The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

25 October 2005

Delete options

Bob Elton suggests that automakers save a few bucks by deleting superfluous features. Some of his ideas:

Spare tires have ... outworn their welcome. Thanks to superior rubber technology, better roadway surfaces and improved maintenance, flat tires are now almost as rare as cell phones are common. Company car administrators have already moved to eliminate spare tires from their fleets, saving their employers fuel as well as money. Lose the spare tire and you can deep-six the jack, lug wrench, tire hold downs and jacking instructions (and associated legal costs). Most motorists are incapable of using the jack and the lug wrench, so why burden the car with the additional weight and complexity? Extra-cautious (and/or rural) drivers could opt for run-flat tires or a more extensive tire repair kit.

I'd like to see some of those "better roadway surfaces" he's talking about. Then again, the last time I had to change a tire was back in the 1990s. Since the government is moving toward mandatory tire-pressure monitoring systems anyway, this isn't as drastic a step as it sounds, and run-flat tires are becoming more common in high-dollar vehicles.

The accelerator cable should also go. Replacing a mechanical cable linkage with an electric motor and a rheostat may not sound like the best way to generate cost savings, but losing the archaic mechanical technology would decrease the cost of other, related systems. For example, an electronically controlled throttle eliminates the need for an idle air control mechanism. A drive-by-wire also makes cruise control less complex; electronically matching engine speed to vehicle speed removes the need for additional cables and mechanisms.

Having once had to replace an IAC valve ($600, of which only about $40 was labor), I'm definitely in favor of this.

Very few motorists regularly check their engine oil. Even fewer monitor their oil pressure gauge, or have the slightest idea what it indicates (much less whether or not the needle is pointing to a safe or a dangerous position). Even if a driver happened to be staring at the oil gauge when a catastrophic loss of pressure occurred, the engine would probably be trashed before the needle sank to the bottom of the red zone.

The same principle holds true for the voltmeter. How many motorists know their car's proper voltage, or what to do if it's not where it should be? A simple warning light would suffice. In fact, every car that has an oil pressure gauge and/or voltmeter also has lamps to monitor low oil pressure and alternator output. The lamps respond a lot faster than gauges, and drivers respond a lot faster to lights than needles.

I'd argue here that I'd rather know what the car is doing, as opposed to what it just quit doing, but I don't think I could do it convincingly, inasmuch as no car I have ever owned had a complete set of gauges. (I once had a Mercury that didn't even have a temp gauge; perversely, it overheated more than the others.)

There's been a debate for years over whether it's useful to have a tachometer in a car with an automatic transmission. My thinking is that if you ever do any manual shifting, you probably ought to have the tach. (In the worst winter weather, I shift for myself.) Besides, I've likely spent way more time near the 6500-rpm redline than most people who own this same make and model; I'd rather see it coming than suddenly feel the fuel cutoff right before 7000.

Posted at 6:20 AM to Driver's Seat

Yeah, I need a tachometer to see how close to death my poor car is.

Posted by: aldahlia at 7:39 AM on 25 October 2005

Spare tires have ... outworn their welcome.

Balderdash. Had I not had a spare on my truck a couple of weeks ago, I would have had to have it towed to Kaufman Tire for a no-charge tire repair.

And although our insurance covers all towing, I just don't think that would have been reasonable in this case.

Posted by: McGehee at 8:26 AM on 25 October 2005

I have a manual-tranny truck with no tach. I've had three manual-tranny cars, and only one (a Ford Probe GT) had a tach.

Unless you're trying to do some sort performance driving, you can tell pretty easily whether you're in "sane" range or "engine is screaming like a banshee" range...

Now, it might actually be more important for people with tiptronic shifting to have a tach, since they're normally not used to shifting on their own.

I used to have a motorcycle, and rode it on racetracks. That's a place where you're constantly trying to wring every bit of performance out of the engine. Did I ever look at the tach? No, because time spent worrying about the tach is time I'm not spending concentrating on riding, and the feeling of knowing when you're near redline becomes second nature after you get used to a vehicle.

Posted by: Brad Warbiany at 10:00 AM on 25 October 2005

I thought of that — indeed, when I learned to drive in an old VW Microbus, the rule was "shift when the noise changes pitch" — but in my current car, it's difficult to distinguish 5000 rpm from 6500. (Both are noisy.)

And I've never done track time, but I suspect saving one's bacon takes precedence over gauge inspection. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 10:24 AM on 25 October 2005

I've cursed automakers for decades for NOT having more than the idiot lights (an extremely apt name, IMO) on the dashboard of practically every car I've ever owned. NOT having them on a car is purely a function of automaker bean counters. If all cars had them, more people would be capable of determining what information they can impart. A semi-savvy driver can, many times, receive valuable information from gauges prior to a catastrophic failure.

A tach is a good thing even on an automatic transmission because one can readily determine whether a shimmy or other problem is attributable to the engine (it will happen at approximately the same engine speed regardless of the gear) or running gear (it will occur at approximately the same road speed regardless of the gear). An ammeter can tell you if it is the charging system or the battery that is malfunctioning, many times before you get stranded (I also always carry jumper cables). An oil pressure gauge can tell you if your oil level is getting low (I've had cars that burned seemingly equal amounts of oil and gas) because the needle will wobble when you go around a corner where a light will never trigger. A water temp gauge will tell you if you are having problems prior to the time when the radiator cap gets blown off.

Even if the driver doesn't know one end of a screwdriver from the other, if he/she pays even a little bit of attention to the information in his/her face, it will be far easier for the mechanic to determine the problem and fix it.

I've added under-dash gauge packs to a dozen cars over the years. They are well worth the time, effort and cost involved.

My contention is that a light should be incorporated into the gauges but that the gauges are an absolute necessity.

Posted by: unimpressed at 10:44 AM on 25 October 2005

I want my gauges. Keeping track of charging, pressure, temperature and rpms is second nature to me when I have access to that information. Knowing the temp is starting to rise has saved the engine from overheating on backroads. Seeing flaky behavior in the tach has sent me to the shop before the repairs get costly.

Furthermore,I'm not too sure about all the electronic replacements. You can't use a clothespin to fix a faulty chip when you are miles from anywhere and the nearest cell phone tower is behind a mountain.

Posted by: Punctilious at 4:37 AM on 26 October 2005

Though there aren't any mountains here, you are dead-bang on with the rest, Punctilious.

Posted by: unimpressed at 6:42 PM on 26 October 2005