By on July 8, 2016

symbols

This is the story. Brother Bark and I knew a fellow. At one point, he’d been kind of a big deal in the Columbus, Ohio music scene; he called himself, and the others like him, Franklin County Municipal Rock Stars. At the age of 30, he quit that scene and he quit drinking while he was at it. Got a job in Washington, D.C. as a cubicle drone. Bought himself a new Thunderbird. Paid it off in four years. Then he lost his job in the post-September-11th fallout. Ran out of money in a hurry. Moved into a tiny apartment with his girlfriend. Couldn’t afford to leave the house much. He was starting to recognize the signs of incipient agoraphobia in the way he trembled when it was time to go outside and get the mail.

He still had the ‘Bird. It was in good shape. Just six years old. His girlfriend’s car broke down. She started driving his car to work; he wasn’t using it anyway. Some days he didn’t even leave his bedroom. One day the phone at home rang. It was his girlfriend. The ‘Bird was dead. She’d been driving it down the freeway and BANG smoke GRIND silence rolling to a stop.

“I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “I should have changed the oil when it told me to.”

“The Thunderbird told you to change the oil?” our friend asked. He didn’t know it could do that.

“Yes, three weeks ago it started showing the red light that means change the oil.” It was then, according to our friend, that he hung up the phone and started sobbing. He sold The Bird for scrap. The girlfriend left him. He took a Greyhound back to Ohio and moved into a rural basement outside Kenyon College, living on old friends’ charity and doing whatever work he could accomplish without walking outside. The next time he left the house for any substantial length of time, it was to volunteer for the campaign of Barack Obama, five long years later.

“How,” he asked Bark plaintively, “could she have thought that the light meant change the oil?”


My guess is that most of the B&B know what a red genie’s-lamp icon means, should you see it appear on your car’s dashboard. If you don’t, AutoZone has a helpful list. Many of the indicators are somewhat self-explanatory: even our old pal’s dippy girlfriend intuited somehow that the symbol meant oil. She just didn’t consider the possibility that the light meant low oil pressure, stop the car NOW. She thought that any situation serious enough to require an immediate switch-off of the engine would be announced by something bigger, brighter, and more serious-looking than a tiny, little Aladdin’s lamp in the corner of the dashboard.

Can you really blame her for this? Think about any technology with which you have only middling familiarity; perhaps it’s your iPhone, perhaps it’s some machine or system at work, perhaps it’s your television. If you saw a small pictogram, smaller than a dime, pop up somewhere on the screen, would you immediately shut everything down post haste? If you failed to do so, and your phone or TV or pacemaker exploded, would you be completely befuddled by that? Would you feel responsible, or would you think such a situation requires a more explicit warning?

This is, for better or worse, a situation where the auto industry has not kept up with the world around it. A hundred years ago, it was expected that an automobile would require special training to operate and specialized skills to diagnose, because the automobile was the successor of the horse and everybody knew that horses required constant attention from their owners. Virtually all technologies available to human beings at that time were either difficult to operate or outright dangerous. Attempting to operate anything from a mechanical loom to a Duesenberg without getting proper instruction was considered to be the mark of a peculiar idiot and whatever consequences attended such attempts were considered to be a sign of God’s will.

Fifty years ago, it was expected that a driver should at least know what all the potential operation states of his or her vehicle were, because that was the expectation of 1966-era technology. There was an expectation that some safety was built into the product, but the operator was still primarily responsible for knowing what the vehicle could or should do.

So our 1916-era driver could be expected to know how to diagnose most engine problems via sound or examination, and the 1966-era driver could be expected to be alert for an oil pressure light. What about the modern driver? Nowadays, we encourage children to “explore” technology. We have unleashed a cascade of fast-changing devices and requirements upon normal human beings and told them to figure it out using a help menu or through their own exploration. Speaking personally, the next time I hear some idiot tech manager saying that “You need to go home and play with (insert name of dumb-ass tech fad-o’-the-week here, maybe ‘DevOps’ or ‘Cloud’) until you’re comfortable with it,” I might just commit aggravated assault. But the idea that you learn to use modern technology by starting to use it and then figuring it out as you go along is very well embedded in our society.

You can argue that a modern vehicle should unequivocally tell the driver what to do in any situation that falls outside the context of normal operation. Low oil? Don’t tell the driver “low oil”; tell the driver to STOP THE CAR NOW. Is a tire going down? Don’t flash a tire warning: tell the driver to PULL OVER NOW AND INSPECT TIRES. There’s no reason that every car currently on the market can’t feature a small LCD screen that can flash red and tell the driver what to do if something is going wrong.

This needs to be implemented sensibly. I recently drove a GM SUV that must have been programmed by a drooling moron. When I started it, it told me that WINDSHIELD WASHER FLUID IS LOW. I knew that, and it was a sunny day, so I continued to drive the car. After a while, I got sick of seeing the warning, so I pressed the “check mark” button on the dash (and how long would it take the average non-GM owner to figure that out?) at which point my SUV helpfully told me

FRONT TIRE PRESSURE
LEFT 35 RIGHT 18

You have to both laugh and sneer at the idea of the dumb-ass at Government Motors who thought a windshield-wiper fluid level warning should take precedence over a critically low tire. But when I see programming decisions like that, I realize that sooner or later the government is going to get involved because otherwise that kind of stupidity will get someone killed. Obviously I stopped and filled the tire, but what if I had been a young mother with two kids in the car who didn’t see the tire warning until I was 100 miles into a 300-mile trip? What would I do? How would I interpret that warning? Would I even recognize it as such?

It’s time to implement a modern standard of warning symbols. We need to replace the 18 universal symbols with direct instructions that an untrained driver can understand. You can feel as superior as you like about this, but you’ll benefit too. As you cruise down the highway in your idiot-light-free vintage car or oil-pressure-gauge-equipped Porsche, wouldn’t you prefer to have the Tahoe behind you driving on properly inflated tires? Don’t you want your friends and family to be safe, even at the cost of dashboard aesthetics? What could my old friend have done in his Thunderbird had it just told his girlfriend to STOP THE CAR?

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187 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: Instrument (Panels) Of Torture...”


  • avatar
    BerlinDave

    Perhaps they need to be just a tad more careful when they pass out the Phi Beta Kappa keys???

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I’m surprised that GM whatever-you-drove didn’t just cycle through the messages. AFAIK most/all Fords with either the 2-line VFD or an LCD in the cluster will show messages for 5 seconds (or until you dismiss it) and go to the next one.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Yeah, this. Granted it was GM Australia instead of GM USA, but my G8 would cycle through the error messages if there was more than one (which happened often during the period when my TPMS was on the fritz).

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        My 04 BMW has demonstrated it’s ability to have redundant screens telling me a variety of things. Since the CCC (radio in iDrive parlance) died, I am left with a small display between the speedo and tach to tell me things. Since I have no iDrive to reset the flat tire warning from a while back, it continues to show that I have a flat. When the dynamic drive system freaks out for whatever reason, it then cycles through showing me a red tire and then a red tippy vechicle icon; when enough coolant leaks out, it then cycles between all three, when the active steering module gets wet because of the coolant leak, I get four icons cycling through.
        Hm, I guess my car is kind of a POS–at least it’s kind enough to tell me all of these things!

