Ten Worst Car Features of All Time

October 27, 2009

This is not really an "all times" list as I can't be sure what gizmos might have been around many years ago in the dawn of the auto, but let's say these were noteworthy in the last several decades. This is sort of personal. I am sure that some of these things have or had their fans, after all they were popular for a time, (some still are). 

10. Talking cars -- This appeared first in the late seventies, Datsun (Nissan) comes to mind, as a female voice would remind you to "fasten your seat belt", "apply emergency brake", etc. Annoying! This is sort of coming back with some of the new navigation systems but I doubt it will catch on.

9.   Pin stripes -- This started with attempts to "customize" one's ride and was embraced by car dealers who could slip as much as $500 in the sticker of a new car for some pasted on stripes. "Oh, this looks too plain", I heard many times. Never mind that some designer worked years to arrive at a "look" only to have some local artiste paste, or worse yet, paint some awful little lines, which sometimes were not so little and were always a pain to remove. Fortunately, it is a trend fading in popularity especially in new cars, but still available for the asking for those who believe that they know better.

8.   Brake "dust shields" -- Became popular with highline cars whose owners were appalled when their fancy chrome or alloy wheels started to look dusty. The shields, even though they did I respectable job keeping the dust away, had the side effect of obstructing airflow and thus reducing braking performance. They faded away...

7. Vinyl/Landau tops --There was a time in the late 70's when a car was considered incomplete without a vinyl top. In effect the vinyl top was to simulate a convertible, vaguely, and it gave manufacturers another "option" to sell. The down side was that the top acted as a sponge  underneath and promoted rust. The Landau top was a "half top", always the back half - this fakery simulating the days of old when that part came down to be enjoyed by the lords of the manor taking the sun in back while the chauffeur suffered under the roof, what else?

6. Curb feelers --These were around in the seventies, and I am unsure of their history but I guess it might be something like a pet rock for drivers who were challenged in the parking department.  You attached these spring loaded 10-12 inches long things to the bottom of the fender behind each tire on the right side of your car and when you attempted to park the feelers were supposed to make contact first and warn you that you have, well, made contact. They were ugly and they went away, and they shall never return!

5. Digital gauges --Again, it was the seventies, and the digital age was upon us. The digital watch was all the rage and car technology was close behind. Speedometers were flashing digits, bars were indicating fuel levels and it was a colorful new world led by the Cadillacs and Lincolns. The down side was that they were unsightly, like the digital watch, and worked poorly as anyone trying to fight his way that last mile to a distant gas station looking at a bar can attest to - an analog gauge gave you more, that last 100th of an inch of gradation you just can't do without! They are back now, on limited sports car applications usually as a speedometer backed up by an analog.

4. Weird steering wheels --Remember those? They are still around, for sale in some low scale high performance shops curiously enough. The wheel made of chromed chain was the most popular and the smallest it was, the cooler you were. It went well with an accessory pedal shaped like a giant foot. Of course the airbag craze brought these things to a merciful end, or at least limited them to cars made before the 90s.

3. Woodside paneling --Another popular abomination which lasted for many years and survived well into the 90s: Dodge Caravan comes to mind.  In this example, the plastic sheet came off in little pieces and of course cost a fortune to replace. The idea was to imitate the woodies of old when real wood was used instead of metal (I understand then people painted the wood to look like metal).

2. Fake convertible tops --I know they are technically vinyl tops but while vinyl tops were harmful and unnecessary they at least looked good, sort of. The fake convertible tops are glued on as a highly prized custom look, and they are costly to boot. They are on Cadillacs and Lincolns mostly, and oh boy, are they for the stylishly challenged! Now, they simulate a convertible on a car which is not a convertible. I do love convertibles, but convertibles look good with the top down; with the top up they look like a famished nag with ribs poking out black vinyl swaying in between--lucky for all, a look harder and harder to find.

And the winner is:

1. Automatic shoulder belts --They were mandated in the late 80s when passive restraints became law. The man tried to make everybody buckle up, and finding it difficult to achieve full compliance, some genius, yes, a real genius, figured that if a system had the belt wrap around the driver automatically, all would be well. Of course the lap belt was not part of the program, and had to be still manually fastened! So, this really defying all logic arrangement still exposed the driver to danger if he drove only with the shoulder belt since this is not how belts are supposed to work. The mechanized belts tended to fail quickly, and caused all kinds of annoyances when working properly such as trying to strangle you if you opened the door and stuck your head out. This system actually doomed some cars, like the VW Corrado, from ever achieving a classic status.

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