It’s time to devote yet another column to automotive details. The sharp-minded among us may be annoyed by this, since I already covered this subject last week. But this time, things are different. This time, it’s negative. And negative sells. I know that because I live in Atlanta, home of CNN, who drives around in large panel trucks with huge printed signs on each side that say: “HAVE YOU SEEN SOMETHING BLOODY? TWEET US!”
Anyway: negative automotive details. I’ve got a few suggestions and, as always, I’m asking for your help to uncover more. For those of you curious as to why I’ve done so many question-and-answer posts lately, I promise there is a reason, namely that I’m going out of town in two weeks and I want to compile all the answers into a few posts that you can read while I’m gone. But also it’s because I love reading the responses, to the point where I was up last time until 2 a.m. Googling “BMW glovebox flashlight.”
Here are my nominations for some of the worst automotive details, based on a few of the cars I’ve owned. Feel free to share yours.
Range Rover Parking Sensors
It’s hard for me to believe that any single thing is more infuriating than the parking sensors on my Range Rover. (Re-reading this sentence, it sounds like someone who might say: “I just can’t get the temperature of my spa quite right.”) Seriously, though: I often think that I would gladly come home and discover that a burglar entered my home, stole all of my clothes, then let in a two-year-old child who drew all over the walls in Sharpie, all if it meant I no longer had to deal with my Range Rover parking sensors.
This is the problem. I’m backing into a parking space, so the sensors automatically activate. That’s great. They start beeping. Beep. Beep. Beep. Perfect. Then I get closer. Beep beep. Beep beep. Then I get super close. Beeeeeeeep. Exactly what I want to hear. So I stop parking and place the vehicle in park. And what happens next? You guessed it: Beeeeeeeep! Once the sensor goes on, it does not turn off, even if the vehicle is no longer in gear. So you’re parked and maybe you’re waiting for someone, and you just sit there listening to Beeeeeeep! And yes, you can manually turn off the sensor, but then you must manually turn it back on again when you’re trying to leave.
If you happen to know the person who designed these sensors, kindly provide me with their address so I can dispatch a crew of clothes-stealing burglars and creative, marker-wielding two-year-olds.
Mercedes Next Track Steering Wheel
Owning a Mercedes is an unusual decision that I strongly recommend you only make if you can stomach a) tremendous depreciation, or b) substantial maintenance costs. In fact, it’s often both of those things, and never neither.
The detail that upset me most about Mercedes ownership, however, was none of that. It was the lack of a steering wheel ‘next track’ button.
Allow me to explain. The steering wheel of most Mercedes models, like any luxury car, is covered with buttons. On my 2007 E-Class, the total number was eight, just to be precise. But this is where the anger comes in: of those eight buttons, not one controlled the next stereo track! Instead, we had volume, phone, and four buttons for the “driver information center,” which you use approximately once a month when people ask: What kinda mileage duzzis thing get?
Gated Automatic Transmissions
I will never in my life understand why gated automatic transmissions exist. One of you out there in readerland probably has a completely valid explanation that makes perfect sense in your mind, but trust me: you’ve never had to explain it to an elderly person in the hot sun.
I once worked at a large rental car agency, and we had to deliver a car to an elderly driver after her previous rental, a Dodge Avenger, broke down. (Shocking, right?) So we brought her a Suzuki Forenza, which has a gated automatic shifter, and I spent the next 30 minutes attempting to explain how it works. Unfortunately, I was at a loss for words when she asked why it works that way. I still am.
Cadillac CTS Foot-Mounted Parking Brake
Before I got my current CTS-V Wagon, I had a CTS-V sedan, which was a fairly decent car in many ways – except for one glaring detail. No, I’m not talking about the plastic center stack, which derived its material from a Playskool toy. I am instead referring to the foot-mounted parking brake.
You’re probably thinking: What’s the big deal? A lot of cars have foot-mounted parking brakes! And that’s very true. The difference, however, is that most of those cars don’t have manual transmissions. The CTS-V did. That meant there were four pedals in the driver footwell, and the one you never wanted to press was directly next to the one you had to press each time you changed gear.
So, folks, what are your worst automotive details? It’s Friday night and my girlfriend is out of town, which can only mean one thing: 2 a.m. automotive Googling. Bring it on.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.