A Computerized Stethoscope For Your Car

Your car sputters and spits at every turn, but when you roll into the repair shop, it purrs like a kitten--and the mechanic pegs you for an auto hypochondriac. Sound familiar? It won't for long. Hewlett-Packard Co. now offers a service-bay diagnostic system (SBDS) for Ford cars that will track fickle electrical problems.

Using the brains of HP's Vectra PC, the SBDS is hooked to a car and surveys computer chips built into every Ford. If this doesn't spot the culprit, a mechanic can hand over a 5-pound recorder. When the problem appears, the driver pushes a button and the machine begins collecting data. The incident duly logged, the driver returns to the mechanic, who attaches the recorder to the SBDS to pinpoint the glitch.

On Mar. 20, HP announced a $63 million deal with Ford Motor Co. to deliver 2,000 SBDS systems by 1993. It seems mechanics, too, are frustrated by untraceable complaints. HP says dealer response is nearly double what it expected.

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