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I don’t know if they’re the same globally, but I read someone’s account of an error message on their (Euro) BMW’s cluster:

          “It is not possible to continue your journey.”

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        The GM U-Body vans forced you to use the arrow keys to cycle through any messages. Only the most recent was always displayed.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        I just wrote same – my G8 GT cycles through the messages.

    • 0 avatar
      anti121hero

      I have a 1998 grand Cherokee limited with the vehicle information Center. It has the digital picture of the jeep and wheels light up when you go in 4wd and the doors will open and tell you they are open and etc… Even that will cycle through messages, in importance too (coolant low, rear lamp failure, lift gate open etc). And this is two decade old technology

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      I call shenanigans. My ’05 Grand Prix cycled messages. Hell my 1989 Ford Probe LX with the digital dashboard cycled messages. Also the way the GM system works for TPMS the car would be SCREAMING at you for a tire at 18 PSI. My G8 GT is screaming at me if a tire gets down to 30 pounds – and cycles messages.

    • 0 avatar
      alexndr333

      The “Government Motors” reference was the idiot light in this story, alerting me that the tale about the SUV warning messages was suspect.

  • avatar
    rehposolihp

    I felt a stab of pain when I realized where the story was going.

    A standard would be a good idea – and hierarchical ordering of alert messages is obviously important. But how many new cars only display an oil icon when they have low oil pressure?

    My 07 GTI angrily would inform me “STOP! Oil Pressure low. Pull Over Immediately.”

    Maybe VW just realized that was a helpful feature on a car that drank a quart of oil every 2,000 miles…

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      that’s the thing- the iconography in the lede image IS a standard! ISO 2575.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      My ’00 (B5) Passat did the same. In big red letters it would tell you to pull over immediately due to “Coolant”. But what about that coolant? The warning wasn’t very specific. Since coolant level and coolant temperature are two different things. High temps, yes pull over now, but low(ish) level is not really a problem unless it continues to drop (thus indicating a leak). My wife’s ’08 Volvo blinks so many lights and chimes its crazy. Thus it suffers from the boy who cried wolf problem. It is hard to tell what a real problem is because if your license plate bulb goes out a warning pops up.

      The real problem is most people have no idea how a vehicle works (mechanically) or just how dangerous some warnings (like low tire pressure) can be if not taking seriously. Maybe part of drivers ed should be a review of common warning lights. Then again I assume drivers ed is still a thing… I bet kids these days just watch a video. No big deal, I’m sure Tesla’s next update will take of all of this anyway, the car will just pull over and phone home when a problem arises.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      Better than my Legacy that apparently never lost oil pressure despite not having any oil

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Wow.
    Reminds me of a day not that long ago when my wife and I were sitting calmly watching TV.
    She was knitting.
    Calmly, she says without taking her eyes off the work…”Oh, by the way. The red light on the dash needs to be turned off. It is disturbing.”

    I looked over and stupefyingly(?) asked…what?
    Red light?
    What red light!?
    How long has it been on????

    Yup. Turns out that damned little irritating light had been bothering her for about a week.

    • 0 avatar
      bricoler1946

      They’re called “idiot ” lights for a reason. My car doesn’t even have a dipstick to check the oil, I have to do it through” idrive, I only get a message when a litre of oil needs to be added. I’ve had no problems but it does seem a little over the top. Nanny state at work!!!

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Nanny state? I you saying the government banned dipsticks?

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        LOL…assuming this is sarcasm…

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          I’m completely serious. Every time I come to TTAC, I see comments about how government regulation is strangling the automotive industry and forcing consumers to buy vehicles they don’t like.

          So when someone says the ‘nanny state’ is to blame for him being short a dipstick, I’d like to know what regulator forced that upon him.

          • 0 avatar
            npaladin2000

            Actually, the nanny state is there trying to PROTECT dipsticks…like the girlfriend in the above piece. Of course, the only way to protect some of these people is to get them a driver…which is why nanny staters like mass transit. :)

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I was talking to the other guy, Vogo…

          • 0 avatar
            JustPassinThru

            Are you being serious?

            Do you know WHY Park Rangers don’t want people feeding bears, or deer?

            Partly it’s because they lose ability or interest in finding their own food – they grow dependent on handouts.

            Likewise, idiot-proof motoring. A car that tells you what your washer-fluid level is, it would be assumed by some, will also tell you when you can’t DRIVE it because it’s too low on oil. Now, you may think that’s ridiculous, and I do; but…think. A car that has logic circuits smarter than the driver, which brake the car for pedestrians (one hopes)?

            No. Driver training, OWNER training, is essential – and now more than ever.

          • 0 avatar
            BobinPgh

            But not even mass transit is immune to this issue. I can remember being on a bus where there was a huge amount of smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe and a smell of burning plastic. Passengers told the driver that the bus was burning up but he ignored them. Then a bell went off and he still ignored it. When I got off, the smoke was even worse. I wonder how long that bus ran afterwards and I could not believe a professional driver would ignore something like an expensive diesel engine overheating.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @TrailerTrash – my wife does that to me too. When I first bought my F150 my wife had been using the truck and she was in a panic saying that an “idiot” light was flashing on my new truck. I went out to look and it turned out is was a “security” light that blinks once you shut it off indicating the ignition is disabled.
      She complained once that her minivan needed to get checked since the brake pedal was vibrating oddly and a chime was “going off” while she was driving. I figured that one out without even looking at the vehicle. The roads had been horrifically icy and her Sienna had a “Geiger Counter” like chime that gets louder and faster the more it thinks you are going to kill it and the occupants. I told her it was the ABS fluttering under her foot and told her what the alarm was.

      My in-laws were in town and borrowed the van. Her dad comes in saying something was wrong with it since a warning light was on and it would chime. I went out to check and it turned out that the sliding door wasn’t closed properly.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Agree wholeheartedly, and surprised that the lawyers haven’t already forced this as part of our otherwise strict product liability regime. Cars are now consumer devices and their makers can’t expect anything except the threadbare instruction required to get a driver’s license.

    PS: what in the he!! is the icon on the bottom left? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it and I don’t have a clue.

    • 0 avatar
      tsoden

      Gas cap is missing?

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Yes, because for a time, a loose fuel cap would trigger an SES light. Now the separate it so the operator can figure it out without a scanner.

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          Well they’ve gone one further now, by completely eliminating the gas cap altogether. Every new car that I’ve rented over the past couple of years hasn’t even had a gas cap at all – they have a capless design that opens when the fuel nozzle is inserted.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Some manufacturer had problems with the fuel nozzles shutting off after only a couple gallons were dispensed into the tank — I want to say current-generation Ford Explorers, maybe?

