Annoying Features on Cars

by Sandy L on January 20, 2011

The other day I locked myself out of my car. It was still running, and low on gas.  I must have inadvertently pressed down on the lock button as I was exiting the car. I quickly looked at the other doors and of course, they were all locked too.  It wasn’t because I locked them myself. It was because my car has an “auto-lock” safety feature that annoys me at least 20 times a week. As soon as I put my car in drive, it goes around and locks all my doors. Man, is that maddening, especially on a cold day with an armful of stuff to put in it.

To make a long story short, my husband comes with the spare key which is not a key at all and hits the unlock button. Guess what, it doesn’t unlock.  Darnit, this must be some other safety feature but I have yet to understand it’s purpose.  At this point, my car’s been running on empty for 1/2 hour, I have my spare key and I still can’t get into my car.  The key is not really a key at all, so I can’t go about doing it the old fashioned way.  I frustratedly look at my door again and see a real keyhole on the door. Then I remembered that one time my all in one remote unlocker/car starter thingee fell apart and revealed an actual key inside. After a little figuring, I finally unleashed the key from within and unlocked my door.  The story ends happily. I did not run out of gas and I decided to take the day off from work because it was a floating holiday anyway.

Stupid Car Key

This little episode made me think of all the gimmicky technology features that I can really live without.  Part of me doesn’t like the ecological impact, but part of me thinks these things are just a nuisance that don’t serve the purpose well.  Today, I’m only going to focus on cars, but I already have a list in my head of household products too.

So here’s my personal list:


Do any of the sensors that are put on cars actually serve a practical purpose besides costing you an expensive trip to the mechanic?  Most of the time, the car still runs even if the sensor is bad,  yet, you still  have to be concerned when that  ! signal shows up on your dashboard because it could be something much worse.

While we’re talking about sensors, my passenger airbag sensor is way too sensitive. I really can’t fathom why sitting my briefcase on the seat would sound off that annoying “your seatbelt is not on” beep.  Even supermodels weigh more than my briefcase. You know what sensor would be useful, one that told me when my headlight is out. To this day, I still rely on some nice person to walk up to me and let me know.

Power Packages

I don’t know a person who’s had a late model car with power features that hasn’t had their sunroof or window get stuck in the open position.  Yeah, power windows are nice, but it’s just one more thing to repair. If I were on a budget, I’d want my car to be as break proof as possible.  The first car I bought (Toyota Corolla), had a manual transmission, crank windows and old fashioned locks.  It didn’t even have a trunk light. I loved that car. It was so good to me. When I was poor, I didn’t want extra things breaking on me and I sure didn’t want to be paying for them either.  Nowadays a lot of these features come standard and you don’t even have a choice anymore but pay for this stuff.   I now have grown accustomed to these features and like them, but  I still think the manual options should be an option to accomodate the thrifty crowd.

The Panic Button on my Keychain

I wish this were optional. The only time it’s ever used is when my toddler fishes through my purse and finds my keys. He knows exactly what that red button does and feels truimphant anytime he manages to set the alarm off before I catch him with the keys.  On my last keychain, it was in a strange spot and I always hit it instead of my unlock button. It got so annoying that I researched if there was some easy way to disable it. I did find one  way, but I ended up disabling my whole key chain in the process.

Carpeting in Family Vehicles

Back in 2008, my husband finally got his dream car, the Honda Element.  That car has no carpeting which is brilliant. It’s SO easy to clean.  You can literally hose it out if you want to.  I suppose carpets look  nice in  the showrooms but it doesn’t take long before those carpets are covered with winter slush and have Cheerios and fruit snacks stuck to them.   At the very least carpets should be optional and/or have a darker color to choose from.  One car I ordered I picked the grey carpeting and when I got it, I thought I got the wrong car because it was almost white. Nope, that was their version of grey. What a nightmare that car was to keep clean.

I suppose I should  also write about the few favorite things on cars that don’t always come standard.


Fold Down Back Seats – I remember one of the company cars I had did not have this feature. I inherited it from another salesperson and I was very dismayed when I was trying to bring home some big item and the back seat didn’t fold down.   I finally found out was an optional feature that you had to pay extra for it.   I’d happily trade a sensor or two for a latch for my backseat.

