Driver's Seat: Advances in cars today that disappoint

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Like most newspaper columnists, I tend to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy. So it's been easy for me to list the advances in cars today that disappoint me.

Still, I do try to look on the bright side of life; I've postponed this column to experience these advances more often and see if they continue to annoy. (Regular readers will recall the August column in which I highlighted some of the best things about new cars.)

But perhaps my negative outlook can benefit you, the reader, and keep you from spending money on options you might not need.

Keyless ignition: This advance allows drivers to keep the key fob in their pocket and use a starter button. But the only time I know the exact location of my keys is when I'm driving, because they're in the ignition.

A recent experience confirms my initial reluctance.

The Seat Family Pontiac Vibe was the subject of a recall, so I scheduled a visit to the dealer. Because I work nights, Mrs. Passenger Seat met me on my way home from work, and I picked her up in the 2014 Nissan Versa Note I was testing that week. The Versa Note had the optional keyless ignition system.

The dealership lighting left a lot to be desired, so we hunted a long time for the night key deposit. When we finally solved the mystery, I happily filled out the envelope, dropped the key inside, and dropped it in the lockbox slot.

We proceeded on toward home in the Nissan. About a mile from the dealership, I noticed a dashboard light blinking. A light shaped like a key. Oh, it must have lost contact with the key fob when I got out of the car, I thought to myself. I wonder why ...

"OH, NO!" I shouted.

Mrs. Passenger Seat, startled, asked, "What's wrong?"

I started fishing in my pocket and I pulled out ... the keys to the Vibe.

Now I had to go back to the dealership, leave a second envelope with the right keys and an embarrassing note explaining to the dealer what a bonehead I was. Fortunately, we had another car at home to get around in, because the Versa Note would be useless after I shut it off.

It just seems too easy to do. And for what? So I don't have to twist a key when I start my car?

Adaptive cruise control: This is another technological advance that always struck me as not worth it.

Radar monitors on new cars can, among other things, sense when the car ahead is too slow, lowering your car's speed and then raising it again when the time is right.

This just takes the driver too far out of the equation. If you're not going to monitor the car's speed, just what are you doing on the road?

In addition to enabling inattentive drivers, the radar occasionally malfunctions on curves, and then a car in another lane or even a fixed object will slow my car down.

But the real downside occurs upon passing. My typical passing routine is Look, Signal, Accelerate while changing lanes, then Pass. But the radar won't let the car accelerate until the "obstruction" up ahead is clear, after I've changed lanes completely. Then it takes a moment to start moving faster. Then it speeds up too slowly for me.

Rain-sensitive wipers: These sound like such a fantastic idea that I couldn't wait to try them. The wipers will "know" when it's raining, and turn themselves on. Perfect for Pennsylvania's ever-changing conditions, right?

I tend to be a bit OCD about my windshield -- OK, Sturgis Kids, about almost everything -- and find that the windshield is never kept rain-free to my own specifications.

A simple adjustable wiper delay always worked so wonderfully for me.

Lane departure warning: This feature, on the other hand, is not designed for Pennsylvania at all.

A monitor keeps an eye on the road surface, and watches for changes that signal a stripe or the edge of the road.

With miles and miles of winding country roads, and many more miles of road construction zones, drivers aren't going to get very far in the Keystone State without a warning.

In many cars, the constant beeping as I drive the country lane from the Seat house to the main drag two miles way is almost scream inducing.

And I'm not weaving; the lanes are narrow and it's nearly impossible to make it without touching one line or another, unless I go well under the speed limit. And we all know that's not going to happen.



Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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