            Do all vehicles with capless fueling require a special funnel to fill the tank using an external container, i.e., gas can?

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            sgeffe, my C7 was delivered with a special adapter just for that purpose. So, if GM provides them for capless cars, I am going to stick my neck out and say all will. Not really sure of the benefit of eliminating the cap – I am assuming that it must save a few bucks in the production process.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      There are two ways to think about the liability. What if the instructions are not exactly correct, or followed too closely?

      I recall from software engineering, the model conversation regarding an autonomous braking system:

      Customer: If the system does not think it can stop in time without a collision, it should disengage.

      Business Analyst/Programmer/Software Person: How would we know if we can stop in time?

      Customer: We can give you weight of the vehicle and you can measure braking.

      Business Analyst: (Bad Response) Shouldn’t we try to do something?
      Business Analyst: (Correct Response we were taught…) Why would you want it disabled in this event?

      Customer: If it’s on when they impact, we’re liable. However, if we advise them, and the driver still makes the decision, the driver is at fault.

      Perhaps different liability models are required when people keep getting stupider and more engrossed in their iPhones to the detriment of situational awareness, and the idea that they could potentially know what something means is as good as knowing what it means?

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Jack, this kind of reminds me of the CK comedy routine where he is sitting on a flying airplane and the idiot next to him suddenly bitches about the internet being down.
    CK goes on a rant about how stupid this was. After all, the whole invention was new and a complete luxury!
    How could you bitch about such a convenience being down…
    Instead, the idiot should have been sitting in utter amazement that they were actually in an aluminum tube shooting at 500 plus MPH through space.

    No…instead he bitches about his internet being down.

    Ditto with this. Instead of being surprised and happy with the tech we are now being presented with in our modern cars…we find a bitch.

    Ya…it would be nice f all the tech and inventions followed some sort of logical sequence, but after all…we ar monkeys.

    Thinkin the monkeys are doin pretty well.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Not really analogous. It’s way harder to get reliable internet 35,000 feet in the air than to take information the car already monitors and collects and translate it into something meaningful and actionable. People are used to responding to a gas light…. tire pressure lights, headlight lights, oil, brakes… most people don’t think about those things. So better notification would be helpful.

      • 0 avatar
        360joules

        Have to say that mother in law’s minivan TPMS sensor worked perfectly last summer. 7 people in the minivan & TPMS light came on halfway to our destination. Visual exam of all 4 tires was at first unremarkable until I noticed a sheet metal screw in the middle of front right tread. Tire gauge showed 10 lbs low. Radial tires often show a little sag when it’s cold and I had performed a walk-around visual inspection before we had loaded up. I would hope that TPMS or low oil idiot light would take precedence over low windshield fluid.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      TrailerTrash – yes and no. BMW (Bitch Moan Whine) about internet at 35k feet is silly but poor gauge or warning symbols is not. For most people the operation of a motor vehicle IS the most complex and dangerous task they will ever perform. Many people function at the fur bearing end of the gene pool. The monoliths we build need to be very specific for that demographic.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Wait. That means oil pressure is low? I thought I was getting 3 wishes.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    At the very least, refresh the symbols into the 21st century.

    The brake symbols are for drum brakes, the oil symbol takes the shape of an antique metal oil container, the engine symbol has a mechanical fan and a carburettor…

    It’s common these days for manufacturers to have their own proprietary warning displays/messages. I do think some level of standardization between manufacturers would be a good thing.

    For example, a BMW, Toyota, Chevy will all prioritize the low brake fluid message over a loose gas cap, and will all chime and display /flash the same text.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Then again, a computer’s save is still commonly a floppy disk (i don’t know about you, but most of the Excel files I work with are bigger than 1.44mb), and cell phones still use the symbol of a handset for the call button even though a shrinking number of people even have a landline anymore.

      An outdated icon is only a problem when people stop understanding what it means outright. The woman in question understood there was an issue with the oil, she just didn’t appreciate thr severity of the issue. A light that looks like a modern plastic oil bottle won’t change that.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    My ’04 Passat will helpfully say “STOP! OIL PRESSURE!” right smack dab in the middle of the dash. (Which is good, since it has the sludge-prone 1.8T, though I’ve been fine after 160k) Despite this, not more than a couple of months go by where some idiot ignores the “STOP!”, grenades his engine, and then asks on the Passat forum why his car won’t start.

    My favorite icon is the “Check Engine Light”. That’s about as anachronistic as using a floppy disk as a “save icon. (Hats off to the carmakers that have a separate “Check Gas Cap” light, so people stop paying a dealership a half hour of labor to discover the ubiquitous Small Evap Leak code.)

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Hats off to the carmakers that have a separate “Check Gas Cap” light”

      my Ranger has this.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      On the other hand … what icon would be better for “check engine” across *every vehicle*?

      Remember that only the most enthusiast-y enthusiasts really have a great idea what the engine in their car looks like; to everyone else it’s “an engine”, which means the icon can be, well, iconographic.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        To most everyone else under the age of 50, the Check Engine light isn’t an engine at all; it’s some abstract squiggly design. I’m not suggesting the light be shaped like an engine at all.

        Given that it USUALLY refers to emissions problems, a tailpipe with smoke coming out of it would probably be a better choice.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    Because after she actually stops the car (assuming she does, anyway) she will then ask “now what?” Since the car will not answer, even money she starts going again.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatist

      With fancy display screens, there is ABSOLUTELY no reason that the system can’t display more info including guidance depending on the issue (‘do not exceed 30 mph’ , ‘have vehicle checked by dealer within 7 days’ or ‘pull over where safe and call for professional help… do not drive car’)

  • avatar
    John

    This is a excellent idea. I had a friend call me over to his house because the wife’s car was low on oil. Told me the oil light had been on during her 24 mile trip home from work. It was a Mazda, and the engine held 4 quarts. Put in one quart – nothing on the dipstick – two quarts – nothing. Took the full four quarts to fill it up – it had been run dry, due to a leaky valve cover gasket. Amazingly, they kept the car, and it ran fine until they sold it a year later. They dodged a bullet, but a STOP THE CAR NOW! alert would have been great.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I wish we would retire the term “Government Motors.” It really insults our government to be associated with the failing bureaucracy that is GM.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Birds of a feather, flock together.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      I thought the bigger insult was giving a private business a government moniker. That GM could be compared to the leviathan that our government has become – you know far, far different than our government originally was – was an insult to GM. Maybe, it’s intended to be sort of a wake-up call to GM.

      • 0 avatar
        philipwitak

        re:” That GM could be compared to the leviathan that our government has become – you know far, far different than our government originally was…”

        true, the government has grown in size over the last 240 years. the country has also grown in terms of it’s population. our culture is now much different than it once was. even republican ideology has not remained static. quoting the canadian rock band rush [tom sawyer]: changes aren’t permanent – but change is.

        so what exactly was/is your point?

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          My point is that GM has been failing for 40 years now. Losing market share, losing profitability, losing its leadership role. Even went bankrupt and had to be saved by the government.

