider

If you weren’t working in the automotive industry, what would you be doing?

Pitell-Vaughan: I’d be working in motocross. The other half of my heart is completely passionate about it. I love two wheels. I love being in the desert. I love travel and solitude. I just love being in the dirt. 

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Formula D drifter Fredric Aasbo tells us about his 1,000 HP Toyota iM video

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Hyundai recalls 437,400 SUVs for hoods that may open while driving

Fishing for that latch under the hood after you’ve popped it can be annoying, but you’d be singing the praises of the secondary hood latch if your vehicle had a hood-related recall.

Hyundai issued a recall for 437,400 examples of the 2013-2017 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport crossovers. It’s unclear if the recalled vehicles are sequential on the assembly line, as Hyundai did not furnish build dates in its letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

2017-hyundai-santa-fe.jpgEnlarge Image

If you notice a lot of play in your hood, even when it’s supposed to be closed, your secondary hood latch might not be working.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The issue relates to the secondary hood latch, which is the one that’s released when you pop the hood — the primary latch is the one you have to fish for. The actuating cable for the secondary latch may corrode and bind, and if it does, the secondary latch will remain unlatched, even if the hood is closed.

Obviously, this presents a big ol’ safety hazard. The primary latch cannot be relied upon to keep the hood closed at all times, so there’s a chance that the hood might open while the vehicle is in motion, provided the secondary latch is incapable of doing its job. Not only can the hood get in the way of forward visibility, it can smash the windshield if it contacts it with enough force.

Hyundai will inspect every recalled vehicle and replace the secondary hood latch cable. As with all other recall-related work, it’ll be free for the consumer. Hyundai expects the recall to begin on June 30.

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Harley-Davidson recalls 46,000 new Touring bikes for creating oil slicks

When you’ve only got two wheels, it’s a good idea to keep them from getting covered in oil. That’s the reason behind Harley-Davidson’s latest recall.

Harley-Davidson has issued a recall for 45,589 examples of its 2017 Touring line: the Road King, Police Road King, Road King Special, Street Glide, Street Glide Special, Road Glide, Road Glide Special, Police Electra Glide and Electra Glide Ultra Classic. The manufacturer originally recalled 45,599 bikes, but amended its defect report (PDF) to remove 10 of them.

2017-harley-davidson-road-king-special-6Enlarge Image

I’m not usually a fan of Harley-Davidson’s offerings, but the Road King Special is pretty gnarly.


The issue at hand can be traced to some clamps. These clamps, which secure part of the oil line in the oil cooling system, may have been improperly installed — the defect notice lists the cause as “missed operation by assembly line worker.” As a result, the oil line may become detached, which can cause a loss of engine oil.

Losing engine oil is bad for not one, but two reasons. First, oil starvation in sufficient quantities can cause an engine to seize. Second, and perhaps more importantly, leaking oil could end up on the rear tire. Since motorcycles only have two tires, oiling up the rear could cause a loss of control, increasing the risk of injury and scuffing up all that shiny metal.

Harley-Davidson will inspect every recalled bike, and if the clamps are found to be wonky, they will be replaced and secured at no cost to the owner. Starting on May 9, Harley-Davidson added an extra inspection to its assembly process in order to ensure the clamps are properly installed on all bikes going forward.

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Rise of the robocar: How future car tech saves lives today


True self-driving cars are a few years down the road, but the technology they’ll use to sense the world is already keeping drivers safe today

Volvo Cars

It’s pretty much an inevitability that the cars of the future will be autonomous. Whether you believe it will take us 5, 10 or 20 years to get there, almost every automaker is working toward the goal of autos that drive themselves and are incapable of making human mistakes.

However, today’s tech cars are already teeming with technology that lays the groundwork for those robocars. You just have to check the right option boxes to get a taste of the future through today’s cutting-edge safety tech. Modern advanced driver-assistance systems (or ADAS, for short) help drivers to watch for trouble ahead while driving and can even help steer you away from danger.

Today, I’m taking a very broad look at the ADAS technologies currently available in consumer vehicles so that you’ll know what to look for when optioning your next new car. I’ll be following up over the next few weeks with in-depth looks at each of these technologies and many more.

Blind-spot monitoring

2016 Mazda CX-9 blind spot monitor

Blind spot information systems are increasingly a “must-have” feature for large trucks and SUVs with long tail ends and poor rear visibility.


Blind-spot monitoring systems are among the most common ADAS technologies, being found on the options list of many mid-tier or budget models. The tech is sometimes shortened to BSM or called blind-spot warning (BSW). I tend to call it blind-spot information system (BLIS), as it was by Volvo, which originated the tech back in 2007 for use on its and Ford’s vehicles.

This technology uses ultrasonic sensors located on the car’s flanks to detect when another vehicle is located in the “blind-spots” at the rear corners left by improperly aimed mirrors or, more commonly, thick window pillars. If a car is detected in either blind spot, most BLIS implementations will illuminate a notification light in the side mirror or on the A-pillar on the appropriate side of the vehicle. If you activate the turn signal while BLIS is triggered, you’ll also get an audible beep or tone to let you know to look twice before changing lanes.


The new Volvo XC60 features BLIS with Steering Assist and can actively guide the SUV back into its lane if it detects that you’re about to collide with another vehicle.

Volvo Cars

Typically, blind-spot systems only work at speeds above 20 to 35-ish mph. This prevents false positives on city streets, but tends to only make the tech useful at highway speeds. Also, keep in mind that the technology is no replacement for an old-fashioned glance over your shoulder before changing lanes, and as I mentioned, the audible alerts work only if you actually use your turn signal.

