It makes life magnitudes less stressful and can help secure — quickly and cheaply, usually — every desire or need most of us have. When it comes to driving, that’s no exception. Over the past decade or two, cars have evolved from simple commuting or passenger machines into rolling luxury suites. Vehicles now come with standard features that 20 years ago, people were only dreaming about.
Infotainment systems, GPS, smart suspension, and alert systems — all of these are examples of technologies that consumers now come to expect when they purchase a new car. Of course, there are some next-generation luxuries in the pipeline as well, including automatic parking assistance, long-range electric motors, and even self-driving technology. But for all of these wonderful new implementations, there are still a few areas of car tech that leave a lot to be desired.
Karl Brauer, a contributor over at Forbes and a long-time veteran of the automotive industry, put together a list of 10 of the most lacking new car technologies and what exactly the issues are with them. “Four decades of quantum leaps in automotive technology have not always been accompanied by similar leaps in wisdom regarding the use of said technology,” he writes.
So what are the top 10 new car tech blunders? Read on to find out.
1. Fake exhaust noise
Many people may not be aware, but car companies are using vehicles’ audio systems to pump fake exhaust noises into the cabin. BMW has been known to do this, even in cases when the vehicle naturally doesn’t make said noises at all, like the i8 hybrid. Since technology has improved to actually reduce noise thanks to cabin insulation, many drivers feel like the driving experience has changed, which has led to car companies pumping the noise in. “Creating exhaust noise from scratch and enhancing it with the car’s audio system is technology at its worst,” Brauer says.
2. Stupid lights
Stupid lights, or “Idiotic Idiot Lights,” as Brauer calls them, are another example of the worst new technologies on the market. The main issue with these lights is that, even in the case of a minor problem, the entire dashboard may light up with warning after warning. Basically, what’s stopping engineers from designing these warning indicators from telling drivers exactly what’s wrong instead of bombarding us with everything in their arsenal? Seems like an easy issue to phase out in coming years, but we’ll have to see.
3. Virtual buttons
Another fairly serious annoyance? Having virtual buttons that actually control critical vehicle functions. Have you ever dropped your smartphone and had the touchscreen stop working properly? That may be infuriating, but it’s not necessarily life-threatening — it could be if a very critical operation needs to be initiated but the touchscreen in your car is on the fritz. Dedicating physical switches with mechanical physicality for important functions is a better bet, rather than depending on the screen to last.
4. Electric doors
Did you know that some cars have electric-powered doors? For standard commuter vehicle drivers, this may come as a surprise, but alas, it’s a technology that is destined to trickle down from sports and luxury auto makers. Electric relays are starting to replace mechanical door release mechanisms in some cars, which means that if your battery goes dead, you might have trouble getting in. There are solutions to this issue, but the prospect of having those relays fail during an emergency situation is troublesome.
5. Misplaced keyless start
A lot of modern, newer cars are foregoing the traditional key system for a more high-tech alternative. Many cars don’t require you to actually pull the key out of your pocket when starting the car or shutting it off. That can be convenient, yes, but what happens when you drop the car off with a valet and they drive off while you still have the key in your pocket? They may not be able to turn the car off or even lock it. Again, there are safeguards against this type of thing, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
6. Idle stop
If you’ve ever driven a hybrid, electric car, or any number of the newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles on the market, you’ve probably noticed that these cars actually shut themselves off when they come to a stop. The engines of these vehicles are actually shut down when idling in an effort to save on fuel costs. The issue is that once you start rolling again, these cars also tend to shimmy and shake, creating a disturbing jolt every time you hit a red light. It’s not a huge deal, but it can really irritate drivers after doing it 20 or 30 times in a row.
7. No more manuals
Nothing is more thrilling than slamming your car into different gears as you scream down a backroad, right? Well, that’s quickly becoming a thing of the past, as manual transmissions are getting harder and harder to find on newer cars. The new automatic transmission systems in newer vehicles are absolutely spectacular, but for those who want an old-school driving experience, it’s a lot harder to find now more than ever.
8. Restricted access features
No, Bauer doesn’t mean that your car comes with features that you’re not allowed to access — he means features that you’re not allowed to access while driving. The engineers and designers behind these systems may have had their hearts in the right place, but in practice, it leaves a lot to be desired. For example, it’s understandable that navigation and phone features should be unusable while the car is in motion. But what if your passenger wants to use them? This is where the issue comes up.
9. Dumb screen displays
We’ve covered the dumb lights and potential failure of dashboard displays, but what about the displays themselves? Bauer’s main issue with these displays has to do with the back-up camera, which will be required for all new vehicles sold in the U.S. starting in 2018. In particular, his issue is that the camera, when in use, takes up the entire screen display. If you’re trying to mess with the climate controls or answer a phone call, you won’t be able to until the car is out of the reverse position. Again, a mild annoyance, but better design and functionality would go a long way.
10. Reduced car control
Safety and stability controls are becoming commonplace, but they’re not always as helpful as their designers intended them to be. How, exactly? As Bauer puts it, “sometimes the system doesn’t recognize a threat that’s obvious to a human driver. Turning the wheel so quickly that I risk a moderate skid or colliding with a parked car is acceptable when I’m doing it to avoid a kid chasing a ball. But what happens when the computer disagrees and overrides my ability to control the vehicle…”
That’s definitely something to think about, and should be considered by engineering teams when putting together the next generation of safety systems.
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