          Our government could be more effective and more efficient, no doubt. But it functions pretty well, except when politicians grandstand and punish citizens by de-funding it to make a point.

        • 0 avatar
          Paragon

          Philip, one point was that the purpose of the government was originally to serve the American people. Nowadays, many different departments or agencies of government issue edicts or mandates or policies that WE MUST FOLLOW in order to serve the government. We must come to recognize that that is wrong-headed and bass-ackwards. Once again, government was set up to serve us, not the other way around.

          Then there is the notion that the government is far larger and with far more employees than there needs to be. Also, the money government spends comes from us, the tax-payers. So when the issue of massive waste, fraud and abuse comes up, it should matter to all of us because it is our money they are wasting. It is Congress that is authorized to pass spending bills, but exactly when have they ever consulted us in regard to the money they spend? Who they REALLY serve is the businesses, organizations or trade groups who financed their campaign to get elected. Consequently, the reason our country is so screwed up is because government is NOT responsive to the will of the American people, but mostly only to those who were their campaign donors. That is the current reality of our broken system. And, for anybody who isn’t already aware, part of the big attraction of Mr. Donald Trump as a Presidential candidate is that he is not and will not be beholden to any particular businesses, unions, or industries like Hillary is because his campaign is largely self-funded. That’s why he is also unnerving the Republican political establishment, who would like to replace him with someone who will continue the status quo. The wake-up call is the realization that the left-wingers and right-wingers are all part of the the same bird; left and right always have issues that distract us all from what is really going on. A paradigm-shift away from a left vs. right or right vs. left mentality is empowering. To quote a popular phrase, “wake up, America!”

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “one point was that the purpose of the government was originally to serve the American people.”

            I’m sure that the native people and the slaves really appreciated the good old days.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      VoGo, you could reverse the position of GM and government in your statement and it would still be true.

      Having said that, I recently had a chance to sit in a Yukon, a Chevy SS and a CT6, and I was pleasantly surprised by all 3. I only drove the SS, which was unbelievably good, but the others surprised with design and materials quality.

      Someone at GM is awake.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        If one is willing to look with an open mind, many of GM’s current offerings are actually really good. How they will hold up over the long haul is still anybody’s guess.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    My 1991 Citroen BX has a big red STOP light in the middle of the instrument cluster that comes on together with the corresponding normal warning light if the problem is severe. So for instance, slight overheating, yellow light — severe overheating, red light plus Big Red STOP Light.

    Can’t have been too hard to implement, because otherwise they wouldn’t’ve, because Citroen. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      While I like the idea most auto manufacturers would consider that too stress inducing, it would shatter the illusion that your car requires zero maintenance.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Effing MB video! Lured me in with nostalgia only to nauseate me with nearly BTSR levels of camera spazz.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      And that’s not his private stash of videos. I have a feeling those are just fascinating.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Check out Truck’s gun videos for a LOL.

        Watch how warily the range employee hovers around him to control his handling of a weapon and how rapidly the employee’s hand clamps the upper receiver to take it away after Big Boy has finished jerking the trigger on a clip-full.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Cue totally not made up YouTube ad revenue bragging.

          Cue a comment needlessly typed like this

          Cue RANDOM word caps locking

          Cue irrelevant saying cuz I need to be first

          Cue final sentence just to make comkent look bigger

          Cue HELLCAT

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Yeah, it’s hard to decide who I’d feel more terrified about being armed in public – that bloviating weirdo or the clown I saw at Panera last week with a gun on his hip wearing a Deadpool shirt.

          Never know when s*it’s gonna go down…at Panera…time to make the f**kin’ chimichangas…maximum effort!

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Geez, you need to go to a better part of town Panera! The ones here are filled with white women in yoga pants, and old people enjoying their 3:30 PM supper.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I’ve always found “guy with a gun on his hip to go do menial shopping with the family at Walmart” a little unsettling.

            What actually terrified me though was the one time I saw an older guy with two(!!!) revolvers strapped to his pants in special holsters. I don’t want to go anywhere near where he’s going.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            NoGoYo, pretty common sight in “Open Carry” states. And that’s not counting all the people carrying concealed, licensed or not, nor the off duty cops shopping and carrying concealed.

            Many cops carry two, often in their boot or strapped to their leg.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I see plenty of guys with one, I’ve gotten used to it.

            That was the only guy I’ve ever seen carrying two at once. Like I said, I want no part of him or whoever he has to deal with.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            It’s sad to see so many flaunting their mental illness; I really wish they’d get the help they need.

  • avatar
    Toad

    More explicit warnings are an excellent idea. I know lots of people who have no idea what “Low Oil Pressure” (or virtually any other warning) actually means to the health of the car or occupant. Blame it on bad educations, absentee fathers, self absorption, whatever: many drivers have no idea that a warning light is anything that really requires some attention. It is safe to assume that many if not most drivers look at their car as an appliance they use instead of a complex machine they interact with; auto engineers need to design their user interface accordingly.

    All cars now have a rear view camera (and thus a display screen) so adding a messages that tell the driver what to do in event of a mechanical or safety problem would be easy and cheap.

    This is not a new idea: commercial trucks will give a warning light for minor problems, go into “limp” mode for more serious issues, and shut down completely (with a +/- 1 minute warning) for critical failures. That standard should apply to cars as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      And soon mirrors could be a thing of the past, I mean, who uses mirrors anymore? Certainly not that Jeep Cherokee about to back into me…

      Oh wait he has a camera? Well, I’ll just let him enjoy Force Awakens, obviously that movie means more to him than a $3000 repair job.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yup many commercial trucks are outfitted with an engine protection system whether OE or aftermarket that will shut down the engine if the oil pressure is low or the coolant temp is too high. Of course the bitch is when you have to spend several hundred dollars having a truck towed in because of a bad oil pressure sender.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Ermagerd, this story had to remind me! My older sister did something similar with her own car. The oil light came on as she was about to drive 20 miles to shop. She went shopping and asked my father to check it out when she returned. He added 3-1/2 quarts to top it off.

    Then she got married and I inherited the car. When I took it to her regular mechanic, he told me she hadn’t changed the oil in over 17,000 miles. I didn’t have the heart to tell him “most” of the oil was just two months old. Three months later a crank shaft main bearing was wiped out when it failed at 60 MPH. When was the last time you heard of a main bearing going out?

    Forget home economics classes, girls should be taught this stuff in middle school shop classes along with the boys.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “When was the last time you heard of a main bearing going out?”

      I could tell you an embarrassing story but I’ll pass…safe to say I learned my lesson on changing the oil a LONG time ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      There *are* no middle-school shop classes.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        True, but in high school metal shop I learned valuable life skills like how to make ninja stars.

        Some were still in the roof of the cafeteria when I visited a few years after graduation.

        And who said I wouldn’t be remembered?

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          In wood shop most guys I knew made pot pipes

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Oh that reminds me of the most memorable thing from middle school shop class.

