Car Security System Monitors Tiny Voltage Fluctuations

As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a lock that can’t be picked. However, it seems like there are plenty of examples of car manufacturers that refuse to add these metaphorical locks to their cars at all — especially when it comes to securing the electronic systems of vehicles. Plenty of modern cars are essentially begging to be attacked as a result of such poor practices as unencrypted CAN busses and easily spoofed wireless keyfobs. But even if your car comes from a manufacturer that takes basic security precautions, you still might want to check out this project from the University of Michigan that is attempting to add another layer of security to cars.

The security system works like many others, by waiting for the user to input a code. The main innovation here is that the code is actually a series of voltage fluctuations that are caused by doing things like turning on the headlights or activating the windshield wipers. This is actually the secondary input method, though; there is also a control pad that can mimic these voltage fluctuations as well without having to perform obvious inputs to the vehicle’s electrical system. But, if the control pad isn’t available then turning on switches and lights to input the code is still available for the driver. The control unit for this device is hidden away, and disables things like the starter motor until it sees these voltage fluctuations.

One of the major selling points for a system like this is the fact that it doesn’t require anything more complicated than access to the vehicle’s 12 volt electrical system to function. While there are some flaws with the design, it’s an innovative approach to car security that, when paired with a common-sense approach to securing modern car technology, could add some valuable peace-of-mind to vehicle ownership in areas prone to car theft. It could even alleviate the problem of cars being stolen via their headlights.

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Test Unknown Fuses Without Destroying Them

There’s a problem with fuses. On the face of it, testing would seem to be a one-shot deal — exceed the rated current and see if it blows. But once you know the answer, the device is useless. If only there were a way to test fuses without damaging them.

As it turns out there is, and [Kerry Wong] weaves quite a tale about his attempts to non-destructively test fuses. The fuses in question are nothing fancy — just the standard glass tube type, from a cheap assortment kit off Amazon. Therein lies the problem: can such cheap devices be trusted? Finding out requires diving much deeper into the technology of fuses than many people will have done, including understanding how the thermal and electrical characteristics of the fuse element behave.

[Kerry]’s test setup is simple, consisting of a constant current power supply and a voltmeter across the fuse to measure the voltage drop caused by the resistance of the fuse element. As he ramps up the current, the voltage drop increases linearly due to the increase in resistance of the alloy with increasing temperature. That only lasts up to a point, where the fuse resistance starts increasing exponentially. Pushing much past the point where the resistance has doubled would blow the fuse, so that’s the endpoint of his tests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his no-name fuses all went significantly beyond their rated current, proving that you get what you pay for. See the video below for the tests and an analysis of the results.

It’s handy to know there’s a way to check fuses without popping them, and we’ll file this one away for future reference. Don’t forget that you should always check the fuse when troubleshooting, because you never know what the last person did to it.

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Dome Light LED Retrofit

One of the bulbs in the dome light of [Pete’s] car burnt out. These were a bit hard to get at for replacement so¬†he thought he’d try something that would last longer, and have no problem standing up to the vibrations that go along with automotive electronics. But plug-in LED replacements cost more money than he was willing to spend. Luckily there was a dollar store next door to the auto part shop, so he bought three LED touch lights for the dome and cargo bulbs.

After cracking them open he found that the LEDs were wired in parallel. He needed to put these in series in order to take advantage of the voltage drop. After de-soldering the bulbs he measured the characteristics of one, then calculated the voltage drop and resistor value using a worst case scenario of 14V to avoid damage to the light when the engine is revving high. From there he cut the traces on the board and rewired them. The reworked module fits nicely and as you can see in the image, gives a more pleasing light color than the orange of the stock bulb.