I’m Not as Dumb as Most Cars Think

And I don’t like cars bossing me around.

This week, I had the dubious pleasure of driving a Dodge. In all honesty, I don’t know what kind of Dodge it was. It seemed to be a kind of cross between a station wagon and an SUV. The car was a rental and I didn’t rent it so I can’t complain. I do feel bad for the company that rented it for me. They got ripped off. The 6-day rental cost them nearly $400.

I will make some comments about this vehicle:

  • It is designed for short people. I’m 5 feet 8 inches tall and my eyes looked almost directly into the top frame of the windshield. Slouching while driving was required.
  • The car was a dog. That means it didn’t want to go. I spend a lot of time with my heavy foot pressing down hard, just to enter or pass on the freeway.
  • It seemed like a perfectly workable family car. Four doors, storage in back. I could imagine kids sitting in there with dirty soccer uniforms on.

Check Tire Pressure?

Check Tire Pressure

After leaving Burbank and starting my long drive to Ventura on the 101 freeway, I noticed that one of the idiot lights was on. We used to call them idiot lights because they used to warn drivers about the obvious problems with a car: overheating, low oil pressure, out of gas. But these lights have apparently graduated to the next level of reporting. Now they report about more advanced problems — or potential problems. I thought the symbol was referring to the oil, but I didn’t pull over to check. After all, I’d just picked it up at Enterprise and they should have checked the oil. Instead, I ignored it.

On the third day, I got tired of looking at it. I pulled out the manual, which was in the glove box, and looked it up. It was a tire pressure indicator. The light on meant one of two things:

  • The tire pressure in one or more tires was low
  • The tire pressure monitoring system was broken.

I walked around the car. The tires looked fine.

I spent the rest of the week ignoring the light.

Stop Nagging Me about My Seat Belt!

I wear my seat belt — at least most of the time. I don’t wear it in parking lots, especially when backing up. I also don’t wear it on the extremely rough roads I sometimes drive in my Jeep. And no, I don’t wear it while driving around town, since my speed seldom tops 45 MPH. My 2003 Honda S2000 and 1999 Jeep Wrangler both have airbags. In the unlikely event of a collision at 30 MPH, I’ll let the airbag protect me from the steering wheel. I don’t think a collision at that speed is going to throw me out of the vehicle, either. I’m more likely to get trapped in my seat when some senior T-bones me at an intersection.

I’m fortunate. Neither of my primary vehicles (or the two secondary vehicles — a 1987 Toyota MR2 and 2994 Ford F-150 Pickup) has one of those annoying seatbelt reminders. Sure, an idiot light goes on on the panel. It might even flash — I’m so good at ignoring it that I just don’t know. But it doesn’t repeatedly beep until I fasten the damn seatbelt. It gently reminds me and then allows me to make my own decision.

The Dodge this past week was a nag. It got so annoying that I fastened the seatbelt behind my back on Tuesday and left it there until I departed Ventura today.

It could be worse. It could be one of those automatic seatbelt things. My sister had a car with one of those. What a pain in the butt.

I’ll Shift When I’m Ready to Shift!

My Jeep thinks it needs to tell me when to shift gears. An idiot light comes on when I accelerate, apparently to signal me when it’s time to upshift. As if I can’t hear the engine or feel the power of the engine. As if I’d prefer watching the instrument panel for the cue than the road in front of me.

I don’t shift when it tells me to. I like to wind things out a bit. My Honda redlines at 9000 RPM — and yes, I’ve been there.

And that’s another thing: engine cutoffs. Both my Honda and my Toyota cut power if I enter redline territory. Okay, so maybe that’s not such a bad idea. It certainly keeps me on my toes when Mike and I race home from Scottsdale or Phoenix. I have better reaction time at traffic lights, but if I don’t shift before redline, the car gives him an advantage. (The fact that he’s driving an AMG doesn’t help me much, either.)

I’m Not Quite Out of Gas Yet

My Jeep also likes to beep when the fuel level gets low. That’s a good thing, since I have become an expert at ignoring idiot lights. The audible warning is a real help. Unfortunately, the Jeep’s idea of low fuel and mine are very different. The Jeep tells me I’m low when the 19 gallon tank gets down to 5 gallons. That’s not low, even for a Jeep.

My Honda uses a series of lighted bars on the digital dash to indicate fuel level. When it gets down to two bars (out of about a dozen), the low fuel light goes on. But I’ve taken it down to zero bars and have only put 11 gallons in the 13 gallon tank. At 25 miles per gallon, I still had 50 miles left.

Of course, I have completely run out of gas in my Toyota. I was on my way to work, wearing a suit and heels, and had to walk about a half mile to the nearest gas station. Then I had to beg them to loan me a container for the fuel. Sheesh. So I’m more careful now. And I use the odometer on that car to judge remaining fuel.

I almost ran out of gas in my redneck truck. (That’s the 94 Ford.) You can read about it here, if you’re curious. That vehicle doesn’t have low fuel lights. It has two fuel tanks, though, and only one fuel gauge.

And Another Thing…

What is it with driver controls these days?

My Honda has buttons near the steering wheel to control the stereo and climate control. But the main control buttons for both devices are less than 10 inches away from the steering wheel. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find it a hardship to reach 10 inches, even when I’m driving.

The car’s cockpit — and yes, it is a cockpit, with less room for the driver than my helicopter has for the pilot — has everything clustered around the driver’s side of the dashboard. And some things are clustered there twice.

At least that car doesn’t tell me when to shift gears.

2 thoughts on “I’m Not as Dumb as Most Cars Think

  1. You said, “The Jeep tells me I’m low when the 19 gallon tank gets down to 5 gallons. That’s not low, even for a Jeep.”

    But, what’s the unusable fuel load? I know that’s usually used with aircraft, but the idea’s valid.

    Also, the controls on the wheel are really there for the driver that’s already at his/her margin of mental bandwidth – you know they’re carrying on a conversation on the cell phone, taking notes, watching for a turnoff, and trying to remember the address of the place their going. Taking a second to reach fo the radio’s controls too will overload them. Think of it as sort of like having a helicopter’s radio controls on the stick.

    Yes, I see stuff like this on my commute all the time.

    Tangozulu’s last blog post: Civics Test – How Will You Do?

  2. I agree with you… I hate the seatbelt reminders… i would also hate if I had a car telling me when to shift, that’s the joy of driving stick! control…. All of these things should be able to be turned on and off according to the drivers desires.

    luckily my 03 4runner doesn’t annoy me at all. the fuel light comes on when the “range-o-meter” says I’ve got about 20 miles left. no seat belt chime and though it is automatic, it actually does a pretty good job of shifting when I feel like it should be shifting… I love my truck!

    by the way, i’m jealous you have an s2000! They are so sexy!

    kendrick’s last blog post: Speaking to the Masses

What do you think?