Child Safety Locks – This is the manual button you press on your door to keep the back doors from getting unlocked and opened from the inside.  This is much less annoying than the auto lock safety feature and you still can open the doors from the outside if you want to put something in the car.

Extra Power Outlets – Although I love that newer cars have more than one power plug,  I don’t understand why cars just can’t have a regular power plug instead of the cigarette lighter technology. I mean how many people do you know who even have a cigarette lighter attachment in their car anymore?

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. I’m sure I’m missing a few. Let me know you’re favorite and least favorite car features. I’m very much a practical utilitarian car buyer. I don’t care about power, how it looks or bells and whistles. I just want it to be practical, reliable, get good gas mileage and perform well in the snow. I really don’t care about how fast I can go from 0-60 but that’s just me.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole January 20, 2011 at 6:59 AM

I like the way my car automatically turns off the lights if I forget to. I hate the way my husband’s car doesn’t. Especially when I’m trying to escape a dinner with a crazy job candidate. I do like the way college students in our town are really nice about jumping strangers’ cars for them.


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:07 AM

Nicole – I totally forgot that feature, but it can backfire on you too when you get used to keeping your lights on and then move to a car that does not have that feature and forget. That’s one that I wish they’d make universal. It really is amazing how some communities are so much friendlier than others.


Money Beagle January 20, 2011 at 7:29 AM

With our GM cars, we haven’t had to turn on or off the headlights manually in years. We do occasionally if it’s raining or snowing, but sometimes I forget where the actual control is, we go so long between. That’s nice because you can then avoid being one of those idiots driving in pitch black with out any lights because you forgot to turn them on.

I agree that thee should be some sensor about the headlights or taillights.


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:08 AM

Money Beagle – I was one of those idiots the other day. My last car had the auto headlights, but my current car doesn’t, so I still forget sometimes.


The Biz of Life January 20, 2011 at 9:09 AM

We always buy the lowest feature package because most of the extras just aren’t worth it to us so we don’t have a lot of the gadget problems.


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:09 AM

Biz – Agree. I’ve never been a bells and whistles gal when It came to cars.


101 Centavos January 20, 2011 at 9:24 AM

My 2001 Ford truck doesn’t have any remote lock controls, and although I wished for a while that it did, I eventually got used to it. The power window on the passenger side is getting “tired”, as are the power mirrors. I’ve also learned to live with these quirks. With 150K miles on it, it’s good for another 50K, after which we’ll retire it to the farm. The cigarette lighter is a multipurpose tool, just in case you have to interrogate a bad guy (“Man on Fire”)


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:10 AM

101 – yeah, I know the sound. It’s kind of like a wounded animal groaning. Tired is a good way to describe it.


Linda January 20, 2011 at 12:03 PM

Like Money Beagle, I don’t have to worry about my headlights. I love this feature on my car. The lights are always on at a low setting (I guess this was considered a safety thing) and then adjust higher at night. There’s a sensor on the dashboard that controls this feature. It also turns on the dashboard lights at night.

My car is eight years old now, but I still have less than 40,000 miles on it. (I don’t drive very much.) A few years ago I got tempted by some of the gadgets in newer cars like the ability to plug in an MP3 player. Then I realized it would just be better to get a new radio installed that had this ability. That was only $200; much less than buying a new car. 😉

I would love to have a feature that warns me when a headlight, taillight, or brake light isn’t working.


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:12 AM

Linda – reliable cars rock. Every time a car gets older and is still kicking, I hear money going into the bank.


StackingCash January 20, 2011 at 12:20 PM

That’s your million dollar invention, sensor for a non-working car light! I used to be pretty tech savvy, but lately these new cars have way too many thingamabobs. I do miss simpler times.


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:15 AM

Stacking Cash – yeah, my first couple of cars were very basic. I miss them. I pretty much always have that ! light on my company car. And even though my repairs are paid for, I’d be in the shop every week because it’s a chrysler. I can’t wait til my next one comes in. That car feels like it’s going to self destruct at any minute.