            (The teacher was often gone or inattentive, to a room full of 7th graders with tools.) One idiot decided since he had a hammer handy that he’d use it to crush up some peppermint Altoids. Then he snorted them through a ballpoint pen he took apart.

            Emergency room.

      • 0 avatar
        Weltron

        The middle school I went to actually does have wood shop, with the big band saws, plainers and what not. However, auto, advanced woods and engineering/drafting are reserved for the high school.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Only time I ever had to take shop class was indeed in middle school.

          I still have the scar on the knuckle of my index finger from where it met with the belt sander.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Well, that’s another thing. Cut out the Hygiene/disguised-sex-education, diversity, and other touchy-feely classes and gear middle school and high school for practical everyday knowledge and stop “preparing” everyone for college. Part of the value of a degree was its rarity, but now that everyone at the nail salon has one…

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Let me drop some knowledge on you how it works in my state.

          Number of students per school + state formula = FTEs (Full Time Equivalent) = number of teaching positions on your campus. Which is my state BTW is always one year behind, my number of staff for 16-17 was determined by the number of students I had 15-16.

          Now first priority with those FTEs is the required classes (using MS/HS as an example) like Language Arts, Math, Science, etc. Whatever positions you have left over can go into elective classes. However with more and more states ratcheting up the requirements for classes like PE/Health, the ability to even have a position to consider for something like Shop Class is becoming a luxury.

          When my district says things to the Public Education Department like: “Hey I thought those new standards were College and CAREER readiness? What have you done for CAREERS lately?” we are met with a deafening silence.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I wonder if the state formula is anything like step two as shown below:

            Step 1. Collect underpants.
            Step 2. ?
            Step 3. PROFIT

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            It becomes a wonderful “have and have not” situation. Large high schools (1200 to 5000ish) have enough positions assigned to them they can offer Art, Home Economics, Shop, Woodworking, heck there was even one offering “Construction Sciences” for a few years. The little rural schools (200-500) students are lucky when they can offer more than PE and Art.

            Parents in the rural areas then say things like “well you don’t offer _____ so I’m going to enroll my kid at the big school and drive them into town every morning when I go to work.” Student population continues to decline at rural school, choices continue to go away, lather rinse repeat.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            PrincipalDan – we have seen a decline in smaller schools and trying to concentrate in a few larger centres. Even funding for “special needs” is interesting and I assume similar rules apply south of the border.

          • 0 avatar
            05lgt

            PrincipalDan, do districts consider significantly above average to be a special need? I do a little volunteer work with accelerated learning students and they seem so bored by most of the normal classwork. I’m free. Where’s the money go?

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @05lgt, don’t know if you’ll ever read this but it depends on the state. In NM giftedness is lumped in with Special Education generally but what that means is that the state takes the Special Education dollars the feds give them and make sure that a slice goes to Gifted and Talented. However that slice is basically being taken away from the rest of the Special Education population. So basically Gifted Kids are at the whims and mercy of the state when it comes to the money that makes it on down the line.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Well shop classes in middle/junior HS along with HS have pretty much gone away. However they did have shop class that covered wood and metal at the JrHS that my kids went to and there was a pretty high percentage of girls. But there was nothing about cars in that class.

      Driver’s Ed is where they should teach the basics of car ownership. My kids took the Driver’s Ed class offered by the school as a summer or after school class. They did have to pass a test that included identifying things like the engine oil fill, dipstick, coolant, brake fluid ect. They also had to change a tire though that was homework that I had to sign off on.

      The problem is that Driver’s ED has largely gone private and many of those schools sucks. One of my daughter’s friends went to a private school that touted that all of their teachers are police officers. She told stories of being put behind the wheel and told to make a 15mi drive through traffic while the instructor took a nap.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    I always thought the lights were color coded as well. There is a reason the CEL and tire pressure lights are orange (check it next service station), and the oil light and brake light are red (action is required immediately). I mean, not that anybody is taught these things or the color coding anyway though.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      And the CEL actually has two modes, on solid is OK to drive to be serviced but flashing means that you should shut the vehicle down and stop driving as soon as it is safe to do. That is a federal requirement so it applies to all cars and most owner’s manuals state that.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      And the owner’s manual tells you all about all of them …

      But who’d read the little booklet on the two tons of steel they’re driving around, that they’re making a big payment on every month, right?

      It’s not like anything useful, interesting, or important might be in it…

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      They are color coded. ISO 2575:2010 lists both the icon and its recommended color.

  • avatar
    scrubnick

    I thought we were going to replace the antique oil can with a simple “Replace Engine Soon” light.

  • avatar
    mustang462002

    I’m sorry for the guy that lost the only safe outside space in his life.

  • avatar
    IAhawkeye

    My friend in HS owned an RX-8, we hop in and I look at the dash, his low coolant light is on. I’m like, “dude your coolants low.” He just looks at me calmly and says “oh, is that what that means? It’s been on there for like 3 weeks now.” I had a bottle of coolant in my truck since it had been leaking from a minor leak I hadn’t had a chance to fix, so I gave him all that I had and told him he should take it to get looked at. I don’t think he ever did, and 3 months later there was one less RX-8 on the road.

    Obviously all of us on here being car people to some degree know what the dash lights mean, more explicit and direct warnings should be standard. Given that they want to make dash’s a bunch of screens there’s no reason an automaker couldn’t make nice big, informative warnings about what’s wrong with the car(low oil, coolant, tire pressure, etc) standard. Hey, maybe even a quick on screen guide on how to handle/rectify the situation(once your pulled over in Park of course). The lights don’t give nearly enough info for Joe Know-Nothing.

    I also like limp-mode that trucks have.. yeah it sucks if it happens while your trying to get somewhere. Trust me, I know, just dealt with that this week on our PowerStroke(ugh, DPF). But it could save the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Most cars have a limp-home mode. I got to experience it in my 2011 X5 many times. The most common reason for the engagement of limp-home mode is when the throttle-position sensor goes out of whack.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Sounds like the X5 has a case of Germanic Sensor-y Overload, or GSO. The most dangerous strain of this is VAGGSO.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        ” The most common reason for the engagement of limp-home mode is when the throttle-position sensor goes out of whack.”

        … or when it’s overheated because either the thermostat and/or water pump have failed. $1300 repair by the dealer. For a thermostat and water pump. Not including the radiator.

        BMTroubleU

    • 0 avatar
      IAhawkeye

      Fancy, fancy. I guess I have yet to meet a situation where a regular car has gone into limp mode before.. I also have never owned a BMW before so that could explain it.. lol

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      Owners of older RX7’s probably all remember the low-coolant warning blinking light *and* beeper – Mazda’s attempt to get us to realize that rotary engines do not have the ability to keep running with one quart of coolant left in them like a lot of cast-iron V8’s used to…in fact mine would go off if the radiator was half a pint low on coolant.

  • avatar
    LIKE TTAC.COM ON FACEBOOK

    If the ex-musician had conquered his agoraphobia enough to check the oil once a month, we wouldn’t have this story today.

