All The Things That Should Be On Modern Cars

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The other day as I was yelling at some kids to get off my lawn, I realized how old I am. This got me thinking about the cars we had back in the day: cars were rear wheel drive and only your creepy chemistry teacher drove a Japanese import. The cars the kids drive these days are often missing things a real car should have. Here is a list of those things.


Cars should have gauges instead of idiot lights. I don’t mind if a car has warning lights but don’t give me just a light shaped like an oil can: I want a gauge with numbers on it and a needle so I can see how my oil pressure is doing. I know many people misunderstand gauges like this – when I worked at a gas station (back when an attendant would pump the gas for you), a lot of people would tell me there was no need to check the oil because that gauge said it was okay. I don’t want to drive a car dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.

Cars should have timing chains. This is a pet peeve of mine. Timing belts are of the devil. And no, I don’t care if you’ve had good luck with a rubber band where a heavy-duty chain should be. I’ve got a timing chain now in my truck and have had them in my last five vehicles in a row. That’s about a half million miles of driving with no “routine maintenance” replacement of the thing that coordinates my camshaft(s) with everything else.

Cars should have a dipstick to check the oil. Seriously: They’re building cars without them now? Is that to compensate for the people who thought their oil pressure gauge was telling them their oil level was alright? Manufacturers say they are replacing the dipstick with a gauge because no one checks their own oil anymore. To compensate for the lazy we are going to rely on a sensor. Will the sensor be as robust as those other sensors which trigger faults in the idiot lights? I’ve had cars that chewed up and spit out O2 sensors. You know what’s cool about a dipstick? There are no sensors to replace on it. As long as the car is right-side up it works.

Automatic transmissions should have dipsticks too. My current truck has one but some trucks of my make, model and year do not. So guess what has happened when I have gotten an oil change? As I sit and watch the tech like a hawk, I often see him/her check the computer screen and then fail to check my trans dipstick. When I ask why he skipped it he says, “Your truck doesn’t have one.”

I’ve had a tech argue with me until I got out and handed it to him. The techs scratch their heads and I can see their faith in the world collapsing since a computer has steered them wrong. I tell them that the transmission dipstick was deleted midway through the model year on my truck and I have an early one. Usually, the tech is still so dismayed at the thought of being lied to by a computer that none of it registers. Should automatic transmissions have dipsticks? Yes. I know they are getting harder to find but I can dream, can’t I?

Cars and trucks should come with actual spare tires. I know some people freak out when they find out theirs is “missing.” I merely mean that I will not buy a car that doesn’t come with one. I’m even willing to pay for it. But I refuse to drive a car which would leave me stranded if a road hazard tore a sidewall. I believe my right to survive torn sidewalls is somewhere in the Constitution. And no, it is no comfort that the vehicle may have come with a built-in service where I can chat with a company rep about the missing spare tire.


In exchange for the above, I am willing to sacrifice the following things. Trunks or hatches that open when I put my foot under the bumper. Cars that parallel park themselves. Cars that drive themselves. Keys that don’t need to be in the ignition for the car to start. Face it: All of these things will inevitably lead to the car being hacked by a 14-year-old kid using a black box built with $15 worth of Radio Shack parts.

Wait . . . what?! Radio Shack is gone now?!

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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.


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Patrick George