Every carmaker can give you a billion different
reasons why every car in their range is not just okay, but is actually the first in that
category to scale the death-defying summit of Mt Superiority. And yet, perversely, they
still manage to shoot themselves negligently in the dick at least 10 different ways.
I’m John Cadogan, the new car discount whisperer here at AutoExpert.com.au – the place where
Aussie new car buyers save thousands on their next new cars. Hit me up on the website for
that. We make buying new cars easy. And painless. Unlike the 50 shades of degradation you’ll
typically enjoy – if that’s the right word – at a car dealership.
You know, there many brilliant things about modern cars. Triumphs of engineering over
adversity. But it might be more fun to talk about this:
There are more lines of computer code in a modern car than in a 787 Dreamliner … and
yet it’s never been easier to drive unwittingly at night with the headlights off. Riddle me
that, Batman. Here in ‘Straya, where ‘who’s the biggest
dipshit driver’ is actually a religion of sorts, you’ll see dozens of drivers doing
this every evening. People driving with the parkers on, presumably to conserve electricity.
What’s the point in making auto headlamps a user-selectable feature? When the car moves,
headlamps should default to ‘auto’ – so the two lamp activation states when the car
is in motion should be daytime running lights (for daylight) and headlamps at night. ‘Off’
should simply not be an option when the car is moving.
The logic of allowing the car to move under only parking lamps – and you see this all
the time at night – absolutely escapes me. Car moving; lights on. It really is that simple.
Cars are increasingly complex, and yet the instruction manuals are breathtakingly shit.
In fact, they are so bad, they make ‘shit’ look like ‘excellence’. What would be
wrong with plain English? The hi-tech miracle of colour printing? An easy start guide, like
a camera? What would be wrong with downloading a hyperlinked PDF that clicks you through,
direct to instructional videos explaining exactly how everything actually worked?
The car industry is impossibly Dickensian on this. It’s all: Buy now, buy now, buy now.
After that: Eff off. It would be easier to crack the friggin’ Enigma Code than to figure
out how to do the simplest things in some cars – especially as there’s no standardisation.
Dear car industry: The Internet called. Your manuals are woefully inadequate, and the very
few instructional videos you do provide are impossibly condescending and/or cheesy.
Blind spot monitoring is a fraud. So clever, and yet so unnecessary. Here’s the hot tip:
Blind spots do not exist. They’re up there with Santa, the Easter Bunny and God – completely
made up. Figments of one’s imagination. If you drive with your wing mirrors correctly
adjusted – so that the inner edges just overlap the view from the outer edges of the central
rear-view mirror – there are no blind spots. You get an uplifting, contiguous, sweeping
panorama of the driving environment just behind your ears. Who knew?
Unfortunately, most people drive around with half the view in the wing mirrors showing
them the sides of their own car. And this is perverse, because the side of your own
car is never going to move stealthily to the next lane and ambush you. On the freeway.
You know: Officer, I was driving along minding my own business – then the side of my own
car made its move. Expect a drug test if that’s your excuse for crashing. We don’t need
blind spot monitoring – we need driver education about how to use the mirrors.
Dipshit drivers manufacture blind spots because daddy never showed them how to use the mirrors,
and so the circle of dipshit driving continues. On this issue of inappropriate technology:
Surround camera systems. You’re frigging kidding me, right? How is this possibly a
benefit? The only place you need a camera is to the rear – and that’s really useful.
Should be mandatory. But those extra cameras on the sides and the front? Come on. It’s
a gimmick. Stand next to the defibrillator if you damage
that wing mirror, with that camera in it. Also, you can see the sides of the car. Just
angle the mirrors in a little bit. And remember to move them back out after you park. (See
previous point.) And cameras at the front? It’s just there. In front of your nose.
Jesus. How incompetent do you have to be for this to constitute a tangible benefit?
The space saver spare tyre remains, perhaps, the car industry’s biggest collective long-term
con. Pretending this is any kind of benefit to you is absurd. Spare tyres are a risk management
device. Flat tyres are reasonably rare, I get that,
but anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to have a spare tyre that doesn’t grip the
road as well as a normal tyre, and which is limited to 80 kays an hour, and which costs
more than a conventional tyre if you need to replace it – despite its inferior performance
– is a nut. It’s unsafe to drive on the freeway, perhaps
at night, perhaps in the rain, perhaps towing a trailer, with a space saver spare fitted,
and the traffic rocketing up behind you is going to close on you at 30 kays an hour or
more. And as for not having a spare tyre at all – an increasingly common scenario – that’s
a glaring deficiency in the compliance rules, surely?
