/ Motoring, Technology

Your view: car tech you’d introduce or retire

Toy car in a tunnel

In our debate on the potential demise of windscreen wipers, you discussed the car tech you’d like to consign to history. There were also suggestions of new tech you’d like to see introduced…

Wavechange dislikes all the lights in modern cars:

‘What I would like to consign to history is the current trend of festooning cars with strings of LEDs as brake lights, indicators and daytime running lights.’

Terfar shares his opinion on McLaren introducing ‘sound wave’ wipers:

‘Round wheels were invented in Neolithic times: should we stop using them because they really are ancient history?’

The cost of car repairs

Mike comments on the cost of repairing or replacing new tech, getting him our Comment of the Week:

‘Some innovations are good, some are not. Others are nice to have on a new car, but are a pain for second-hand buyers, because they go wrong. Some years ago I was appalled to have to pay 250 quid to repair an electric sunroof I never used, and did not want. Touchscreens are also likely to die on the last owners, sending the car to the scrapheap.’

Malcolm agrees:

‘The trouble with progress is it costs so much more to put these gadgets right when things go wrong – and you can rarely do it yourself. So no longer fit a new wiper blade, but an ultrasonic generator for which you’ll need a payday loan. The Xenon headlights on my car cost – £100 for the bulb and £450 to replace a failed ballest (off with the front bumper). Is it worth it? No.’

Past, present and future systems

Garrett misses his old car’s heating system:

‘My old car heating/ventilation system allowed me to enjoy hot air blowing at my feet together with cold fresh air blowing at my face. With my modern car’s air conditioning the choices are limited and when it broke down on a very hot afternoon our journey became almost intolerable.’

Peter wouldn’t miss his car’s voice-activated system:

‘My car has voice-activated systems; the radio/CD, the heating etc but, quite honestly, it’s easier to reach and push a button than try to think of the correct phrase out of the 140 possibilities. So often when I say ‘CD play track seven’, the response will be ‘Rear screen demister on’…bah!’

As for David, he’d like a new speaker system to be introduced:

‘I would like a speaker system within the car that would allow me to talk to rear seat passengers without having to talk in a raised voice and vice versa so that I can hear them also. Is there anything out there yet?’

What car tech would you like to see introduced or retired?


For me, the most useful feature of modern cars is parking sensors. Over the 46 years that I have been driving a car, I cannot remember hitting anything going forward but I have reversed into many small bollards in every car I have owned – except my present one, which has parking sensors.

In the previous Conversation, Ian made several sensible suggestions, including using distance sensors to discourage tailgating.

I can see the usefulness of reversing sensors, very useful until the day they go wrong, and they will. Friend of mine had such a failure on a Rover 75. Quite a big expensive job to repair.
Think I can get by without them.

Sensors on the front to deter tailgating is a very good idea though. So long as these sensors are designed such that replacement is made simple and cheap.
They could be made to only operate above say 20 mph to prevent waiting in a line at traffic lights becoming a pain, and made so that (above 20 mph) they could not be switched off.

As for other gadgets and gizmos I think the main issue is not whether they are present but how useful they really are, how well they are designed for easy and cheap replacement, because they will go wrong, and of course a thought about how quickly the technology employed goes out of date.

Manufacturers have made it difficult to replace failed light bulbs in many cars, so it is not surprising that it can be expensive to replace a parking sensor.

It would be good to go back to the days when simple jobs could be done easily.

I make my daughter get out of the car and stand behind it. Fortunately she’s now tall enough I can see her.

Agree that daylight running lights are an EU generated waste of time.

Re tailgating; the rear sensors could be programmed to advise when you’re being tailgated so that you could decide whether to speed up (probably futile even if feasible) or gradually slow down (ideal but requires courage). Front sensors might be a pest if they went off at the start of overtaking manouvres especially on 2way roads. Other danger is that regulations might set parameters overcautiously.

There are several improvements I would like to see:

1. Electronic speedometers (linked to the wheels as usual) but that automatically recalibrate themselves using GPS. There is no excuse in this day and age for speedometers to be inaccurate, usually over-reading by around 7%.
2. Clocks that require only a choice of timezone and set the actual time from a GPS signal.
3. USB ports for music instead of CD players.
4. Factory-fitted sat-nav with a choice of map source including free sources such, e.g. Google Maps. I’m fed up that Google Earth on my PC is more up-to-date than the data in my BMW because updates are provided only three times per year and with an excessively high charge of £200.

For cars that have a built-in GPS, the lack of the first two is inexcusable.

An example of low tech that should be in every car:


Meaning a full-size spare wheel, I hope.

Damn right. Full size tyre, useable, same type of rubber, full instructions taped to the inside of the hatch/boot…

We certainly should have a spare wheel and all the tools and the manufacturers should also leave a good pair of gloves in the glove compartment. Lifting and applying force to things is always easier and usually safer with gloves on in my experience.

I have discovered that the alloy wheels on my present car are more difficult to refit than any other wheels I wrestled with before. Inserting a couple of pieces of dowel in two of the five holes in hub makes it much easier to align the wheel so that the first bolt can be fitted.