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    There is just no way to ban ignorance; and no substitute for basic training or instruction on how to care for an automobile.

    I actually saw something similar, in 1984. A new hire at the State Office I worked at, came in all-atwitter that her car wasn’t running right. The office was mostly female; I was unusual in that I was male, relatively young and known as a pistonhead. So word got down to me to look at the car, there in the parking lot,

    “What’s wrong with it?”

    “The OIL light came on. I didn’t know what to do and I wanted to get in on time, so I drove it.”

    Hoo boy. I went under the hood, it was a Dodge Omni, and pulled the dipstick. DRY.

    Okay…I had some oil in my own thirsty beater. So I got a quart out, and poured it in.

    STILL dry

    I had a second quart. Poured IT in…and the oil level JUST TOUCHED the bottom of the dipstick. I obtained another quart from a co-worker, and it got it halfway up the SAFE line.

    The girl drove off, satisfied we fixed her car.

    Did it harm it? We won’t know; the next day she piled up her car on the Interstate, driving in. She was off for three months recovering from that.

    I didn’t last much longer there; I don’t know if she ever learned either to drive or to check the oil or what the oil light meant. But…she was far from atypical for a State employee, in her common-sense deficits.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Believe me, I’ve seen enough of this in my almost-24 years working for county IT!

      For some folks, hard to say if a high-school diploma or GED was a requirement!

      • 0 avatar
        fincar1

        HS diploma or PhD, that doesn’t necessarily make any difference. PhD chemist I worked with bought an SUV and was telling me with amazement that she’d read that they could be rolled more easily than a Camaro. She had no idea that this might be the case with a tall, narrow S10 Blazer. I’d suspect that the average Bubba realizes this….

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Poor guy. Mental illness is no joke. I hope he got help and got better.

  • avatar
    maserchist

    The likelihood of “drivers” & “people” actually “reading” an “owners manual” are about the same as universal peace AND powerball winning in any lifetime. And Powerball winning is even more likely than the peace “thing” or “owner manual” reading thing will ever be. Sad but true. Driver tests should include “pop” questions from the subject test vehicle. There’s your daily dose of idealism! They ARE coming to take me away…

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Yeah, most cars have instrument-panel or infotainment screens that are more than capable of giving descriptive error messages and calls-to-action. The “CIC” iDrive system in my 2011 X5 was particularly good at that—especially since the car broke all the time. Here’s a picture of the error it gave me when the steering-angle sensor stopped working:

    https://s31.postimg.org/lsl9nz07v/IMG_2202.jpg

    As for your suggestion about maybe prioritizing error messages according to seriousness, Jack, maybe you’re right.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Virtually every late model car has a display capable of reading multiple characters. Still, an OBDII problem just displays a single light.

    It would take a programmer 5 minutes to make the actual code read onto the display, instead of just a light.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      OBDII is government mandated. Do you realize how much paperwork and number of levels of approval the programmer must go through to make a change like that?

      Imagine deciding if the message should be bilingual or trilingual, the review of the actual text and whether American or British/Canadian spelling is used, along with different terms like hood/bonnet, etc.

      A senior programmer may have initiated the process in 2001, but it had to be restarted from scratch because the original author retired in 2009.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      What good is displaying “P0171 System Too Lean (Bank 1)” going to do?

      I’ve fixed that one myself (MAF cleaner), but I still needed the Internet to tell me a dirty MAF sensor was the *most likely cause* on a Corolla.

      Showing me the code description wouldn’t have been more helpful than making me plug in the code reader, in the end.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Chrysler used to do that. You turned the key ON-OFF-ON-OFF-ON, and any stored P-codes would display on the odometer.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    The onset of mental illness at a fairly advanced age is the real story here. While uniformity would be a nice benefit of the warning systems that monitor engine and brake function, I would prefer an incipient “life crisis” monitoring gauge, similar to a heart shock device. Ideally it would flood my system with endorphins followed by a dose of alprazolam while summoning help like those monitors people my age desire for security. Then with the “event” blunted, me and a shrink could work on the causes in a clinical setting. I know the drug companies would go for it.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      Your idea is “very interesting”…

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      olddavid – just like sensors in a car, implanted defibrillators do fail. Medtronic does make implanted pumps that have an option for “patient controlled” delivery. They cost around 10k and I’m sure you could find a King of Pop Doctor to set it up for you :)

  • avatar
    DougD

    This is timely for me, my oldest is turning 16 this fall and I figure I’m going to have to conduct a class on what the lights mean:
    Oil light = stop within 30 seconds
    Check Engine light = Check that the engine is still running and not on fire, and drive home

    Maybe we’ll start with our 63 VW for the lesson: There’s a red light, and a green light. One is the oil and one is the generator, I forget which is which but if either comes on stop right away…

  • avatar
    Sobro

    A 1975 Vega’s fuel pump would not activate unless it received a good signal from the oil sending unit. Maybe some sort of high-speed calculating device could be used in modern cars to do the same thing.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Part of the problem is the little icons. These were invented in a time when the idiot light consisted of an actual light shining through a plastic lens. Before the universal icons, there were actual words (I’m going back to the 50s and 60s now). Words like “OIL” or “TEMP” or “CHARGE”. But in the attempt to make sure English reading was not required, the little icons were implemented. Now no one, English speakers or not, could figure out what they meant.

    Just like Windows.

    I remember when all the street signs were changed, so for example the extremely functional “NO U TURN” was replaced with the circle/slash/bent arrow. Older people had the devil of a time figuring out what was going on.

    At any rate, now that all the idiot lights are LEDs, why not go back to words, with the language programmable and set at the dealer when delivery is taken?

  • avatar
    JRoth

    My ’04 Passat, when necessary, will use the little red LED screen (normally temp and trip data) to say STOP in surprisingly big letters. First time was due to the infamous oil sludge issue, but it also has done it for “Brake Fault”.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      My Accord with ACC has a nice TFT display which will display a larger, more verbose warning (as do all newer ones with HondaSensing, with ACC, CMBS (autobrake), LKAS (lane-keep assist), MOUSE, etc.! But even the ones with an LCD cluster straight off a 1980s clock-radio have more verbose messages that flash, along with a chime and a warning light.

      The new Civics take that a step further and display a list of warnings in the dash screen. (They may even allow you to press an information button which will give an explanation of what the warning is saying, i.e., proceed with caution versus pull over now!)

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I want instrumentation, not lights – I want oil pressure, engine temperature, tachometer, speedometer (duh), and alternator. Real gauges not just a switch wired to a needle that either reads middle of the gauge or dead on either side.

    I also realize that I’m about 1 of every 10 Americans who would actually know what the heck the movements of the needles meant.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      My alternator is not full. Where can I get more?

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      All I want is tire pressure monitoring that actually tells me what the tire pressure is. Failing that, I want tire pressure monitoring that at least tells me which tire is the problem. It’s amazing how many cars implement a tire pressure monitoring “system” that consists of a single idiot light and instructions to go check your tires until you can figure out which one(s) alerted.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        My LS460 displays exact pressure numbers for five tires… but you have to go through trial and error to figure out which is which. It’s super irritating.

