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Cars Still Aren't Perfect

The odometer and the tachometer look the same


They’ve been making cars for over a hundred years now so you’d think they’d have every possible wrinkle ironed out.  They ought to be making absolutely perfect cars.

junk car

But no.  Already our new mini-van has squeaks and rattles.  Then there are all those annoyances you discover after awhile.  The odometer is electronic so you can’t read it when the ignition is off.  The gas cap isn’t tethered.  And the owner’s manual doesn’t fit in the glove box.

One of the five levers sprouting from the steering column turns on the front and back washers and wipers by lifting, pulling, twisting, or pushing down on it.  It doesn’t rain often enough for me to remember what does what, so I just fiddle with this “Swiss army lever” until the wipers start doing what I want.


Where is the speedometer!

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To the right of the speedometer is another instrument called a tachometer.  It tells what the crank shaft (or is it the cam shaft?) is doing, like I care.  Our second car has the same two meters but in reversed positions.  That means whenever I switch cars I have to do a double take on my speed.  Why is this tacky meter there anyway?  We didn’t order it.  We don’t use it.  I don’t think anybody does.  (Yes, yes, I know.  You can see when the car shifts gears.  But that gets a little boring after awhile.)

We did want a compass but this particular manufacturer didn’t offer one.  Isn’t that ridiculous!  One of the things you absolutely do in a car is go in different directions.  Shouldn’t a compass be standard equipment in all cars?  The wife asks, “Which way we headed.”  I answer, “Don’t know, but we’re doing 3000 rpms.”

Some defects are intentional, like power windows that only work when the ignition is on.  I’m sure the engineers had their reasons, but obviously they’ve never been in a car where the driver said, “be back in a minute,” turned off the engine, took the key and dashed out leaving them sitting in the hot sun.  Couldn’t they put in a special button on, or underneath, the dash that overrides this so-called safety feature?

The lighter, on the other hand, works all the time.  Amazing!  You can light up a cigarette in the car without the key but you can’t get ventilation.

And how about the cruise control?  In order to turn it on, you have to turn it on.  That’s right... to use cruise, you have to turn the system to “on” with one button, then you set your speed with another button.  Why?  If you’re going to tell me “for safety reasons,” please tell me how many lives have been saved with this annoyance.

Buzzers are a safety feature that I could live with because sometimes I do forget my headlights are still on.  But automakers just dont’t know when to quit... those noise-makers go on and on and on, until you do what some faraway safety engineer wants you to do.  Here’s an innovation... a silence button that you can push when you want your headlights on, or you don’t want your seat belt fastened, or you want your door ajar.

A standard defect on all vehicles is car creep.  If you’re in gear the car moves without specific instructions to do so.  As a result, at stop lights everybody has to keep a foot on the brake and stare at the brake lights in front of them.  You would think after all these years some automaker would come up with a gimmick called “Sticky-Stop” or “Creep-B-Gone.”  With it, when you come to a stop the car stays stopped, even on a hill.  Doesn’t that sound reasonable?  The car should only move when the driver pushes the “go” pedal.

tail lights

Which car is braking!

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It used to be we only had two brake lights to blind us.  Now, because of the federally mandated high back lights, it’s three.  But there was another way to make stop lights more visible.  Did you ever notice on a busy road at night the hundreds of red taillights stretching to the horizon?  It’s not easy to pick out a road flare, or a red traffic signal, or a car braking, is it?  That’s because running lights should be a color that doesn’t mean “Stop.”  Suppose, for example, you’re in night traffic with nothing but green taillights in front of you.  All of a sudden, 200 yards ahead, someone brakes—two red lights in the sea of green!  (See for yourself in photo at right.)  Doesn’t that make more sense?  Even better is to have amber running lights that turn green when you accelerate and red when you brake.

And gear shift levers.  Is this the best way to change states of motion?  I often shift pass “D” and end up in “2,” or “N” when I want “R.”  Why not push button drive like Chrysler had in the days of tail fins?  Then maybe I wouldn’t accidently turn on the wipers as I’m trying to shift into “P” so my car won’t creep while I figure out which direction I’m going in.

I don’t expect the Feds or car makers to change the color of tail lights.  And I guess the only way we’ll get rid of squeaks and rattles is to have them designed in; that way they’ll break and go away.  And I don’t expect push button drive either.  But I do expect the next car I buy to stay put when I bring it to a stop.