It was so much easier when all that was needed was to hang the wheel on the protruding studs, in the days before bolts were introduced.

I keep a couple of pairs of disposable nitrile gloves beside the spare wheel. I wish I had room in the glove box for proper gloves.

My wife has a Smart car which has no spare wheel. She has to call Smart who send the AA or RAC to take off the wheel, drive it to a tyre depot, fix the puncture and return and refit the wheel. Her last puncture took 2 hours to fix when it should have only taken 10 minutes. Crackers.

The one indicator I’d like to see is one that tells me exactly which bulb out of the dozens on the car has actually gone. Rather than the current one which might as well just be laughing at me.

I’d retire the can of inflating gunk and reintroduce the full sized spare wheel. I would also like parking sensors to avoid hitting low walls or bollards in a poorly lit car park and include good visibility in car safety ratings, if it is not already included. I have been looking at new cars recently and am appalled at the rear window view and when I mentioned it to the salesman he replied that he only used the wing mirrors to check behind him. Would he now fail his driving test?

Probably, because copious use of the rear-view mirror is one of the most important features of the reverse-parking manouevre – before, during and after. Well-positioned and adjusted door-pillar mirrors can give an excellent view of the rear wheels when reversing and parking but are no substitute for use of the rear-view mirror. They are not much use for seeing posts and bollards but do give good vision of low-level transverse impediments like kerbs or gullies which might be invisible through a rear window [however deep]. Knowing the length of overhang beyond the wheel-base also helps. The experts would say that the key to reverse parking is looking at the space before attempting the manoeuvre and uploading its characteristics [especially any obstacles] into one’s mental spacial awareness programme within the human short-term memory facility; this will then interact automatically with the hands and feet controling the steering and motion of the vehicle. In practice, however, our synapses let us down at the critical moment [because we’re actually rehearsing the shopping list] and we get in a muddle, so a little help from sensors would be very welcome.

This reminds me that the return of car bumpers and side protection strips would be welcome. I now park in the far corners of supermarket car parks to avoid scrapes and dents.

Phil says:
6 January 2014

Agreed. There was a time when bumpers did their job and were capable of taking the odd knock or two. These days the flimsy painted bits of plastic that pass for bumpers are the most fragile part of the car.

I presume it’s all about crash-worthiness and the absorption of energy thus cushioning the impact by means of a compression or crumple zone. In the case of the front end, this reduces the likelihood of the engine invading the passenger compartment which used to be the cause of serious multiple injuries even where airbags were deployed. The trade-off is that we now have little protection of the bodywork in the event of a minor collision. I think the safety advantages of the energy absorbing front ends far outweigh the absence of rigid bumpers fixed to the frame or chassis. There were frequent complaints that bumpers were not at a universal level and could also give rise to over-riding with a greater risk of injury. Moreover, bumpers wre not kind to cyclists or pedestrians, especially children, hit by a car. Several decades ago some vehicles had rubber [or rubber-encased] bumpers and newspaper vans in London had their entire front wings and wheel arches made of flexible rubber [probably because the drivers did u-turns in narrow streets and tore around at breakneck speed in order to be “first with the news” as the masthead of The Evening News proclaimed].

My comment was not very well phrased. I am not advocating that we go back to the days of metal bumpers or anything else that could create a hazard for pedestrians, etc. I would be very happy to go back to the days when the front and back of cars usually had some form of protection from careless people trying to park, etc. Having body colour coordinated ‘bumpers’ repaired is expensive, or so I have been told.

Yes, they’re more like “fairings” than “bumpers” now and are usually part of a large panel. Cars have also got wider so the space available to manoeuvre in car parks in order to avoid kerbs and posts is significantly reduced and it’s often impossible to open the thicker doors and get in the car without making contact with the adjacent vehicle. Maybe the spaces should be increased in width even at the expense of nominal capacity. I also like the far corners of supermarket car parks where there are fewer trolley movements, which also give rise to biffs and dents. In my experience, the best position is to straddle the dividing line of the last two spaces in a corner. This can always be justified by the pile of litter and slurry of dead leaves lying in the corner and means that no one else can park right alongside on at least one side of the car.

Spot on with the leaves, John. I used this trick regularly where I used to work.

Would someone please invent an easy way to inflate car tyres. I have reached the stage where I have given up wrestling with commercially operated machines – trying to inflate all four tyres before the machine stops even after unscrewing all four caps before inserting coins has become quite a challenge and what does one do with them whilst inflating the tyre? No rude suggestions pIease! I have resorted to purchasing DIY inflators but find these even more confusing also they have a very short life span. (Have quite a collection of defunct ones in my garage.) Better still can someone invent a non inflatable tyre (maybe they already have but they are non-commercially viable). No doubt some technological wizard will come up with a solution soon (I hope.)

Just buy an electric pump with a screw-on connection, which is likely to be more durable than a lever operated connection. If you are a Which? member, have a look at the Best Buys.

It is best to check your tyres at home rather than at a garage because the pressure should be set when they are cold.

