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The Least Useful Bells And Whistles On Modern Cars

You really have to hand it to the car designers and developers.  They really do a great job of putting out new models all the time and coming up with all sorts of new things.  Some of these innovations are fantastic and useful – improved battery range in EVs, increased torque alongside better fuel economy in a diesel engine, and finding more places to stash airbag. Inside the car, you have delights like chilled storage compartments where you can put your secret stash of chocolate where it won’t melt on a hot day, and comforts like heated seats.  Some of the innovations and nifty luxury features you find on cars today aren’t quite as useful.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not knocking any of these things.  In fact, I quite like a few of them, especially as I’m a major sucker for anything that involves sparkly lights and LED technology. It’s just that they’re kind of pointless and not really necessary.  They definitely fall into the category of “nice to have” but if an otherwise decent new model didn’t have these features, it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.  Kind of like having a cool print on a ski jacket – it won’t keep you any warmer than a plain jacket but it looks nice.

So what are some features that you can find on modern vehicles that could be classified as “useless”?  Here’s a selection…

  1. Colour Changeable Interior Lighting. This is one of the ones I actually quite like while admitting that it’s not really necessary to good or safe driving.  LED technology can do all sorts of pretty things, and this is one of them.  At the touch of a button, you can select a different shade for the lighting inside the cabin of the vehicle, either from a pre-set selection or a customisable shade.  It’s quite fun but it’s not going to make you a safer or better driver unless you let fractious children play with it so they don’t bug you and whinge, causing a distraction.
  2. Illuminated Door Sills. Another example of LED technology being put to use, this involves a wee light, possibly showing a brand logo or badge, on the doorsill.  Right where you put your grubby shoes.
  3. Lane Departure Warnings. Look, if you can’t tell you’re drifting to one side by, you know, looking out of the windscreen, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel.  These sensors and warnings also have no way of telling if you’re carefully easing around the council mowing machine that’s bumbling along the grass verge, overtaking someone in the bicycle lane, avoiding a trail of debris or edging into a median strip – or if you’re really drifting out of your lane.  Active lane departure correction is even worse…
  4. Integration with Social Media. You should not be checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or any other form of social media while behind the wheel.  If merely texting is distracting and the cause of more than their fair share of accidents, then seeing someone’s loopy video share is worse.  Checking your social media on a display screen at eye height is just as distracting and takes your eyes off the road just as much as a phone does.  Are you really that hooked on your online presence and that full of FOMO that you can’t even stop while you’re driving?  If it’s that bad, then just take the bus and use your phone or tablet.  (I don’t count the ability to access your Spotify playlists while driving to be useless, by the way, which is probably the only thing that justifies this feature.)
  5. Paddle Shifters on Anything with CVT. The whole point of a CVT system is that it doesn’t have regular gears and doesn’t change from one to the other like your standard manual or auto transmission.  What, then, do paddle shifters on a CVT actually do apart from looking cool and making you feel like a racing driver?
  6. Gesture Control for Audio. It’s very cool and sci-fi: you wave your hand or make a similar gesture and your audio system turns up the volume or turns it down.  OK, it might be fractionally safer than reaching down to fiddle with a knob while driving. However, it will also respond to any hand motion in the sensor’s vicinity.
  7. Dinky Roof Rails. Roof rails are very useful if they are large enough to actually strap something like a kayak, skis or a ladder.  If they’re teeny-weeny things, however, they’re just there to look sporty but don’t really do anything much.
  8. “Door Open” Alarms. I’ve got this on one of my Nissans and it’s a feature that’s been around for a while. The idea is that if you have the door open and the key in the ignition, the car beeps at you so you don’t lock your keys in by mistake.  The trouble is that it keeps beeping if you leave the door ajar while refuelling or if you have to hop out to open a gate, driving passengers nuts.  I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to find that beeper and smash it!
  9. Images in Puddle Lamps. Puddle lamps in themselves are not useless, especially not in a Landrover or other 4×4 driven how they were originally intended to be driven (i.e. off road), as they help you see if you’re about to step out of the car into a pile of horse or cow crap.  Even around town, it’s nice to see if you’re about to step out into a puddle while wearing your nice shoes.  But is it really necessary to cast a shadow of the image of the car into the middle of the light?  Cool, yes.  Useful, no.
  10. Automatically Switching Off The Cabin Lights When The Door Opens. Now try and retrieve your cabin baggage by feel in the dark with the lights off, and hope you don’t miss your wallet.  Honestly, the old-school system where the lights came on when the door opened was better, although it could lead to drained batteries if you left the door open too long… but a manual switch usually took care of that.

There are some honourable mentions that could go on this list but they might possibly be useful.  One is the ECO light, which comes on when you’re driving fuel-efficiently.  As I could give the stereotypical Scotsman serious competition in the stinginess stakes, this one might help me save a few dollars here and there… not that I’d pay extra to have this feature!  Night vision is the other one I’m unsure about.  Yes, knowing that there’s a warm body somewhere on or near the road might be useful and help safety (as well as looking really cool) but in most cases, headlights will let you know about any obstacles – and night vision requires you to look at the dash display rather than the road.

I’m sure that there are other features found on modern cars that are cool and fun but not really useful – give us your top picks in the comments!

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