Finally, if the car is fully loaded, where are you actually going to put the flat tyre?
Because it sure as shit does not fit in the hole where the space saver lives.
Modern cars log their faults. Some malfunctions generate red flags in the computer operating
system to aid diagnosis in the service department. And in principle, this is a good idea. But
in practise, it really dumbs down dealership service departments. Let’s say your car’s
got a problem. It loses power randomly. It does it, like, I dunno, three times. In traffic.
You confidence is making like a community of overpopulated lemmings looking for the
nearest cliff, right? So you return to the dealership, and you tell them the problem.
They plug in the magic diagnostic computer. No faults. The verdict: ‘It’s all good.’
This is, of course, nuts. Because there is obviously a problem. It’s just not obvious
to the service department. And I get this complaint so often from owners, across a range
of brands. Clearly, either the fault logging has to reach
puberty and actually grow a pair, or dealerships need to understand that not all faults actually
get logged, and therefore plugging in the computer is merely the beginning of an investigatory
process, not the end of that process, culminating in brushing you off.
The unknown Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: Carmaker-designed smartphone & GPS integrations
are shit. They’re preposterously shit. Maybe worse than that in some cases.
The world’s most arrogant carmakers – ze Chermans (for example) – view any alternative
operating system as a kind of de facto extra-marital affair. Like you’re cheating on them if
you use that. But in reality we’re already all sleeping with Google and/or Apple.
Eventually even the most retarded German carmakers will have to accept that you intend to keep
shagging Google and/or Apple on the side, and they just have to licence the damn technology
instead of developing stand-alone, bespoke shit smartphone integrations.
Google, Apple and Tom Tom do phone and sat-nav user interfaces infinitely better than every
fatally flawed, batshit-complex carmaker attempt to reinvent those particular wheels.
And when you add to this the staggering position carmakers have taken for so many years on
GPS upgrades: ‘just position your head in this vice while we slip this power pole into
your rectum – there could be some minor discomfort.’ Charging $1000 for a GPS upgrade, and failing
to support some dodgy mapping system after just a few years – well, that’s disgraceful,
especially as the Tom Tom app for your phone is $30 here in Australia (actually the app
is free but unlimited nav for a year is $30, down under).
It also offers you multiple map updates per year, and stores the maps on your phone (so
it uses absolutely no data while you’re out there on the road navigating). This kinda
makes all non Tom Tom carmaker nav systems look preposterous.
While we’re all basking in the ‘head-in-vice’ experience, the other classic ‘prison shower’
carmaker relationship-breaker is the replacement key. Carmakers simply must stop charging hundreds
– sometimes thousands – for replacement keys. On the one hand you’ve got this insane quest
for profit because they’ve got you over a barrel on this, and on the other hand you’ve
got the potential for this to break your relationship with a brand. And let’s face it, there’s
about $30 bucks worth of off-the-shelf electronics in the most complex proximity key.
And – yeah – it’s packaged in an elegant-ish way. But sticking it to you in this unlubricated
fashion … the billion-per cent mark-up because, hey, we can … that’s immoral, unethical
and a deal-breaker. But there could be some light at the end of
the carmaker arsehole tunnel on keys. In March this year New Zealand businessman Damian Funnell
… he drew a line in the sand on replacement key extortion therein, and he won. Mr Funnell
owns a tech company and he took Toyota to court after a dealer in Auckland charged him
$475 for a replacement key, plus of course $50 reprogramming fee.
He successfully argued in court that Toyota breached the un-Zed Consumer Guarantees Act,
which requires manufacturers to make spare parts (quote) “reasonably available” and
that pumping up the price by a factor of 1500 per cent was somewhat unreasonable. He got
the price down to $200 bucks – so that’s a win for the good guys.
But it should not come to this. (You know – going to court.) Ultimately, product support
is about making you feel like you’ll never leave that brand because they do such a great
job keeping you mobile. So it’s $500 worth of windfall, versus the $5000 almost certainly
lost when said customer pisses off elsewhere for a new car.
