Features We'd Really Like to See in All Cars
The technological innovations just keep on coming: Electronic stability control, a life-saving innovation, is now making its way into cheaper and cheaper cars. You can now save your relationship thanks to dual climate controls. Of course, not every innovation is a winner. Anybody for a fake convertible top?
What would we like to see in every car, if we could have our way? Here's our list!
1. Stability Control
Studies show that vehicle stability control (often referred to by myriad confusing acronyms such as VDC, DSC, ESP, MSPCA, etc.) clearly helps people avoid accidents. Stability control uses sensors to detect early signs of a skid, then limits acceleration and applies the brakes as needed to regain control of the car. Stability control can even help keep you (to a point) from losing control of your car when you take a corner too fast or swerve to avoid, say, that rare Ming vase you spotted on the roadway.
2. Safe-Distance Technologies
A number of different manufacturers offer some sort of "safe-distance technology." The systems are different, but the fundamental goal is the same: to keep you from crashing into something in front of you, even if you're checking on your dry cleaning when someone in front of you slams on the brakes.
Some manufacturers use this technology as part of what is called adaptive cruise control. Others alert you with an audible warning that you're about to kiss the trunk in front of you. Finally, some late-model vehicles will even take over the braking. They all use sonar to measure the distance between your car and the objects in front of it.
3. Blind Spot Monitoring
This is a truly great feature. We love it. Simply put, it tells you when an object, such as a car, motorcycle or moose, is coming up beside you and might not be visible. Note: It also works if the object is visible to you, and you're just being a dope and not paying attention. Blind spot monitoring uses sonar to keep tabs on the blind spots on both sides of the car. It detects motion, not stationary objects, so false alarms are avoided. Versions of this technology are available on Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Volvo and some Ford models.
A related safety feature, called lane departure warning, alerts a driver when he's drifting out of his lane, as can sometimes happen when the driver is drowsy or distracted. These systems use cameras to look for the lane markers and check whether the turn signal has been activated. If the vehicle is moving into another lane and the turn signal is not on, the system will sound an alert. Versions of this lane departure warning system are available on GM, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Kia vehicles, among others.
4. Audible Oil Pressure and Engine Temperature Alert
Here's the problem: If you wait until the oil light comes on, it's almost too late for your engine. At that point, you need to pull over immediately if you're going to have something more than a hunk of melted metal under your hood.
We'd like to have an audible alarm that comes through your car's radio — whether it's on or not — much like the Emergency Alert System. If your car could reach out from the dashboard and slap you a few times, we'd be in favor of that, too. An early audible alert would be the next best thing. It's also much better than current warnings, such as a flashing light or scrolling message, which are easily ignored — much to the detriment of your bank account.
5. Adjustable Pedals
How many of us are exactly 5-foot-9? Adjustable pedals allow you to fit the car's pedals to your body while maintaining a minimum distance of 12 inches between you and the airbag in your steering wheel. In addition, it can help those of us who come in "non-standard" sizes avoid leg and back fatigue. For the real vertically challenged among us, there would no longer be any need to retrofit your car with expensive pedal extenders.
6. Bird's-Eye-View Camera
Of the many backup and parking assist cameras that are available now, the bird's-eye camera system, called the Around View Monitor, from Infiniti is our favorite.
It's great for parking. How's it work? The dashboard screen turns on when you shift into Reverse and stays on in 1st gear until about 5 mph, so it stays on while you're going back and forth, working your way into a parking space. Four little cameras are built into the front, back and both sides of the vehicle, and a computer stitches the views together. What you see on your monitor is a bird's-eye view — a view that looks like you're looking down on the car from above the roof. You see everything around the car at once. It's magnificent.
7. Sleepy and Distracted Driver Alerts
Fighter planes have technology that monitors eye movement. Why can't cars? We'd love to see a system that monitors our eye movements and sound an alarm when the driver appears to be sleepy or distracted. Drowsy and distracted drivers are huge killers on the roads. We're sure a system like this would save a lot of lives.
8. Easy-to-Replace Headlight Lens
Almost all current vehicle headlights have plastic lenses. That's great if your goal is to save weight. But after a few years of use, we've noticed the lenses invariably turn yellow and become pitted, dramatically reducing the headlights' effectiveness. Once worn, the lenses can be buffed, but the results are often only a marginal improvement. We'd like to see an easy-to-replace lens or a peel-off cover that would allow you to rejuvenate the lens without replacing the entire headlight unit, which can often cost hundreds of dollars.
9. Auto-Shutoff Headlights
Believe it or not, some manufacturers, such as VW, still have not designed an automatic shut-off feature for their headlights. We think that's unconscionable. Why not have the headlights go off when you turn off the ignition? Or when you open the driver's door? If you can make a chime ding incessantly, you can use the same technology to just shut off the damn headlights and guarantee that morons like us won't leave the lights on and run down the battery. Although we don't have any hard evidence, we wouldn't be surprised if AAA were behind this conspiracy because it is a boon to tow truck drivers everywhere.
10. 'Sorry!' Button
Is there anything that we need more on the roads today than a "Sorry!" button? We often do bad or dumb things when we drive, and we have no way to communicate remorse. It might just lead to a little more civility.
As it stands now, when you tick off another driver, he or she has little choice but to remind you that you're a moron. Then you have to retaliate with a clever retort like, "Oh, yeah? Well, you're a moron, too!" Say you're sorry, though, and you break the cycle. A "Sorry!" button could defuse a lot of otherwise explosive situations — not to mention, it would generate a good deal of karma.
While we're at it, we'd like to have two buttons, "Sorry!" and "You jerk!" Except when you press the "Jerk" button ... your car still says, "I'm sorry!" Nice, huh? We thought so.
11. Smart Key
Ford recently introduced a "smart" ignition key that allows a parent to program the key for a child. Mom or Dad can set the maximum vehicle speed, activate a persistent seat belt reminder, set the volume level for the radio and manage other features.
We think smart keys are a great idea, but we'd like to take it one step further. We'd like to see a smart key with an optional Breathalyzer, so the car wouldn't start if the child had been drinking. While we're adding features, our smart key would disable the child's cell phone when he was driving — and drive him straight to the library if his grades drop below a B-minus.