My new car thinks I’m an idiot.
I know I’m a little late to this particular whine fest, but I haven’t had a new car in 12 years. Everyone else discovered about 10 years ago that their cars were hermetically sealed under the hoods to prevent any “tinkering,” that all the car’s indicators were apparently aimed at subnormal kindergartners, and that the cars were packed with “automatic” functions to keep their owners from messing them up. But I’ve been driving a 12-year-old Subaru Outback (which I still have and dearly love and we plan to make it to 20) all that time, so I’ve missed out on a lot of this newfangled space-age coddling that new cars so prominently feature.
The new car, a Mazda 5, is definitely coddling me, or at least it seems to feel that there’s information I can’t handle. Most apparent: the car’s temperature. On cold mornings, I automatically flick my eyes over to the temperature gauge during the first few minutes of driving to see when it makes sense to turn on the heat. But on my second day of proud new car ownership, I flicked in vain. Then I pulled over and looked everywhere: can it be? No temperature gauge?
No temperature gauge. What there is, however, is a little blue picture of a thermometer; this lights up until the car is, supposedly, warmed up. If the car gets too hot, according to the manual, the little thermometer will be red. It’s as if the car is saying, Sweetie, you don’t want to get confused with all those needles and gauges and numbers and things. You just let me mind the temperature, and I’ll put a little light on if it’s anything you need to worry about.
To that I say, no thank you. For one thing, the vents are still blowing cold air when the blue light goes off, so no help there. For another, I want to know the temperature before it gets to the point where a light has to go on. What if, for example, I’m on a one-lane road in the middle of nowhere in August? I notice the temperature gauge start to creep up, so I turn on the heat full blast from every vent to try to make it to a service station and with great relief see the needle relax. But then the skin on my toes starts to blister, so I turn it back down, but when the needle creeps up I blast it again, and spend the next 17 miles trying to fry neither my toes nor my engine, guided solely by the movement of that needle. What then?
You may say, perhaps this little scenario will be less likely now that you are driving a new car. Which I suppose is true, but I still feel I can be trusted with this sensitive information about the car’s temperature.
That said, I was, just now, all set to go off on a rant about all the other ways in which the new car unjustly patronizes me. But something stopped me. And that something was the sheepish realization that, in the short time I’ve had the car, these idiot warnings have prevented me, several times, from doing something idiotic. For example:
Driving with the doors open. The old Subaru is arguably also a coddler when it comes to open doors – it tells me which one is open. The new car makes me guess. But the Subaru will drive along quite happily with every door and the hatchback open. The new car will not let me lock the doors unless they’re all closed. This feature is why there’s a gallon of milk in my refrigerator, and not spread all over the road.
Driving with the parking brake on. I live in a mountainous area and often need to use the parking brake. And I’m bad enough at remembering to release it that I’ve had cars on which it’s just given up, making it easier to forget, which in turn loosens the brake even more … see how that works? But the new car’s warning light is unmistakable. And by preventing me from messing up the car in our first month of ownership, it’s probably saved my marriage.
Driving with the fuel cap off. Pumping gas is boring. It’s easy to get distracted out there. Enough said.
Putting the windshield washer fluid where the oil goes, or where the power steering fluid goes, or where the antifreeze goes. Now this is one I’ve never actually done. But when I look under my new car’s hood, I can see that this must have been pure dumb luck. Now that I have this bold, clear, primary color-coded warning system, I would no more confuse the washer fluid reservoir for the radiator than a toddler would confuse Big Bird with Elmo.
Endangering small children. Here’s another one I’m not all that inclined to do, not to brag or anything. But I have a son who, despite his single-digit age, is rapidly closing in on my height (average, thanks, or nearly, on a tall day), and feels strongly that he should be allowed to sit in the front seat. I, of course, am trying to forestall this day as long as possible, both for safety reasons and because it will force me to face the truth that time passes and children grow up. So I had him sit in the front passenger seat, and what did my lovely new car do? It flashed and then kept on a light saying “Passenger seat airbags off.” This in itself isn’t illegal, of course, but that’s not the point here. I shrugged at my son – what are you gonna do? If you’re too small for airbags, you’re too small for the front seat. The car knows best.
So do I still think my car regards me as an idiot? Well … let’s just say it has my number.
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