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February 20, 2005 10:36 AM

Broken: User interfaces in new cars

In Dumbing Down Over-Engineered Cars (reg. required), the New York Times reports:

With even economy cars now loaded with features that beep or blink at their owners, many drivers have reason for frustration. Most car owners are not even aware that the remote doesn't have to make a loud noise every time it arms the alarm, that the automatic seat and mirror adjustments can be turned off or that it is possible to disable the irritating feature that automatically locks all the doors. In theory, these "conveniences" can all be adjusted or canceled... the process is rarely intuitive.


Hmm... Imagine a car owner going down a thousand-item list.

"Beep when I lock the doors...check

Beep when I start the engine...check

Beep when I turn the radio on...check

Beep when I move the door...check

Beep so loudly when I leave the interior lights on that the alarm of every other car in a 500-meter radius goes on...check

Posted by: fuzzy at February 20, 2005 02:03 PM

whats "(reg. required)," ? broken or typo or what?

Posted by: Dovy Glatzer at February 20, 2005 09:04 PM


The NY Times where the article is requires you to register (free) to view their news sources. Whether that is broken or not is open to interpretation, but isn't what this posting is about. :D

Posted by: Joshua Wood at February 20, 2005 09:22 PM

The setting of options in cars is impaired by the lack of good input mechanisms. As a result, we end up with odd button press combinations to set options. And they must be odd so that they cannot be done accidentally.

As for mandatory registration for the NY Times or anything else, consider

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at February 21, 2005 07:29 AM

Also, 'the lack of input mechanisms' is quite often intentional, since these items are usually set once (based on preference) and forgotten - negating the need for an extra row of buttons on the dash etc. Many user preferences are easily set using the dealer's diag. handheld machine, and this can be done for little or no charge at the dealer, esp if he is interested in stealing your future business by being friendly ))). The warning lights discussed here previously are another animal alltogether, as they quite often mean different things from car to car. This is no excuse to not understand what they mean and conveniently ignore them, however.

Posted by: Zoom at February 21, 2005 02:37 PM

I'm looking forward to the day when cars come with a large remote control that allows all these options to be accessible through one panel.

And by "I'm looking forward to," I mean "I dread."

Posted by: Ilan at February 21, 2005 07:22 PM

Too bad everyone is apparently too stupid to read the intruction manual, which tells you exactly to turn off the annoying as heck "lock-you-in" feature. Or anything else...It's actually kind of fun. You have to do stuff like unlock the door three times, honk once, unlock it twice, stuff like that.

Posted by: T-1000 at February 21, 2005 08:04 PM

if you dont want to regester, visit

Posted by: joe plaugher at February 21, 2005 09:28 PM

Is it bad that I don't understand what it is about this post that implies "broken"? Isn't the point of these features of a car that they provide you with conveniences? And isn't it further the point of these features that they be tailorable for the owner's own needs and tastes? What am I missing? Is it also bad that I'm an engineer and don't get this? lol...

Posted by: Dave at February 25, 2005 07:20 AM

Now we have a new reason for being late for work... "Sir, I was tweaking the accessories in my car over the weekend when I plugged my cell phone into the cig lighter and downloaded new beeps and stuff and caught some virus. This morning my dash read 'ignition not found' and 'windows is now shutting down'."

Posted by: Poindexter T Quakenfuss at March 10, 2005 12:26 PM

For my car (Chevy Impala), the process of adjusting those settings is clearly described in the owners manual. That option aside, what should a manufacturer do?

(A) Not provide the option of change? I like the automatic door locks, others don't. I don't want my car to beep when I lock it, others do. Choice is good.

(B) Write the directions on the dashboard? Not only would that be ugly, I'd have to endure that ugliness for the life of the car despite using the directions only once or twice. I can't see anyone wanting to adjust them often enough to want the directions on the dash but rarely enough to not remember each time.

Posted by: RJ at March 19, 2005 09:20 PM

What do you mean, how to turn the features off are in the manuals? Not in Mercurys, they aren't!

Posted by: Jake Nelson at November 19, 2005 07:40 PM

My 1997 escort has a few beeps but other than that it is good. here is a typical start routine

*open door light goes on, get in and insert key, key inserted turn to on, 3 beeps and a wirr from the fuel pump before turning the car on*

Now hte 3 beeps are supposed to be after you turn it on but i perfer to have them beep before i start up incase a odd noise comes from the engine bay. It only beeps for door open or lights on. the ford stereo did not beep when you shut it off tho unlike the sony that beeps so you do not forget you have a fancier stereo.

Posted by: Stephen Greer at June 24, 2006 01:46 PM

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