Electronics, in one form or another, have been in vehicles since the first electric headlamps graced the radiator shrouds of early automobiles. Or maybe it was the electric engine starter that was the first electronic device to infiltrate our motorized vehicles. No... I guess the first electronic to grace our motorized vehicles was the ignition system. These old, simple vehicles had a magneto that would discharge voltage, and cause electricity to leap across electrodes to the ground of the spark plugs, then ignite the gasoline and air vapor, in order to propel the piston downward and move our vehicle forward.  

So, electronics have been with us for some time. And there are always tricks we learn, with any device, to keep them operating. I still remember my stepfather telling me how they used to leave parts of the magneto on top of the wood stove to keep them dry, so they would work the next day.  

Let's fast-forward to modern times where we have a plethora of electronics with computers, radios, vehicle control systems, engine management systems, televisions, and even in many cases, refrigerators. In today's vehicles, many of these functions are controlled by some form of a computer. In fact, there are many computers which all have to communicate and interact together. There are times when communication breaks down, which causes a problem. What I have found, is most times, the solution is very simple.  

Let me tell you a story. I woke up one day after parking at the Atchafalaya rest area, in Louisiana. I turned on my sleeper light to get dressed in the cool environment, provided by the electric-powered dual HVAC system. I decided it was time to start the truck up, so I could have enough voltage to cook breakfast in the microwave, and brew my first cup of coffee. When I got to the front of the truck to turn the ignition key clockwise to start up the Detroit DD15 engine, nothing happened! My first thought was that my shifter control was not in neutral, which would have not allowed the starter switch to work.  Keep in mind, through all this, I'm still not fully awake, and I discovered the shifter control was indeed in neutral. But in case it didn't make good contact, I rotated it into gear, and back into neutral. At that point, I quickly woke up, and realized that the dash cluster had not done its normal start-up sweep of the gauges. Next, I tried to turn on the dash switches, radio, and other controls, only to discover that nothing on the dash was operating. Then, I was really confused, because all the lights and switches in the sleeper area were operating correctly. The voltage meter connected to the power inverter indicated that the truck did have adequate voltage to operate all systems.  

I started to get that sickening feeling that I was going to be stuck and needing to be towed, or have a repair technician involved, before I could begin to roll down the highway again. Then, awake and without my coffee, I decided to call one of the best experts I know on the Freightliner Cascadia, and its electronics, to find out what kind of repairs I might be able to make myself out on the field. 

After I got him on the phone, he had a very simple suggestion, which was to disconnect the negative battery cable. “What would that do?” I asked. He informed me that it would reset the computers, much like a hard restart on a laptop or desktop computer. I told him I had already turned off the battery disconnect switch and turned it back on, and nothing had changed. That’s when he informed me that the battery disconnect switch does not disconnect all of the electronics. It only disconnects enough to lower the amount of batter draw experienced when the vehicle isn’t in use. His exact instructions were to disconnect all the negative battery cables; not only on the main batteries, but the additional batteries for the dual HVAC system, and then for me to take about a 3-minute walk.  

I decided during my 3-minute walk that I would go to the visitor's center, which was open by that time, and enjoy some coffee that they serve to walk-in motorists. I returned to my truck feeling more alert, since I drank my coffee. I reconnected all the battery cables and climbed into the cab to see if that simple fix remedied my situation. To my delight, everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to. As a side note, I haven’t had to disconnect the battery cables to reset the computers in over 400,000 miles. I have, however, helped many acquaintances of mine who have gotten into situations where the electronics on their vehicles were behaving erratically. The same fix has taken care of most of their glitches. In fact, just recently, I saw a friend in a Facebook post stating that he was going to have to have a wrecker tow him because his Cascadia would not start. After seeing his post, I immediately called him, but the tow truck was already on the scene. My friend had a great tow truck operator, they decided to take my advice and disconnect the negative battery cable to see if the system would reset. They were thrilled to find that this simple fix, did in fact, reset everything in the truck and everything worked normally. My friend let me talk to the tow truck operator, who told me that this was great knowledge for him to know, since there have been quite a few vehicles that he had towed, which could have most likely only needed a reset of the computer. 

I have found this to be a simple go-to-attempt when glitches appear in today's modern computer-controlled vehicles. This fix was even used on my ATV. So, this is not just a Freightliner fix. It has worked on everything, from my Jeep to other brands of trucks that friends of mine drive, as well.  For me, it is a simple “trick”  to try before calling a technician for help.

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Henry Albert

Henry Albert is the owner of Albert Transport, Inc., based in Statesville, NC. Before participating in the "Slice of Life" program, Albert drove a 2001 Freightliner Century Class S/T™, and will use his Cascadia for general freight and a dry van trailer. Albert, who has been a trucker since 1983, was recognized by Overdrive as its 2007 Trucker of the Year.

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