Misconceptions

This is a repost of something I wrote quite some time ago on my other blog, The Random Number. I created Auto because TRN was becoming too car-oriented and less eclectic. I’ve also tweaked a bit of it here and there, to sound better, and added a thing or two.

I’ve always been bothered by some preconceptions on what makes a car desirable and what car manufacturers think everybody wants. Are people that shallow?

  • Convertibles
  • For some reason, people think cutting the roof off a car is quite a trick, and in fact, are willing to pay more for less car, given that convertibles sell for an extra 20-30% more than their hardtop counterparts. Then it’s lovely to have the wind in your hair, insects in your face, screaming in conversation due to the noise of passing wind and other cars, roasting your scalp during traffic jams, getting crapped on by birds, tasting the fumes from buses or rolling over and being mangled and killed far more easily than in a hardtop. Aaah!
    And of course, there’s also the sexy factor. Vapid blondes love convertibles, and nothing opens their legs quicker than a flashy roadster.
    They are ugly, ugly things, and for some reason, people have got it into their heads that they look fab. They look like ashtrays on wheels with a prick sitting in the middle.

  • Leather seats
  • Why? What’s so f**king special about sitting on animal hide while you drive? My current car has black leather upholstery, and so far I fail to see a single advantage. I slide all over the place when there’s a corner. When it’s cold the seats are icy. When it’s hot (and that’s when you usually wear shorts and thin clothing), you get scorched. And giving a lift to a careless oaf with sharp objects in his or her pocket may lead to ripped seat and a huge repair bill.
    There are only two fathomable reasons for leather. First, is for when my daughter is old enough to start eating chocolate in the back seat. I’m pretty sure it’ll be easier to clean than other materials. Second, and the most widespread reason, is simple ostentation. Saying your car has leather at a dinner party beats saying you sit on mistral cloth or pleblon. A car salesman will add a hefty sum for leather, and people think that it will boost the car’s second-hand value, forgetting that the amount they forked out to have it in the first place outweighs future additional value in a resale. And if it’s so good, why don’t people have leather sofas in their living room?
    I miss my old car’s cloth seats.

  • Xenon headlamps
  • Imagine you refurbish your living room, with a new telly, new furniture, stylish shelves, a funky coffee table… then choose a fluorescent kitchen lamp to illuminate the whole thing. Ridiculous? Well, if it is, why do cars have analogous characteristics? I’ve sat inside high-end cars that then see where their going with a pathetic, bluish glow reminiscent of public toilet lighting. It’s also extremely irritating for drivers coming the other way, who are blinded even by dipped xenon headlamps.
    To top it off, these sort of lights have spawned the usual copycat cheap versions used by young thugs on their Opel Corsas and Fiat Puntos. Like spoilers and rims badly cloned from more expensive cars, young delinquents get equipped with the low-cost rip-offs that make them look all the more pathetic. In the beginning, these prats used to use lamps with either a dim or purple tinge, that denounced their low-grade chintziness. Unfortunately, current modding counterfeits sport eye-searing strength.

  • Gigantic rims
  • Yet another option car makers will charge hide and hair to have fitted on your car. Their aesthetic appeal is debatable, though I do admit some cars benefit from less tire rubber in view. But the bottom line is that they’re horridly expensive and make the ride extremely uncomfortable. Not something I’d like to justify to passengers while they complain going over potholes on a mountain road.

  • Electric seats
  • I remember looking through a car magazine in 1990 and marvelling at a certain Porsche’s plethora of adjustment buttons on the side of the driver’s seat. Phwoaaaar! Nothing charmed me more in a car interior than having lots of buttons to press. Then, years later, I came into contact with electric seats in my boss’s big, fat Merc. The time it took for the electric motors to inch the seat to the position I wanted was so long, halfway through I forgot where I wanted it in the first place.
    And then while at the mechanic’s the other day, I nearly laughed out loud when a BMW driver complained that his electric seats were broken and he had to drive in the position his wife had left the seat in when it broke. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

  • Parking sensors
  • This isn’t really something I think is completely dispensable in cars, like the former points I laid out, but it does create some bad habits. My boss’s overweight Merc ML has sensors, and he constantly goes to far with them. Because the sensors start beeping in warning while he still has a centimetre or two, he thinks “I still have a centimetre or two, so I’ll back up a bit further.” The last time he did this he knocked the numberplate off his son’s jeep.

  • Satellite navigation
  • Again, not a completely useless option, but overrated nonetheless. I’ve gotten lost many times over the years, but I’ve never huffed and thought “I could do with sat-nav.” There are road-signs outside and road maps in the car, and going in a certain direction will eventually get you somewhere with directions.
    Very importantly, sat-nav works horribly. It will tell you to turn right on bridges, u-turn on motorways, and take you to Braga when you wanted to get to Guimarães.

  • The lack of USB flash drive connectivity in nearly all cars
  • Car manufacturers think we all have iPods. Personally, I have no particular fascination regarding the damn things, since their too poofy, too expensive, and makes you have to have iTunes installed on your computer. This is silly when their are other much cheaper devices that work just as well. But I digress. It would seem that the car market thinks people prefer to connect iPods and other mp3 players to their car radio than the simple solution of a simple USB flash drive. You bung all the music you want to listen onto one, plug it into your car, and hey presto. no cables or wires, no need to recharge the player, it’s perfect. I went to considerable lengths to be able to hear pen-drives in my car, and could’ve simply used my cassette player with an adapter plugged into the deck and an mp3-player on the other end. But it was too fussy and impractical, not to mention the gigantic drawback of sounding crap.
    And for some reason, car makers will give you a radio with a CD player, and the only connectivity they give you is an aux entry. USB connectivity is expensive, but worse, rare. It should already be damn well standard by force of law on every bloody car made.

  • Hard suspension
  • The unfortunate trend that has gripped the car industry of copying everything that the Germans put on their cars has had devastating effects. Even the French, who usually are very sui generis about their cars, have been caught up in the fray to make their products as appealingly Teutonic as possible. The big problem is that German solutions are particular to Germany, where they have good roads, speed-limit-free autobahns, and where the sportiness of their cars was always laid bare with Mercs and BMWs practically the only brands with RWD across their range. Having hard suspension is fine if you have unbroken tarmac and drive like a moron all the time, but the rest of us have more to our lives than that. If you have an elderly relative, pregnant wife, children, fragile loads or live in a country such as me, where cobbled roads are still very common, and the ones with tarmac are always ridden with potholes, a country where the art of making a manhole cover level with the surface of the road is unheard of, then these sporty, rock-hard suspensions are a fine piece of teeth-shattering crap.

  • Sport-trim packs
  • The tasteless, pathetic pursuit of looking like you drive a powerhouse of a car is a rampant phenomenon usually associated to low-IQ morons, who wank up their cars with spoilers, wings, crap colours, big shiny rims and so on. In fact, there seems to be so much of a market for this stupid practice that car-makers decided it would be profitable to have this kind of approach to what they sell. Thus, BMW sell an M-badged pack, Audi the S-Line and even Volvo has the R-Design pack. The misconception in question is that customers of these ridiculous swindle think that by having a special badge on their bootlid and a bit of sporty trim will magically turn their 2-litre diesels into kings of the asphalt. The really stupid thing is that most modders will buy a non-tampered-with car, then order all the badges and sport-trimmed carpets from E-bay for a fraction of the price. Lunacy.

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