Suba @ Wealth Informatics January 20, 2011 at 2:45 PM

I have a Honda Fit that is pretty basic, but that does have a “feature” that drives my husband mad (I got used to it). If I keep any of the doors open for more than a minute, it starts screaming like I hit the panic button. It won’t stop until I click on the unlock button or put the key in the drive thing. Everytime we had to load something that takes more than a minute or if I husband keeps the front door open when he fills gas, this things goes up. Arrggh…

There are some features I like in my husbands civic that are not there in the fit – the head light turns off if the car is off for more than a few minutes and the doors lock around the same time.


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:16 AM

Suba – That’s really annoying, and what’s the purpose if it? I suppose to not drain the battery with your interior light on. I wish we had the option to disable those things because the likelihood of that happening far outweighs the annoyance. Cars really must be designed for the dumbest of people.


everyday tips January 20, 2011 at 3:44 PM

I can’t figure out why my car alarm goes off sometimes when someone is in the car and opens the door. I am sure it is in the manual, but I haven’t been able to figure it out.

I love how my headlights turn off automatically along with the interior light.

The carpet in my car is like a dirt magnet. It doesn’t just get dirty, but it also doesn’t want to let go of the dirt either. It is so frustrating.


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:19 AM

Everyday Tips – One more vote for no carpet. It’s one of those things you just live with because you think there is no other way. Then someone brilliant at Honda says “Hey, this is a practical vehicle and carpeting ain’t practical.” There’s no rule that says we have to do it because everyone else is doing it. It’s too bad they are discontinuing that car. It has a kind of cult following around here because of all the outdoorsy people. Nothing sucks more than putting your muddy mountain bike in a carpeted SUV. Some people like bike racks, but some people feel safer with them in the car so they don’t get stolen.


Nicole January 20, 2011 at 7:46 PM

ET– Ours goes off when someone has been in the car for a long time and then decides to leave. There must be some way you can break into the car that mimics that or something. Or maybe they’re worried about the urban legend of people hiding in the back seat…


sandy @ yesiamcheap January 20, 2011 at 8:07 PM

Great article. Love it. Your contract page isn’t working. Can you e-mail me? Thanks.


Molly On Money January 20, 2011 at 10:03 PM

To make a copy of my key it will cost $80. When I bought the car three years ago it came with one fancy-mancy sensor key. I’m too dang cheap to purchase a new one but I know I’ll regret it the day I lock my keys in the car!


Sandy L January 21, 2011 at 6:21 AM

Molly -that key in the post was over $200. Thankfully I didn’t have to pay for it directly. I pay $170/month to use my company car, but it’s still worth it.


101 Centavos January 22, 2011 at 8:14 AM

Ah, I had forgotten about the incredibly expensive sensor key. We had an extra one made originally at the Ford dealership when we bought the truck (used). The reason it’s got a sensor in it, we’re told, is to act as anti-theft device. Without, the engine will turn over but won’t start. A couple of years later, the key malfunctioned. Rather than spend 80 to a 100 bucks getting a copy of made, we elected not to. Also, because I also have a propensity to lock the keys inside the car, I keep the now-useless key (useless in the sense that it won’t start the truck, but it still can open the door lock) inside a small magnetic holder under the passenger side axle. I’ve had to use it a couple of times to let myself in. And that’s how it’s been for the 6 or 7 years. Haven’t felt the need to get another copy made. I figure if we ever lose the one remaining sensor key, I’m going to learn to hot wire the truck, and drive to the junkyard for a pre-2001 ignition lock and key.


retirebyforty January 21, 2011 at 1:21 PM

We recently got a Mazda 5 micro van and I love it! We got the base version and it has pretty much everything we need. The Mrs. wants leather seats and seat warmer, but we didn’t want to pay another 3-4 grand to up level everything.
We got all weather (rubber) floor mat when we purchased the car and sold off the original mats right away. That was a good move.
Things I don’t like in modern cars – sun roof. Just another thing to break.
The Mrs. hates the auto manual shifting feature, why do we need this?

Our previous vehicle was a ’98 BMW Z3. It had a manual cloth convertible top. I would love to have a convertible hard top, that would be the perfect car for me. We really love the Z3 more than the van, but life goes on….


