the undriveable car

I rented a new car yesterday. It was a technologically advanced vehicle.

I had to learn how to operate the car. Before I could drive it.

Here's what happened:

The rental rep brought the car over and parked it in a parking lot near my residence. After signing the rental agreement, he handed me the car fob. I fiddled around with it and couldn't figure out how to start the car. There was no key. No car key? I asked the rep how to start the car. It turns out that there was no entry/ignition key. Then how the heck do you turn on the ignition? You push the Start button. Ah. I got in and pushed the Start button. Nothing happened. He said, "You also have to step on the brake at the same time." How on earth would you know that intuitively???

The rental rep left. I was on my own. No problem. I'm a smart guy, I can read an Owner's Manual. At least the things I want/need to know. I looked in the glove compartment for the Owner's Manual, so I could quickly find out the basic things I needed to know before I drove the car.

There it was, the Owner's Manual, in the glove compartment. But it was an Owner's Manual for another style of the Ford Fusion, a low-tech Ford Fusion. I was driving a high-tech version, with lots of bells and whistles. There was a little 5-page booklet that mostly explained how to synch the entire car to my cellphone. But the booklet contained nothing about the things I needed to know in order to basically DRIVE the car. Uh oh. Now I had to figure out how this hi-tech car operates, how to drive it, by guessing. Guessing? This car had all kinds of advanced stuff: parallel parking by itself, lane alert, auto immediate anti-crash stop, auto seat position memory, synching with cellphone, navigation system and lots of other advanced stuff. I understood none of those things, was unfamiliar with all of them, and did not know how they worked. Plus, I was scared that I might cause the car to do things I didn't want it to do, like parallel park itself--when I wasn't parking the car!

And I was forced to GUESS how this complicated beast worked?

I entered the beast, put my foot on the brake, pushed Start, and held my breath. The car started. And the driver's seat started moving, all by itself. My seat started going backwards, all by itself. I got scared! It finally stopped moving and I re-adjusted it to my desired position. Whew. OK, I am now in position to drive the beast. But first, I had to familiarize myself with the gadgets and symbols on the dashboard. What were they, what did they do, how do you work them? There were dozens of things on the dashboard: buttons and switches and other shapes, all symbols, many of which I was unfamiliar with. And I couldn't look up what I needed to know, what they did, because I had no Owner's Manual to this car!

I looked at the middle dashboard console containing a number of symbols. Dozens of symbols. I recognized only a few. It seemed to be the entertainment system and the climate control system. I could not figure out how to use the heat and a/c but, luckily, I didn't need either one. At the moment. As for the synching of the car to my phone, and navigation and other apps, I could drive without needing to use them. At the moment. And, as for the radio controls, I was clueless but could live without listening to music while driving. At the moment. I then looked at the gas gauge and guessed that the gauge showed less than 1/4 of a tank. Or more than 3/4 of a tank. It was hard to tell. I went with my guess of 1/4 of a tank.

So, my first order of driving was to go get some gas. By now, it was dark outside. But, being the smart, fearless, experienced driver that I was, I was ready to go.

I noticed that my dashboard light was dim. Very dim. Too dim. I could not see the gauges and the readings. Hmm. No problem, I will simply increase the lighting. However, I could not find the switch or dial or button to increase the dashboard lighting. Where was it? I don't know. I looked everywhere, but couldn't find it. It was dark and I couldn't figure out how to increase the dashboard lights. Oh, well, not a critical thing, just an annoying impediment to driving at night. At least my headlights came on, automatically.

I put the car in reverse and was treated to a rear camera view on the dashboard console, a rear camera view of a dark parking lot. The rear camera screen was quite dark, too dark to clearly see what was behind the car. I backed out the old-fashioned way, by looking through the back window and using the side mirrors. I put the car in D and was on my way! To the gas station. And maybe the supermarket.

I made it to the gas station and put gas in the car. Then I drove over to the supermarket and bought some groceries. In the supermarket parking lot I decided to try again to see if I could figure out how the radio worked and where the dashboard dimmer switch was located. After 15 minutes, I finally found the dashboard dimmer switch. It was located way down on the left, somewhat behind the steering wheel. I increasing my dashboard lights and was finally able to see all the gauges and symbols.

It took me over an hour to figure out how the radio worked.

Today's vehicles are incredibly complicated and incredibly user unfriendly! Here's an idea for all the car designers and manufacturers. Put in a "voice activated" electronic Owner's Manual. Then, we drivers can simply ask the car things. Things we want to know. Things like, "How the hell do you turn on the radio!?"

When consumers spend $25,000, or $50,000, or $100,000 (or more) to buy a vehicle, and then can't figure out how to drive the damn thing, is that too much to ask?