Fundamentally, this is about integrity – not bending you over, in the moment, simply because
the carmaker is an opportunistic, narcissistic sociopath with a monopoly on that particular
key. You get in a modern car; you’ve got the incessant
warning beeps. The chimes for everything. The interlocks that prevent you from starting
the car while it’s in gear. The interlocks preventing you from selecting reverse when
you’re moving forwards at perhaps 70 miles an hour. There’s a lot of systematic protection,
perhaps unnoticed, in every modern car. You know what’s not interlocked? Refuelling.
Seeing as (in particular) putting petrol in a diesel car is the easiest way to organise
a repair bill you that you will not be able to jump over, don’t you think carmakers
and fuel retailers could have all gotten together and organised a set of fuel-spout/fuel-filler
protocols so that mis-fuelling was impossible, at least for everyone smarter than this guy?
I’m simply talking about a diesel spout that does not fit in a petrol filler neck,
and vice-versa. On the scale of engineering challenges, this is a plumbing problem. It’s
not up there with getting Apollo 13 safely back to Earth.
They manage interlocked refuelling with things like oxy-acetylene. I mean, you have to try
really hard to put acetylene in the oxygen tank. And if you manage it: instant Darwin
award. It does not end well – but you will be featured, posthumously, on the evening
news, if you give it a red-hot go. Preventing mis-fuelling of vehicles would actually be
incredibly easy. I think we’d all agree – Lung cancer: Bad.
Therefore, diesel exhaust particle filtration: good. In principle. But blind Freddy can see
this is an imperfect implementation currently out there on the road today. Some companies,
like Mazda and – possibly – Subaru might have been just a little too hasty out of the blocks
with their filter regeneration systems and protocols.
This is of course not helped by dealers beside themselves to sell diesels to the wrong punters
– and by ‘wrong punters’ I mean anyone who’s stuck in the city and never actually
does regular highway driving. The filters have to wait for a sustained highway run to
burn off the trapped soot in a harmless way. So if you don’t do that driving and the
filter clogs and you end up in ‘limp’ mode. So you limp to a dealer and they manually
regenerate the filter in a service bay, the pleasure for which they charge you. And if
the filter can’t be restored, it’s a really big hit on the monthly budget for most people.
But you know what? Plenty of trucks allow for operator regeneration. Basically, as the
filter gets loaded up, a ‘regenerate soon’ warning light just pops up, and the driver
has several hours to park somewhere safe, apply the park brake, hit the ‘manual regen’
button and loiter for half an hour of so while the filter does its voodoo at a somewhat fast
idle. That’s all it takes. Carmakers have to develop a system where owners
of diesel SUVs and light-duty pickups like Rangers and Hiluxes can manually regenerate
the filters themselves – and they have to be able do it safely. The most obvious risk
here is gassing yourself – because some Muppet is – guaranteed – going to do this in his
garage, and his widow will doubtless sue the carmaker.
But you know what? You can organise training for this, you can (perhaps) put in carbon
monoxide and carbon dioxide ‘engine off’ detection interlocks with that particular
Muppet in mind. And of course the exhaust gets pretty hot when you regenerate – because
of the engine speed – and that’s easily above the autoignition temperature of any surrounding
grass, for example – so there is a fire risk if you’re dumb enough to park in the bush,
mid-summer and regenerate. I don’t know what you do about that, systematically, but
legislating against stupidity has always been somewhat difficult.
And of course there would be the recreational regeneration imbecile to deal with; the guy
who would want to regenerate every day, ‘just to make sure’. I think you could fuck him
over just by ensuring manual regenerations were impossible to initiate unless the warning
light was active. Or perhaps they could just make the regeneration
process more robust as you drive – or even just possible in urban traffic. Who knows?
DPF operational reliability needs to be boosted – stat.
The way things stand with DPFs, carmakers are setting themselves up for an incredible
backlash from people stuck in cities who will inevitably have that ‘$7000 DPF replacement’
conversation in some service department – and that is going to trash their relationship
with that brand for ever. So that’s my top 10. Over to you now. Did
I miss any glaring contemporary design ‘fails’ in the modern automobile? Let me know. Have
you been forced to head-butt some ill-conceived aspect of modern vehicle design and/or technology?
Let’s get a conversation started on this, because it could be pretty interesting. Let
me know your experience on this in the comments feed. I’m John Cadogan. Keen to know what
you think. Thanks for watching.