Electronic features will help you avoid accidents on the road and in parking lots, giving you time to enjoy your car’s entertainment center.
So you’ve decided to trade in your old sedan for a new one, one with all the bells and whistles. You might be surprised by all the electronic features, which not only make driving more fun but also safer—and more complicated. Many car dealers now provide classes for new car owners to learn about all the electronic gadgets.
While you had to read a gas gauge in your old car to see that your fuel tank was almost empty, new cars will tell you not only how many miles you can drive before you need to fill up, but also your current estimate of how many miles you’re getting per gallon—that is, whether you’re getting good fuel mileage or not. New cars will determine when to turn on and off your bright lights and the speed of the windshield wipers. Instead of having to test the air pressure in your tires by actually getting out of the car, monitors will let you know if they are becoming under-inflated.
Safety on the Road
In addition to driving efficiencies and conveniences, new safety features allow you to avoid accidents. For example, you’re in heavy traffic when you’re distracted by your dog gnawing on something that sounds suspiciously like your new car upholstery, and you turn for a split second to look at the back seat. Luckily, sensors on your car (using cameras, radar, laser or some combination) will warn you with either a visual or audible signal that you are getting too close to the car in front of you. If you aren’t reacting fast enough, and a collision is imminent, some cars will even help brake the car.
If you start to drift off into another lane, without signaling your intent to do so, maybe just as you’re reaching for your coffee mug, the car will either adjust your steering to stay in the lane or alert you that you’re drifting. It does this through the use of a camera that detects lane dividers and raised pavement markers.
To keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, an adaptive cruise control will automatically slow your car down in traffic without you having to do anything. As traffic speeds up, the cruise control will automatically let the car accelerate to maintain the preset speed, letting you concentrate on your phone call home.
Parking lots are notorious for fender-benders because of cars constantly pulling in and out, plus the always-present pedestrian. As we get older, stiffer necks and less flexible shoulders make it more difficult to see all around us. Plus it’s not easy to see down low or on the side of the car, where children or pets might be. Now, reverse backup sensors will let you know if you’re getting too close to another object—whether a car or dog—either by beeping at you or displaying what’s behind you. Similar sensors can detect a car on your side, such as in your blind spot.
Even the bane of most motorists—parallel parking— is now easier. On some new cars, a feature detects the size of a parallel parking space, guides you into the starting position, and then lets the computer back the vehicle into the tight space.
All of these features leave more time for the real purpose of owning a car: your own personal entertainment and connectivity center. With Bluetooth, you can talk on the phone without taking your hands off the wheel or listen to music from your device, Pandora, Sirius or the radio that is booming over up to seven speakers (with an option for a subwoofer). You can add a video player to entertain backseat occupants.
Built-in navigation, shown on an 8-inch screen in the dashboard, helps you find your way, and voice controls mean not having to use your hands to enter your destination or even the phone number of the person you want to call.
Most recently, some car makers are offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which reproduce your smartphone’s features on the car’s dashboard, so you don’t have to learn a new interface.
Coming soon: driverless cars. Maybe drivers can even start watching videos in the car.
"8 Tech Features That Improve Car Safety,” April 27, 2016, United Services Automobile Association
"Guide to Safety Features,” January 2014, Consumer Reports
"The Hottest 2016 New-Car Features,” Dec. 8, 2015, Forbes
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors