Confounded by Car Technology? It's Time to Embrace It


Today's technology-laden cars, SUVs and even trucks can be challenging for older drivers as well as car buyers who have been out of the market for several years. I'm among the many mature drivers who don't replace vehicles until they've been driven into the ground — my husband and I often go a decade or more between car purchases. Our current vehicles are of 2004 and 2006 vintage, and they lack much of the technology that's rapidly becoming common, often standard, on today's new cars.

Related: AAA Recommends Car Features for Older Drivers

As a's copy editor, I'm encouraged to drive the test vehicles we receive at our Chicago offices so that I can experience the things I read about when I edit articles. I enjoy this part of the job, but it's proven to be a challenge due to unfamiliar technology. I often find myself communing with the owner's manual before I can leave the parking garage with one of our test cars.

Here are a few things other potentially overwhelmed car shoppers of any vintage should prepare to encounter:


Backup cameras:'s long-term 2013 Honda Civic provided my first exposure to a backup camera, and I've quickly become a fan. Put the car in Reverse and what's behind you pops up on a display screen. Drivers still need to physically look behind them and check blind spots, but the cameras provide great visibility and boost driver confidence. This safety feature is due to become a government-mandated standard feature in 2018.


Blind spot monitors/lane departure warning systems: A blind spot monitor uses sensors to visually and audibly alert drivers to objects in their blind spot. Lane departure warning uses visible and audible alerts when a driver has strayed into another lane. They're easy to use (sometimes they are part of the vehicle's default mode; sometimes you need to hit a switch or button to activate them), and I think they should be standard in every vehicle.


Heat up or chill out: Living in the Midwest where winter can be harsh — especially this past winter — I appreciated not only the 2014 Audi SQ5's (Prestige trim) heated side mirrors but also windshield washer jets and heated driver and passenger seats, which are more common in luxury cars and higher trim levels of mainstream brands. Heated steering wheels are becoming a more common option too. Many cars also offer optional ventilated seats for summertime comfort.


Multimedia screens: Most cars seem to come with a separate instruction manual for the multimedia system, which is usually tied to a large screen in the middle of the dashboard. Intimidating? Yes! While driving's 2014 Jeep Cherokee long-term tester, I decided it was time to conquer my fear. My colleagues consider Chrysler's Uconnect system to be the easiest to use, and it was. From the essentials of radio and climate control to the perks of navigation and smartphone integration, I found the system easy to use. Ditto with the MyLink system in our 2014 Chevrolet Impala long-term tester. With these experiences under my belt, I'm finding it easier to navigate my way around other manufacturers' systems, even the often-dissed MyFord/MyLincoln Touch systems.


Push-button start: Seems intuitive, right? Push the big start button in the dashboard and the car rumbles to life. Not so much, as I discovered the weekend I had the 2013 Volkswagen CC with available push-button start. I'd read a lot about push-button start and was eager to give it a try, so I got in the CC, pushed the button and — nothing. After pushing the button several times to no avail, I finally got out the owner's manual and in a few minutes discovered one must push the brake pedal and the start button simultaneously. Granted, this is something car salespeople would show you when testing a car, but the push-button ignition can also cause consternation when shutting the car off. Put the car in Park, push the button and it shuts off the engine — but often accessories like multimedia screens stay on until, and sometimes after, you exit the vehicle. BMWs, for example, will keep playing the radio after you've shut off the engine, unbuckled your seat belt, gotten out and shut the door. They only turn off once you lock the doors.


Keyless entry and keyless access: Push-button start also ties into keyless entry and keyless access, which sound similar but are different. Keyless entry allows you to lock and unlock doors by pressing a button on a key or key fob. This is very common. Keyless access (also called a smart key, to add to the confusion) uses a fob that transmits a signal when the driver gets close to the vehicle to unlock it without hitting anything on the fob. The "key" can be in a pocket or a purse, not in your hand. It's used in conjunction with push-button start, making the vehicle totally keyless.


Seat adjustments: Seat positioning is another area that's greatly evolved in the last decade, and I've found it challenging to figure out which lever or button adjusts what. It's no longer a matter of moving the seat back or forth and adjusting the seatback angle. Drivers, and often front-seat passengers, also can adjust how high or low they sit. Height adjustment is now something shoppers should expect; so don't be wowed by a salesperson who tries to oversell it. Lumbar support also is more common. Some luxury cars even have an extension for added thigh support ... sometimes it's even powered. The controls for all these adjustments aren't always easy to see or find, so I find myself consulting the owner's manual for several minutes just to get in a comfortable driving position. photo illustration by Paul Dolan; photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/Thinkstock. photos by Evan Sears and Anastasia Page


there are also many simple devices to help you out tracking your family cars. Sometimes we might worry about some elderly drivers in our family, as their driving skills may decrease. This kind of simple plug-in tool can help you monitoring them and their whereabouts

I had my first car for like 3-4 years (actually still have, just not running anymore). In the last few years I've changed 3 cars already.


