When will we actually see self-driving cars?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader who wonders whether driverless vehicles will ever become a reality.

The Audi AI:ME self-driving concept vehicle on display in the Audi booth at the CES tech show in Las Vegas in January.
The Audi AI:ME self-driving concept vehicle on display in the Audi booth at the CES tech show in Las Vegas in January. –AP Photo/John Locher, File

Q. Okay, I have given up on a flying car, but when do you think we will see an actual self-driving car?

A. There are a couple of inherent problems — legal and cultural. In every state that I have researched, there is a law that you need to have at least one hand on the steering wheel. The second issue is acceptance. Most surveys that have been performed, including AAA’s survey, show that the majority of people today would be uncomfortable in a car with no driver. That being said, car and technology companies are still spending billions of dollars on advancing the technology. I believe we will see some advanced level of autonomous driving (more sophisticated than Tesla’s Auto Pilot) in the next five years. With a bit more development these systems will work very well, but only in specific areas. True, fully autonomous driving — referred to as Level 5, where you program the car to go from coast to coast without human interaction — is still, in my opinion, a lifetime away. 

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Q. We have a 2002 Grand Jeep Cherokee Laredo. Could you give us an estimate for a fair price to get the check engine light repaired — not just checked. We have had this checked many times, and were told it needs to be repaired. 

A. The check engine light can come on for any reason — from a loose gas cap to a faulty transmission. The average cost to repair an issue that turns on the check engine light is in the $300-$500 range, according to some national averages. Of course, this is just an average. As an example, a check engine light that comes on due to a faulty oxygen sensor (quite common)  would cost about $186. A check engine light caused by a faulty catalytic converter as an example (also common with an 18-year-old Jeep) would cost about $2,600 using Jeep parts. At this point, the code needs to be read, and some additional diagnostics need to be performed before any estimate can be determined. 

Q. I have a problem with a low-tire light. Every month or so, the light comes on. I check the tires and they are all maybe just a pound or two low. I fill them up — a pain by the way — and the light does go out. All is fine and then the light comes on four or five weeks later. What can I do?

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A. I have a similar problem. One of our cars has a tire with a very slow leak. The tire loses about three pounds of air every month. The leak is so slight that the local tire store has had no success in finding it. This is probably similar to your car. More than likely there is a very slight rim leak, and when the tire pressure drops by about five pounds, the light comes on. At this point, be very critical with a tire gauge — checking all the tires. When you find the tire that is consistently low — even just a couple of pounds — bring it to a tire shop and have it looked at. If there isn’t anything obvious, I would recommend having the shop take the tire off the rim, carefully inspect the tire, clean and seal the rim, and rebuild the tire pressure sensor. Then, hope for the best. I haven’t done this yet, but will soon on my own car. 

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

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