Photo: Saturn

Do you need power windows? No. Do you need cruise control? You do not. Do you need a rear windshield wiper? Also, no. But I have figured out what you do need.

The first car I owned and loved was a 1993 Chevy S-10, which had none of those things, not even air conditioning. But served me just as well, and made me all the healthier for it. When the S-10 gave way, I bought a 2003 Saturn Ion, similar to the one you see above, which I assumed, given that ten years had passed between the model years, might come equipped with things like cruise control and power windows, and I might finally have leveled up. I was wrong. The Ion was about as basic as cars get and, rightfully, declared a Meh Car by this very website. (It did have air conditioning, though.)

And yet! And yet. When I totaled the Ion sometime in the earlier part of this decade, I got a 2008 Honda Fit, an insanely luxurious car. It has cruise control, for one thing. Also, the windows go up and down with the press of a button. Even crazier: There is a goddamn CD player in it, stock. When I got it, I figured this car might well have been a Rolls-Royce.

I still have it. And, with around 58,000 miles on it, I’ll probably be keeping it for a good while longer. It’s also led me to reflect on what features are truly necessary on cars, since so many these days are weighted down with bells and whistles designed to confuse you or drive the price up.

Here is a list of things you absolutely need in a modern car:

  • Air conditioning and heat
  • A working transmission of some sort
  • An engine that produces more than 50 horsepower (but not more than 300 horsepower)
  • Doors that seal, and a cabin that stays dry in the elements
  • Working taillights and headlights
  • Seatbelts or, for the small minority that actually take your cars to track on a regular basis, racing seats and five-point harnesses
  • Power steering and brakes
  • A backup camera
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • A spare tire
  • An AM radio

Here are things you don’t need in a car:

  • Power windows
  • Heated seats or steering wheel
  • Any kind of screen or “infotainment”
  • A rear windshield wiper
  • Cruise control
  • Tesla Autopilot, Super Cruise, or any other semi-autonomous system outside of automatic emergency braking
  • A sunroof
  • Remote start or remote unlock
  • Climate control
  • Autodimming rearview mirror
  • Apple CarPlay or any other nonsense beyond an AM radio
  • More than, uh, two speakers

What’s that, you say? “Cars are nicer if you include the features in the second list.” I guess, if you’re definition of nice is dicking around with switches and screens while driving. Mine is finding the AM baseball broadcast, putting the car into gear, rolling the window down, hitting the gas, and feeling the breeze. Anything beyond that is messing with perfection.