I happen to be driving a 2011 Honda Accord “Special Edition” this week. I picked up my daughter at her after-school program last night. I went to put her in the back seat, yanked the door handle. Locked. Pushed the button on the key fob. Unlocked already open driver’s door. Had to push the button twice to open the back door.
We got home 15 minutes later and I went to open the door for her. Locked. Pushed button. Unlocked already open driver’s door. Pulled handle. Still locked. Pushed button twice to open back door.
I never locked the door myself. The car did it for me. It’s a “feature.”
We had this “feature” in my wife’s 2001 VW Jetta Wagon, too. It had a special bonus “feature” in the summer, especially if you’re like me and enjoy having the window down, with your elbow out the window: As you drove away from a stop, the car would lock the doors. But as it did so, the little lock thingy would grab a piece of skin from that ultra-sensitive area on the underside of your arm, and pull it down the lock hole. By the last time it happened, I was ready to drive that car straight into a bridge abutment.
It’s the kind of slow-drip torture that eventually makes you snap like a carrot and drive your car through the front of a Wendy’s. Yeah, I suppose I could dig out the manual and figure out how to deprogram the car to leave the goddamned door locks alone when I drive away from a stop, but really?
We never asked for this stuff. It just started appearing one day. I’m hoping to complain about it until it goes away. Along with that one, here ‘s a list of six more automotive “features” that I wish had never been invented:
1. Power mirrors that move when you select “Reverse”
I’ve been driving since the age of about 14.. In that time, I have learned how to operate much of the car’s equipment, including the mirrors. Now, in an effort to help me, every car seems to want to aim the mirror at the right rear tire when I select reverse, rendering said mirror completely useless to me.
I use all three mirrors to make sure I’m not about to run over a nun. Now I can only see that I have, in fact, already run over a nun. Please, stop.
2. Radio knobs that only scroll through presets
Am I the last person in history to be able to remember a radio station by its call sign? I know I like to listen to 100.7, or 90.9, or 102.7. Radios have worked thusly since Marconi invented the thing. While I like to preset those stations, I also like to scroll through all the stations available to me.
Some car radios (I notice it most in the Volvo and the Kia Optima) have a big, giant, helpful tuning knob. But instead of allowing me to scroll through all the stations, it only allows me to cycle through the presets. It makes me want to tear the radio out of the car and listen to nothing but my own rage coursing through my ears.
And what if I’m outside of the eleven mile radius that seems to be the effective range of any given radio station? I have to use the Chiclet-sized buttons to scan, instead of using the big, friendly knob? That’s just stupid.
3. Defrost that only works at full blast
BMW is the most notorious offender. The only way defrost works on a BMW is at a fan speed that could push the windshield right out of the car. If you try to turn the fan speed down, the defroster turns off automatically. On cold, wet, winter days, you often want to have the defroster running more or less constantly, but on a very low fan speed to keep the windshield clear.
For some reason, I can do this on my 1968 Buick, but on any BMW? Nein! Ve haff determined ze bescht schpeed for defrostink, and any user input is verboten!
4. Traction Control you can’t turn off
Traction control, especially married with stability control, is a wonderful feature. More than once, coming in too hot to a corner covered in loose stones, ice or snow, it has saved my bacon. By applying braking force to a single wheel based on throttle position, wheel speed, steering wheel position and data from a yaw control sensor, stability control can get a car that would normally be off the road, back into line.
However, there are times when traction control specifically needs to be defeated. Example: the day after Christmas last year, we got a good application of snow. We happened to be driving the new Honda Odyssey minivan, and wanted to take the kids sledding. We got off the road into a field covered with snow, and when we went to leave, the traction control system cut engine power to the point that the van wouldn’t move at all. Luckily, the Odyssey has a button for turning off the traction control. With a little bit of wheelspin, I was able to get the Odyssey to rock and eventually we built up enough momentum to pull out of the field.
Not so much with the Ford Fiesta and the Toyota Prius. Both vehicles feature traction control, but after digging through the manual to find the switch to turn the traction control off, I learned that neither vehicle had one. I can see instances where you could be calling AAA to extricate you from some wet grass, especially with the traction-free, low rolling resistance tires on the Prius. Shoveling either car out of a snow-packed parking spot means you’ll need to remove every last inch of snow around either car before either will allow you to move. Bad idea. Did they only test these cars in Arizona?
5. Power tailgates and sliding van doors
The idea is really great. You simply push a button and the doors and tailgates slide open magically. Here’s the problem: I’ve been driving for 25 years and I’m physically capable of opening a door. By the time I remember the vehicle I’m driving HAS these features, I’ve already yanked the handle manually. Now the system tries to open the door itself, but the sensor inside that makes sure nothing is obstructing it senses my hand on the handle, and starts to close it again. I try opening it again, and we go through the same routine. It’s like somebody inside the car pressing the power lock button at the same time I’m trying to pull the door handle. “Is it open now? Try it now. Let go of the handle! Now try it!”
6. Soft button door openers
While I’m on the subject of doors: Somewhere along the line, engineers decided that the humble mechanical door handle — that had been opening doors since the advent of doors — was no longer good enough. No, we needed to have a soft-touch button to push that would open the tailgate electronically.
They suck. They should be outlawed. I can think of a dozen circumstances in which they don’t work, most specifically when the thousand features in the car that require constant 12-volt battery power finally drain the battery on a cold night. Now you’ve got no means of opening the tailgate. And your goddamned jumper cables are in the handy storage area under the goddamned floor, so you’ve got to get inside and climb over the goddamned rear seats to open the goddamned hatch.
Don’t ask me how I know this.