        I always overinflate the spare a bit so at least it’s clear that the top number is the spare.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Can’t it just display the tires on one screen, with their proper location?

          So easy http://services.edmunds-media.com/image-service/unversioned-ed/ximm/?quality=85&image=/img/long-term/misc/2009%20infiniti%20fx50%20actual%20tire%20pressures.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            If you properly reset them when they are rotated.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            The G8 did that (although it had no spare). There was a hop-up-and-down-and-sacrifice-a-one-winged-rooster procedure in the manual for retraining the TPMS controller which sensor was where after rotating or replacing tires. I had a TPMS controller go out and had to do the procedure when the dealer failed to do it after replacing the controller.

      • 0 avatar
        JustPassinThru

        I have one.

        Nearly fail-safe.

        It’s called a tire pressure gauge.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The problem is that real instruments cause lots and lots of people bringing in their cars with a “problem”. So the idiot gauge for oil pressure and the computer controlled temp gauge where it will read the same over a 20,30 0r 40 degree range.

      • 0 avatar
        TR4

        Exactly. Many engines’ oil pressure will drop to 10-20 psi at a hot idle in summer and this causes unwarranted concern for those who don’t know any better.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      I’m with you, Dan. I too want real gauges for everything, the more complete, the better. The warning lights come on just before it’s GAME OVER.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      We get “fake” temperature gauges because dealers are sick of people who think “it should always be in the middle what’s wrong it went up a little or it’s down a little?!?!?”

      (I mean, I had a live oil pressure gauge in my Mercedes.

      Mostly it just told me when I had to add oil because of the horrible leak it had – when oil pressure dipped off of pegged at 3 bar on a turn, it was low.

      This was … not really a realistic reason to prefer a gauge, though, since the real problem was “the piece of crap car was falling apart”.)

      • 0 avatar
        warrant242

        Need a light for that too.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I was doing some traffic heavy driving today (in 94 degree heat) and it seemed like my temp gauge was completely unaffected by windows up vs A/C on and 5mph vs 55 mph. Just stayed in the middle most of the time.

        Is that normal?

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Yes, that means all systems are functioning properly to keep the running temp steady. Variation is bad.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Good to know. It was getting a bit high so I tried not running A/C for a while, but that didn’t lower the gauge and I just got disgustingly sweaty. :P

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Should be about in the same position every time you drive it and it’s up to temp.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Well when you get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on a hot day because three idiots got in a fender bender and the police had to close an entire lane, you get concerned about overheating!

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Yes that is the new normal, but that does not reflect what is actually happening. The way many cars are set up today there is no temp sender for the gauge. Instead the computer uses its temp sensor to determine what to show on the gauge. They will then make the gauge have the same reading over a significant range. For example the reading could stay the same from 180~220 degrees.

          Now if you had a real gauge and you are sitting in stop and go traffic with an car with an electric fan then you should see the gauge go up until the fan kicks on, back down until it shuts off and then repeat.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Yeah, that’s what it was doing. Guess I got a real gauge. Gauge goes up, gauge goes down, gauge goes back up again.

        • 0 avatar
          JustPassinThru

          Not to ridicule…but that is the very PURPOSE of those gauges. Temperature SHOULD NOT vary.

          You know what is normal. If things are functioning normally, they shouldn’t vary from that normal range. UNLIKE a window thermometer, the readings should NOT go up and down, beyond normal warming.

          What the mechanically-oriented owner looks for, is exactly what you say you have. Shows the cooling system is good and handling the load.

  • avatar
    tsoden

    I think the issue here is that too many details can be the cause of distraction. Idiot lights are suppose to be a short “you need to stop now, there is a problem”. If everything is placed in words… it might distract you and cause panic…. leading to a potential accident. People should be trained that

    Red = bad thing – PULL OVER AND STOP STOP NOW
    Amber = caution – ugh you might want to look into “something”
    Green = Just letting you something is active, but everything else is fine and dandy!

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      That might work if the streetlight mentality in the US was the way it should be (Yellow = caution, red = stop). Instead, yellow seems to equal “Lemee speed up and try to get there before it turns red!” while red means “Oh crap, I didn’t make it, lemee see if I can get through without getting killed because it’s too late to stop and I’m late for work anyway and I don’t want to spill my half-caf double-foam mochafrappuchino.”

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      That’s already the way the lights are in most cars. The problem is that the red lights are subtle enough people don’t pay attention, and even if they do they have no idea what the light means.

      Red is reserved for brake/oil/battery warning lights in most cars. Yellow is for check engine, airbag, traction control off, low fuel, etc. (In my Lexus there is also a yellow “miscellaneous warning” light that is accompanied by on-screen messages.) Green is for things like DRL or foglight indicators, cruise on, brake hold on, etc.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    My second generation Mini Cooper S has both lights and a screen. Upon starting the car it will show a message in light orange and if their are more it will be shown as (0) along side the original message. If it is important it will be shown in bright red. I figured i would miss the gauges i had in my other cars but this systems draws your attn and if you need oil or are short on oil it will set off a chime and tell you to stop the car and add oil.

    The only message i seemed to get is the low tire pressure light but since getting new tires have not seen that light for a few months. I do use a P3 gauge which will give me all the information i need. Heat, Boost, Voltage etc

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    There is a damn easy solution to this. Plus it solves a pet peeve of mine.

    My pet peeve is that the manual for the car has multiple solutions for every permutation of features. For example, if my car has the enhanced audio package, the instructions for programming radio stations are completely different from how you do it with the basic model radio. Yet I as a reader has to know (a) exactly what model and features I do have, (b) learn to ignore descriptions for thing my car DOESN’T have, and (c) find the right content for features my car DOES have. Grrrrrr…

    So here is the solution. Replace the manuals and mystery icons with an Android tablet loaded with the manuals for your exact car. Store this tablet in a slot where the thick manual goes now. The slot would have a charging plug that keeps the tablet’s battery topped up. And it would be cool if the table also tapped in to the OBD data stream so that it could be aware of conditions.

    Here is what is cool. The tablet could not only have the instructions in it, like how to change a tire on your car. But could have a video. This could be very handy when teaching people exactly where to place the jack and how to operate it. Or how to find and read the oil dipstick. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a short video must be worth a million.

    Here is how it would help. The car detects a problem. The tablet is plugged in to its storage slot, getting power, and monitoring the car’s health. Now a serious problem pops up. One simple message on the dash tells you “Fire up the tablet!”.

    Now you grab the tablet. The software on the tablet know what is most important. It tells you exactly what to do. And because it is aware of multiple conditions, it gives better advice than trying to work through a table of decisions in a printed manual.

    It gets better. What if the car company updates the car’s OS, and finds a defect in the tablet software and documentation. No problemo. Push out a software update to the tablet.