I share Beryl’s dislike of the filling station machines. There’s usually a queue to use the multi-purpose machine because it does everything except brush the floormats. As well as the money running out before the time required [why isn’t it priced on the volume of air supplied?] the hoses never quite seem long enough to get to the offside of the car without passing them under the body or over the bonnet. I still use a foot-pump at home. It’s a bit fiddly sometimes getting the nozzle to seat on the tyre inflation valve but it’s good for a gentle workout so it does two jobs in one [instead of seven at the filling station] and the bonus feature is that the valve caps don’t roll down the drain. This is why service stations sell valve caps in four-packs instead of in pairs like Halfords.

One way of acquiring spare valve caps is to remove the old caps before having new tyres and valves fitted.

Good news! There is extensive ongoing research in progress with all the main tyre manufacturers to produce a commercially viable and safe non pneumatic tyre, the most promising from Goodyear who announced in December 2013 they have come up with a self inflating tyre system! You can log on to http://www.designboom.com/technology/goodyear-amt-self-inflatable-tire-system to learn more……

That does look interesting. We don’t know how well off we are, however: my grandad had to take the horse to the blacksmith every few weeks and the cart to the wheelwright from time to time. Now we just inject some air in the tyres and off we go again.

Chris G said “Sensors on the front to deter tailgating is a very good idea though. ”

I would say these sensors should be on the BACK of the vehicle, with a warning light to alert the vehicle behind that it is too close ! This evening heavy lorries twice came up really close behind me, making me feel very uncomfortable, and I wished I had some way of saying “back off a bit!”

My way of dealing with this problem is to tap my foot on the brakes to flash the brake lights without slowing down, or to flash the rear fog lights. I have found this very effective in helping drivers to realise that they are too close behind. For obvious reasons I am not recommending this unauthorised use of lights.

Phil says:
6 January 2014

Engine preheater utilising stored hot coolent for quicker warmer engine & cabin temperature.

A simple, cheap and very usefull item on our Volvo is a plastic clip fitted to the edge of the windscreen by the manufacturer to hold parking tickets. No more blowing on the floor when you close the door.

Something else I would like to get rid of is power sockets that shut off when the engine is stopped, which seems to be the modern standard.

I used to charge my sat nav, laptop, phone, etc.in the boot of my previous car, but now can only do this when I am driving. I presume that this change has been made to many modern cars to ensure that the car battery is not drained, but I have never had a problem myself.

What about Four Wheel Steering as an option on cars? -but this may need to be regulated with a special Four Wheel Steering licence! (I am aware that rear wheel steering does exist on some very large lorries).

Phil says:
9 January 2014

I think it still is available on some top end models but many manufacturers who did offer it no longer do so because of a lack of demand.

I would get rid of anything that makes changing a light bulb difficult – styled bumpers that need to be removed, engine compartment clutter that makes it difficult or impossible to get to the bulb holders. As it is a legal requirement to have appropriate lights all cars should be designed so that an ordinary driver can change bulbs.

It used to be a requirement to carry spare bulbs when driving in France. In an earlier Conversation we were told that this has been dropped, presumably because it’s not much use having spare bulbs if it is difficult to fit them. Commonsense dictates that it should be possible to replace a bulb that is a legal requirement without use of tools.

We should have acted promptly when manufacturers started to produce cars with bulbs that were difficult to replace. There is much less chance of success when the problem has existed for a couple of decades.

It will not be long until most filament bulbs on cars are replaced by LED lamps, which should last the life of the vehicle.

A single light source and fibre optic cabling have been possible for years, I bought an illuminated Christmas tree in 2004 that worked on that principle. But as Wavechange often says, we don’t want cars with skeins of LED’s wandering about all over the bonnet like the Blackpool illuminations. I think it’s best if lights are round, in standardised positions so far as practicable, and limited in number. Misuse of the fog lamps is another thing that annoys me but that’s a whole new educational challenge.

Some years ago, a friend had a Fiat with a single bulb and fibre optics instead of lots of little bulbs behind the dashboard. Unfortunately, the bulb failed and it was an expensive job to dismantle the dashboard to replace it. Clever ideas can have big failings when something is overlooked. 🙁

Hopefully modern dashboards have fibre optics or everlasting LEDs.

Anne says:
9 January 2014

Reversing cameras on ALL cars.

MsSupertech says:
11 January 2014

I particularly loath ‘Privacy glass’. What’s the point? I don’t want to look like a dodgy drug dealer. It should NEVER be the default option on any car model – make it an option.

I believe it’s no longer permitted on the front windscreen and front-seat side windows. This is to enable camera enforcement of traffic violations and obviate false alibis and perjury.

MsSupertech says:
12 January 2014

Thanks, that’s right – but I don’t want it on my rear side windows either…. And nor do a great many others judging from comments on some of the online forums I’ve been following….

Paul C says:
12 January 2014

I live in a hot country, where a car is unbeatable after parking outside.
Why not install some solar PV panels in the roof, which could power ventilation or even
low level air-con without running battery down?

Sounds like a good idea but I guess added weight has something to do with it.

Nowadays there are lightweight, flexible solar panels. They are advertised for use on boats, motorhomes and caravans but might be suitable for cars.