The same ultrasonic sensors used for BLIS are often repurposed for the so-called rear cross-traffic alert systems that sound an audible tone when another vehicle is approaching from the sides while one is reversing out of a parking spot or driveway. BLIS and rear cross-traffic alerts are increasingly becoming “must-have” technology on larger SUVs and cars with poor rearward visibility.

We’ll dig into more advanced, active blind-spot systems and alternative technologies like Honda’s LaneWatch system in a separate article soon.

Lane-departure alert and lane-keeping assist

A lane-departure alert system (LDA) — also known as lane-departure warning (LDW) — uses a camera or multiple cameras mounted at the front of a vehicle (most often at the top of the windshield behind the center mirror) to detect the boundaries of the road’s lanes and whether your vehicle is within those bounds. The best systems can detect painted lines, Botts’ dots or “cat’s eye” raised reflectors.

If the LDA detects that your vehicle is crossing out of its lane without the driver indicating by using the turn signal, the system will activate visual and audible alerts, assuming the driver is inattentively drifting. Here’s more incentive to actually use your turn signal for every lane change.

The active evolution of this technology is lane-keeping assisted steering, also known as LKAS or LKS. This system can actively steer the vehicle back into the lane using either the electric power steering or bias braking — applying braking force to one wheel to pull the nose of the car in the opposite direction. Every LKAS system I’ve tested can be easily and instantly overridden by simply turning the steering wheel as you normally would; they all give up control as soon as the driver’s input and intention are detected.

We’ll dig into advanced lane-departure systems like Honda’s road-departure mitigation, odd implementations such as the Crosswind Assist on Smart ForTwo, and cutting-edge steering-assist technologies like Volvo’s Pilot Assist in a separate article soon.

Precollision warning and auto emergency braking

Volvo City Safety

Pre-collision alert systems like Volvo’s City Safety can detect imminent accidents and even automatically brake to prevent fender benders.

Volvo Cars

A precollision warning system is basically an unblinking eye on the road ahead. If this technology detects that you’re approaching an obstruction fast enough to result in a collision, it will alert you with lights and sounds. So if the car ahead of you slams on its brakes while you’re glancing back to check on the kids, the system can let you know to get your eyes back on the road and your foot on the brake, ASAP. The advantage is that the car’s computers never blink and are more vigilant than even the most attentive driver.

Most of these systems use forward-facing radar to estimate distance to a vehicle ahead, but some — like Subaru’s EyeSight system — use stereoscopic cameras. The best systems use a combination that blends the strengths of the two sensors: cameras are good at detecting small objects like pedestrians, cyclists or even large animals at low speed, while radar gives more accurate detection for large metallic cars further ahead at highway speeds, even in the fog or rain.


Even the basic and budget-friendly Toyota Yaris iA comes standard with pre-collision alert and autonomous emergency braking.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Of course, the next logical step is a car that can brake for itself when a collision is imminent. This autonomous emergency braking — sometime called collision mitigation braking systems — allows the car’s computer to step in and automatically brake if the driver’s reaction time isn’t fast enough or they’re otherwise incapacitated. At low enough speeds (usually below 25 to 30 mph), autonomous emergency braking can often bring a car to a complete stop, completely preventing a would-be accident. However, even at higher speeds these systems can reduce the severity or lethality of a collision.

Precollision alerts are becoming increasingly prevalent in modern cars. Volvo, for example, has made its City Safety system standard on all of its new 90 and 60 Series vehicles, but I’m not just talking about pricey luxury vehicles. The Toyota Yaris iA, for example, is a $16,000 budget compact that comes standard with front precollision alert and low-speed automatic emergency braking.

We’ll dig into more advanced evolutions of autonomous braking and collision avoidance systems like Audi’s turn-assist system and Volvo’s oncoming lane detection — which go so far as to monitor other lanes of traffic for threats and how this technology enables convenience features like adaptive cruise control in, you guessed it, a separate article soon.

Low-speed safety

Many of the systems we’ve looked at greatly improve safety for passengers at high speeds, but modern cars are also equipped with many features that help to keep those outside of the car safe at lower speeds.

The simplest of these technologies are camera systems that give the driver a clearer view of the area around, and particularly behind, the car. Usually this is a rear camera that activates when the car is in reverse; this could prevent a simple fender bender when used in concert with the rear cross-traffic alert discussed earlier, but it could even save the life of a small child or pet that you may not have otherwise seen behind an SUV with a tall rear gate or a sports car with poor rear visibility.


A rearward-facing camera can prevent fender benders or, at best, save someone’s life. Cars like BMW’s 5 Series and 7 Series feature multiple cameras to give the driver an even more complete view.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Around-view camera systems take this a step further, stitching together multiple camera feeds from the front, sides and rear of the vehicle to provide a bird’s’-eye view of the area around the car. A similar feat can be accomplished with sonar sensors around the vehicle that measure distances to obstructions and sound alerts when you get too close to a wall, or a pedestrian is detected nearby.

We’ll dig more into other low-speed safety technologies, other camera-based system like GM’s rear camera mirror and semi-autonomous parking systems in future articles.

The future and the road to autonomy

The cars of tomorrow — and even some of the most cutting edge cars of today — will basically build on and improve these technologies, tightly integrating them into autonomous systems. Just look at lane keeping assisted steering and adaptive cruise control systems and you can already see the building blocks of systems like Volvo Pilot Assist, Tesla Autopilot and GM Super Cruise and, eventually, autonomous cars.

And we haven’t even gotten to the communication technologies technologies that will allow cars to communicate with each other and with infrastructure, like Audi’s Traffic Light Information system or the vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies being pioneered by Mercedes-Benz and Volvo in Europe.

As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, I’ll be going into more detail about these technologies — and many more — in a series of articles over the next few weeks and updating this overview to serve as a sort of table of contents for the series as it develops.

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