    And there is more! What if you don’t speak English? Or you sell the car to someone who prefers to speak Spanish or French? Just set the language preference in the tablet settings. Now you have all the same info in your native language.

    The manuals in my Passat are about 3 inches tall. There is a 3 inch shelf inside the glove box to hold them. I look at that shelf, and the thick manual with all the pages that have NOTHING TO DO with my car, and think “What a waste of space”. Just replace that with a nice thin tablet, 10″ screen, that is aware of what I am driving and how it is doing.

    I see Android tablets selling for about $80 at Costco. It doesn’t need to be fancy. The most basic of tablets will be more than adequate for the job. The car company could buy them in bulk, with their logo embossed on the back.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Just tie it into the dash display most cars have now.

      Basic vehicle maintenance ought to be taught into school right along side personal finance. And 20th century history…

    • 0 avatar
      tsoden

      Hyundai already does this with the Eqqus…. a neat idea… but the tablet would need to be able to take extreme temperature changes… most can take extreme heat, but what about extreme cold?

  • avatar
    BobinPgh

    As Tim Allen said to Jill on “Home Improvement” “it’s a car, not a game show!”

  • avatar

    True story:

    I once needed a ride to my credit union and a friend of my son’s gave me a lift in his Camry. As he made the turn out of the parking lot, the oil pressure light went on.

    I explained to the driver that meant only one thing, he was about 3 quarts down and that the oil pump was sucking air.

    His response, “I’ll have my guy look at it.”

    “No, you don’t have time for that. You need to put oil in the car now.”

    “I’ll have my guy look at it.”

    Fortunately for the engine, it was mostly a straight route back to my place, but when he made a turn, the light came back on. We were about to pass a KMart and I suggested we stop and get some oil.

    “I’ll talk to my guy.”

    Finally, when he went to drop me off, I persuaded him to pop the hood latch, and I showed him the bone dry dipstick.

    “I’ll talk to my guy.”

    Now this young man isn’t stupid, but he’s been conditioned to believe that he can’t do anything at all in terms of maintenance or service of his car.

    I wonder if he has his “guy” refill his washer solvent too.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Nahhhhhhh..just blinker fluid!

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      Boy, if that isn’t telling. At once, clueless, imperious and regal. Cannot be bothered with mere maintenance – that’s for people on his payroll.

      I understand not knowing something – there’s millions of things I know nothing about. But when you do not, YOU ASK. And when you’ve got someone right there, who does know, and tells you…there is not excuse that does not involve a profanity.

      This does seem to be coming more common, though, as people are more-and-more protected from consequences of bad choices. Cars in general are a lot more durable than they were in years past. But, to take charge of a $25,000 vehicle and not UNDERSTAND, nor ASK, what those lights are for? To not even grasp what OIL…DOES?

      It’s beyond understanding.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    The low oil pressure light icon should be the same as the check engine light icon. Except it should be red, and have a mushroom cloud above it.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    While we’re discussing car manufacturers being forced to produce clear and informative warnings, a very closely related concern is problem codes. Given the information panels all cars seem to have now, it is inexcusable that there is no provision to display trouble codes. All it would take is a simple menu selection, rather than force owners to take their vehicles to service locations to have someone use expensive tools to read the codes and then charge the owners just for this service.

    It really is inexcusable. That no manufacturer has chosen to lead the way, even those most loudly claiming to be customer-focused, or those claiming to be into high tech and involving their drivers (Audi and BMW), is clear evidence of the willingness of the manufacturers to drain the wallets of those customers. The ‘gummint is going to have to force them to do this.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      As was mentioned further up, Chrysler was doing this ~20 years ago. I don’t know if they still do. Both my parents’ ’97 Voyager and ’04 Concorde would show all trouble codes on the odometer readout if you did a key-on-key-off dance. Very useful.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      You can pretty easily pick up an OBDII reader for about the cost of one hour diagnosis (~$100), some auto parts places loan them out, and frankly, if you can make sense of the codes they spit out, you probably already knew that. Given how many people can’t or aren’t willing to change a tire, do you think there’s some critical mass of underserved consumers who could benefit from what you’re proposing?

  • avatar
    Mathias

    Following an idea from Click and Clack, I explained to my wife that when the oil light comes on:
    – You have many seconds to stop. Not many minutes.
    – That sign shouldn’t say “oil”, it should say “$5,000”.

    Twenty years later, she still remembers.

    Of course now we have a Subaru, we also have and need an oil level light. So the first time that went off on her, I got a call 20 seconds later.

    Constant vigilance! -Alistair Moody

  • avatar
    maserchist

    Waiting for the manufacturer whose product is NOT designed to break down after 25,000 ~ 250,000 miles. I CAN, however, hold my breath for 1 mile at 60 mph.

  • avatar
    pragmatist

    My wife’s old Mercedes has an oil pressure gage. The Aladdin’s lamp means your oil is over a quart low.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    A friend of mine’s wife isn’t stupid, she really isn’t, but about a year or so ago, she’s driving their 1st year GMC Envoy, which had been a great vehicle, and the oil light came on. And she kept on driving, and the inevitable happened. They drive vehicles into the ground, so a rebuilt engine went in. What caused the oil to disappear? One of their kids hit a rock which punched a dime sized hole in the oilpan. He was almost home, and it was raining, so he didn’t see the oil trailing out for about a quarter mile, and she didn’t see the trail going down the driveway when she got in and took off. The oil light came on as soon as she started it and she almost made it the 6 miles to work before it seized. Needless to say, the oil light was explained to her in great detail, and she took a lot of crap from her kids and friends, etc. How someone in her 50’s could not know you should shut the engine off immediately is a total mystery to everyone. Her 15 year old kid instantly said when told what happened, “You can’t drive it with the oil light on!”. And that kid seems to be a little lacking upstairs…

  • avatar
    Paragon

    Within the last 6 weeks, a young female (mother of a small child) I know asked me to check her oil. I pulled out the dipstick and there was no oil on it. I wiped it off and checked again. No oil. She tells me she would drive to the nearby WalMart to buy some oil. I said, no, don’t take any more chances. Stay here and I’ll drive to get some oil. Which I did, and I put it in the engine. Lately her job has her working from home on the computer. But not too long before, when she was driving to work, she often left the apartment too late and told me she would drive 80 mph to work on the freeway (where the speed limit is 70). She seems to have dodged a bullet for now. Oh, she did get pulled over for speeding once, but the officer wrote her up for not wearing a seat belt rather than for speeding.

    Forgot to mention her car is one of the many last generation of the 10-plus year old Ford Taurus mid-sized sedans. Will have to ask her if there wasn’t a dash light warning lit up. Which is probably what finally motivated her to ask me to check the oil.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Reading all the comments above, it’s obvious: too many people are too stupid to own driver’s licenses, much less own cars. States COULD include grading prospective drivers on the instrument panel during the road test, but a simple test of logical reasoning would be a far better measure of fitness to drive. Ignorance is one thing, but an inability to grasp cause and effect goes far beyond the maintenance issue.

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