Sandy L January 22, 2011 at 7:28 AM

RB40 -yup, my friend had a sunroof that would always get stuck in the open position and every time it happened it was like $40 at the garage to take it apart and manually close it. My husband had a miata before we had kids, so he can relate. Agreed on the hard top. It was so noisy in that car. I personally hated riding in it when it wasn’t a top down day.


Moneycone January 21, 2011 at 10:14 PM

what I’d like is a panic button that’ll make the car key scream when lost instead of the car!


Aloysa January 22, 2011 at 12:01 AM

I’ve been locked out of my car so many times in the past that I am really paranoid about it. In fact, I am paranoid of being locked out of my house too. So, now we have a spare key for the car at home. I am really indifferent to car features… As long as my car is warm (or cool), big enough to accomodate our road trips and gets me from A to point B, I am happy.


Sandy L January 22, 2011 at 7:29 AM

Aloysa – the one feature I did get in my second car was AC which I didn’t have in the first one. Agreed.


eemusings January 22, 2011 at 1:09 AM

Curious. What does a car have if it doesn’t have carpeting?

BF set off a bunch of lights and fried some wiring when he installed his sound system. He’s fixed all the warning sensors now…except one, the brake light, which is now constantly on.


Sandy L January 22, 2011 at 7:30 AM

eemusings – either plastic or rubber type interior. I mean we bought carpet floor mats, but the rest is hose outable.


Jlillie January 22, 2011 at 8:02 AM

Marys new van is designed for delivery usage, so you can
Program the doors not to lock when you drive off. (I did)
I also was able to turn off the door chime.
But it doesn’t have auto off with the headlights…weird.
Our element didn’t either, and that cost us a battery
As Marys last ride was a Toyota with auto off.


Sandy L January 23, 2011 at 6:31 AM

Jim – I’m so jealous of the door lock shutoff feature. I’m drooling now.


Daddy Paul January 22, 2011 at 7:54 PM

I went to buy a car the other day. The salesman asked what features do you want? I replied stick shift and crank windows.


Sandy L January 23, 2011 at 6:32 AM

Daddy Paul – are those options still available? My first 2 cars were stick shifts. They are so much better in the snow if you ask me.


WSClark January 29, 2011 at 12:06 AM

I have two vehicles – a ’69 Ford F100 pickup truck and a late model Honda Element EX-P. They could not be more different. With my truck, everything is manual except the transmission – it even has a manual choke. The Element is totally automatic.

To service the engine on my truck, I can just climb into the engine compartment and change plugs, adjust the carb, etc. With the Element, I can barely get my hand inside the engine bay.

I love both vehicles – each serves it’s own purpose. The Element is a blast to own and my grandkids can’t mess up the interior more than what can be handled with a bottle of cleaner and a rag. The F100 is temperamental, especially when starting, but it takes a ton of abuse.

Of course, the Element gets great gas mileage. The Ford, not so much.


Sandy L January 29, 2011 at 5:19 AM

WS Clark – Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, I distinctly remember going from my 93 Corolla to a 2001 Honda and not being able to reach my oil filter anymore. I mean shouldn’t that be part of the design, to be able to reach it and not assume everyone goes to mechanics? I guess not. It was a sad realization that it just became a little harder to do basic maintenance on my vehicle.

We love our Element and would get another one but I hear they are being discontinued after this model year. It has a kind of cult following around here so I’m very surprised Honda made that decision. Hopefully they replace it with something even better. Actually the only thing I really don’t like about it is that it only seats 4 instead of 5. Other than that, it’s been perfect in every way.


Deidre February 16, 2011 at 9:28 PM

**Carpeting in Family Vehicles**
I thought I was the only person in the world that hates carpeting in vehicles. 🙂
Nice to know I’m not alone!!! (My allergies go nuts after awhile and I cannot seem to get my little box fan system small enough to work in the truck LOL )


Sandy L February 17, 2011 at 5:43 AM

Deidre – Oh my. I didn’t even think about the allergy effects of carpeting in cars. Yeah, it’s totally dumb. I’m glad at least a few designers are starting to see the light.


Diane Price September 5, 2020 at 1:38 AM

Fun read! I personally think I can live without some of these car features, but the child safety lock will always be one of the most important since I love traveling with the whole family.


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