Modern Car Features to Shop for and Use with Caution
If you’re shopping for a new vehicle—or even a pre-owned vehicle that’s newer than your last car—you’ll have the opportunity to choose from a variety of safety and convenience upgrades and advances. While these are intended to make your life easier and your ride safer, there are sometimes drawbacks and hidden dangers to the latest features. Give careful thought to the following car perks before putting them on your “must have” list.
Keyless ignition is becoming a standard feature on a range of vehicles. It’s a convenient feature that allows you to start your car remotely with an ignition fob or with just the push of a button once inside—all without having to take your keychain out of your pocket or purse. This also means it’s easy to forget the engine is running. The danger occurs when a long-running car inside an enclosed space—like a garage—builds up lethal, odorless carbon monoxide.
You may also forget to turn off your car when you leave it without the ritual of turning and then retrieving the key. If you have a super quiet hybrid car, you may not realize it’s still on as you walk away. Most cars will automatically turn off once the key fob is taken out of range, but if you’ve parked in your garage or near your house, it may continue to run, possibly building up carbon monoxide and draining the battery.
Auto-locking doors sound like a great failsafe if you’re juggling kids or a phone call or several bags when you walk away from your car and forget to manually lock it. However, this feature can also decide to lock the car when you don’t want it to.
Some vehicles auto-lock as soon as you put the car in drive, when you reach a certain speed, if you park the car and take the fob out of range, or when you’ve exited the car, locked it, then unlocked it with the fob but haven’t opened any doors. At the 30 second mark of this second scenario, the car will auto-lock the doors again. Unfortunately, this has left people trapped inside a vehicle with no way out. When this auto-lock feature is activated, none of the inside buttons to open or unlock doors, roll down windows, or open the trunk work.
If you’re concerned about this feature in a new car, ask at the dealership if they can deactivate the feature.
SUVs, trucks, and even crossovers (the most popular categories of cars on the road) naturally ride high above the road. The higher ground clearance and view over the road they offer is offset by a compromise in handling. The higher center of gravity and heavier tires can lead to a greater risk of rolling the vehicle. As with all-wheel drive, having a high-riding vehicle can cause drivers to become overconfident in dangerous weather and compromised road conditions, leading to reckless driving.
Air bags are an important part of modern vehicle safety, and they save thousands of lives every year. But as more airbags are installed to deploy at additional angles and points of impact, drivers need to know they can present a hazard to some passengers, especially children and shorter adults. To ensure this safety feature doesn’t end up harming anyone in your car, carefully read your owner’s manual and the specifications for height and weight minimums for sitting in the front passenger seat, as well as how and where car seats should be secured.
Faulty air bags do happen. Make sure the car you’re considering isn’t part of an air bag recall—or if it was, that it’s been fixed—by researching the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) on a website like CARFAX or safercar.gov.
Overly Tinted Windows
As luxurious as darker tinted windows look, they can reduce visibility at twilight and at night for the driver—when they’re already more at risk for hitting animals that dart across the road, not to mention bicyclists and pedestrians. The danger of tinted windows is compounded if the car has lots of glowing electronic displays inside the cab, which can create a distracting glare.
Also be aware of thick pillars inside larger SUVs and trucks: they create large blind spots.
Touch screens allow you to do more than ever from inside your car: connect to your phone and apps, play music, adjust climate controls, call your mom, receive driving directions and view a map, etc. As convenient as this of all is, it adds up to one large distraction. And unlike the limited nobs and buttons you could memorize by touch in older cars, you need to look away from the road to accurately interact with a touch screen.
Super Bright Headlights
If you’ve ever driven at night and been blinded by an intense blue light from oncome traffic, then you’ve experienced the danger of high-intensity discharge (HID) lights. Often, these are added aftermarket to “upgrade” a vehicle. Unfortunately, these lights can create a disabling glare and reduce vision for oncoming motorists, which means they might veer toward you into your lane because they can no longer see the road markings and judge distance accurately.
Cruise control can make a long-distance trip fly by, but it’s also proven to encourage unsafe driving behavior and reduce reaction time. Unless the car has autonomous cruise control (also called adaptive, radar, or traffic-aware cruise control) to automatically adjust the vehicle speed and maintain a safe distance from cars ahead, drivers who rely on cruise control as if it were auto-pilot tend to approach slower vehicles quickly before making an abrupt lane change—all so they don’t have to turn cruise control off and on again.
Cruise control can also make slippery road conditions even more dangerous. Without a foot on the gas and brake pedals to feel how the car is reacting to road conditions, drivers can set cruise control at an unsafe speed. Tires can spin out of control when there is not enough friction between the tires and the road and the speed is not adjusted accordingly.