Technology is great only if it is well integrated, easy to understand, and thoroughly easy to use. As pointed out in the article, this is often not the case. Touch pads on the center stack are a prime example of poor design.

I love the old fashioned push buttons for radio station selection but on my Kia Soul, there are no buttons and my touch screen is totally worthless if I have to take my eyes off the road to push it. To make matters worse the touch screen "buttons" are stacked one on top of the other, can take as many as 3-4 page scrolls each requiring hitting an arrow on the right and are so skinny that a man's hands could easily depress two buttons at the same time. So you have to take your eyes off the road, turn your head to the right, search for the proper button, and try to hit the touch pad in exactly the right spot to get to the selected station. Try doing that in a half second or even a couple seconds. Not at all safe if you ask me.

To make matters even worse, once you select a station and don’t like what is on and want to tune to another station, you have to repeat the entire procedure again. To their credit, Kia engineers have a voice command feature to bypass the touch screen. But again, here you have to press a button on the steering wheel and repeat a specific sequence of “radio-AM/FM/-station location” commands to engage the system. But even if you use that you still have to repeat the entire sequence to select another station. Poor design and poor execution.

One final gripe is the back up camera everyone says they love. I don’t get that at all. So rather than looking at you rear view mirror, you prefer to drop your head and eyes to stare at a screen that shows you exactly what your rear view mirror does, right? To me that is plain silly because you lose your peripheral vision when dropping your head or eyes to stare at the screen. When looking at the rear view mirror you still have some degree of peripheral vision to the right and left, but when staring at a screen you have to drop your line of vision to stare at the screen. That is something to love?? Really??

So you are at Walmart parked between a Grand Caravan and Toyota Sequoia. What is the value of a back up camera here?? Your rear view mirror shows you the same view as the camera right?? Why are you paying extra for the camera that shows you exactly what you have with the rear view mirror? In either case if you used the back up camera all you see is the back view. What about on the left and right?? If someone is coming down the middle of the parking aisle will your back up camera show the car coming?? Hell no, because you can’t see through the Caravan and Sequoia either with your eyes or your back up camera. Oh well, there is one advantage to a back up camera that I can defend and that is during parallel parking. It does serve the function of keeping you from ramming into the cars you are trying to park between.


Backup cameras are good for getting into garages so u dont hit the freezer in the back



Many vehicles now feature cross traffic alert. If I am backing out between two vehicles and can't see someone coming down the aisle, the system will beep and point to which side the pedestrian or vehicle is coming from.

Dust Bunny

My new car doesn't have a backup camera, but I can see why they're so popular. So many modern cars have relatively small rear windows (structurally more safe, I guess, but it doesn't help visibility), and the camera allows you to see what is behind and slightly below you, not just behind. I wouldn't rely on them completely, but they definitely increase your range of sight.

I could also be a fan of right-side cameras (the Honda Fit has this): A clear view when you're changing lanes, no matter how thick the c-pillars are on your car or how perfectly positioned that other car is in your blind spot.

Noooo thank you. These amazing new gadgets will be that many more really expensive things to fix. And more things I haven't a clue how to fix myself. Not me. When I am forced to replace my 1999 Chevy S10 I'm looking for a good 1965 Chevy pick-up. Or maybe a horse & buggy!

Ryan N.

Are people really not accustomed to having their foot on the brake when starting a car? Where did you folks learn to drive?


Too much "eyes of the road" info and duties.
My wife must use her phone map to counter the misinformation on the Infiniti GPS.
Voice operated items must be shouted. Worst car I ever purchased.


If the backup camera display were in the rear passenger headliner, I'd buy it. You need to turn your head to back up people! Looking straight ahead -- even if there is a monitor displaying the rear -- is an accident waiting to happen. Sheesh!


My almost 72 year old dad doesn't even turn on the radio when he drives. His '12 Malibu came with OnStar free for 6 months and he was so happy when the subscription ended. I think he was going to pay extra to have OnStar optioned out! He always felt like GM was watching over him all the time, since we used to get e-mails that his LR tire is 5 psi less than it should be. That drove him nuts.
I like a little tech in vehicles and I'm 47, but soon cars will be outdated in 4 years only because their newest tech will already be 4 years old. The rest of the car is not even rusty and it will be traded in. I think the gadgets sell the car, not what the car actually does. If so, a car became just an appliance.

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