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Five Annoying Problems With Modern Cars That Manufacturers Don’t Seem To Give A Damn About


Modern cars are pretty incredible. We all know this; compared to what came before, they perform better than ever, they’re more efficient, they’re crammed full of advanced electronics, they last longer, require less maintenance, are more comfortable, and on and on. You saw the review of the F-150 Lightning; we’re in a golden age of new cars and trucks. That said, this golden age is really only for new cars and trucks. Once the luster wears off and cars are no longer new, in that long period where we’re actually living with these machines, then the real problems become clear. And these are problems that, as far as I can tell, no major automaker is really interested in solving, because they’re not particularly sexy or fun and they deal with the tedious realities of car ownership.

These are real, significant problems, though, and they’re the sorts of things that affect how your quality of life with your car is, and, remember, that’s a relationship that will last, at least on average in America, over 12 years. Europe is about the same, and while Japan and China are a bit less, plenty of the world is older.

Cars are more expensive than ever, and they last longer than ever, too (On average, apparently. Though many old cars were built like tanks, I realize). Most of us will have our cars a long while, or be buying used cars that have been around a long while. And as you live with your car and pay to keep it maintained, dealing with wear and damage and all of the encroaching entropy of physical reality, some pretty significant issues become apparent. Here’s the five biggest ones, at least to me:

1. Trash Management

This may sound trivial, but I’ve been in enough people’s cars to know that dealing with the near-constant trickle of refuse and detritus created by life is a struggle, and affects people’s quality of life and their relationships with their. The simple fact is that no car on the market today has any sort of really well-thought-out plan for dealing with trash, and that’s ridiculous.

This is an issue I’ve discussed before, and I probably will keep bringing up, because as far as I can tell, nobody else really is. I get why – what could be less sexy than figuring out how to best integrate an easy-to-empty trash can setup in a car?

People’s cars get full of trash, and there’s no good place to put it. Little aftermarket trash can doohickies exist, but they’re almost always awkward things that hang on seat backs or fit in cupholders and look like cheap garbage. Something good and well-integrated is needed.

If people are shopping between two otherwise indistinguishable crossovers and one has a well-designed way to deal with regular, everyday trash, that one will win. Trust me.

[Editor’s Note: Let’s not forget that much of that trash ends up between the center console and and seat — a gap that everyone hates and whose reign of terror automakers have allowed to continue on. -DT]

2. Forgiving Design

This one I think is actually really important, and is more of a philosophical shift in how we design and build cars as opposed to any one specific thing. In general, it just means that your car should be a machine that is tolerant of you, the user. It should be a machine that can absorb a certain degree of punishment without becoming too impaired. This implies a design philosophy that absorbs and deals with normal wear, tear, and damage in elegant ways, which modern car design very much does not do.

Take bumpers, for example. Modern cars have huge, plastic, painted bumper covers like this:

These bumper covers can house any number of ultrasonic (and other) sensors and lights and other expensive equipment. Because they’re painted, any minor damage looks like crap on them, and because of the electronic equipment they house, they’re incredibly expensive to fix.

A bumper on a common car like a Toyota RAV4 can cost between $885 and $1389, for example. Other sources suggest that bumper replacement can range from $500 to $2,000, and include this maddening paragraph:

For certain luxury cars, you could end up spending several thousand dollars to get a new rear bumper. At that point, you really need to ask yourself if repairing the car is worth it. It may technically be more cost-efficient to just buy a new car.

The fuck? More cost-efficient to buy a new car because of bumper damage? That’s madness. The whole point of a bumper is to take damage. It’s called a bumper.

The same thing goes for wheel design–its way too easy to curb-damage a wheel, and those are expensive to replace. Also, components like headlights which are on the corners of cars, are vulnerable in small wrecks, and have sadly become quite expensive; here’s a $1,700 Volvo headlight, for example.

Car design should, ideally, consider the whole life of the car, and that design should accept the reality of wear and damage and be designed to handle it well.

3. DIY Serviceability

Related to forgiving design of a car is the idea that it should be designed in such a way to allow the owner to easily carry out basic maintenance using simple tools.

Ideally, filters and other consumable parts would be located for easy access and replacement. Under-hood packaging could give more consideration to owner access to parts that are likely to need replacement. There’s smart engineers in the world; if it werw a priority, couldn’t even things like timing belts be made owner-accessible?

Of course, this would mean other compromises for packaging and possibly styling It might make cars less sleek when new, even if they’d be much more likely to be properly maintained as they age.

Of course, dealers want the revenue from service, and carmakers want you to buy new cars, not keep your old ones going forever, so I have very little hope any carmaker will make DIY serviceability a priority.

[Editor’s Note: At Chrysler, there is a team whose job is to make sure that cars are engineered in a way that’s serviceable. This is important, because it affects cost of maintenance even if the owner takes their car to a shop. And that plays a big role in owner satisfaction. -DT]

4. Standards And Upgradability For UX And Electronics

Not too long ago, almost all cars followed a standard for their infotainment systems, like the Double-DIN standard, also known as ISO 7736, adopted in 1984. For a long time, nearly every major automaker was building cars with infotainment systems that met this standard, which means you can take a car that’s 20 years old and upgrade it to have the absolute latest automotive electronics like Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and a rear-view camera for about $130, incredibly easily, by just sliding a new unit into the dash.

That’s objectively great for a longterm car-owner: a huge upgrade in the car’s UX and features for minimal money and effort. And almost no modern car you buy today is capable of this.

That huge, portrait-oriented display screen on your Mach-e or your big Tesla center screen sure looks great now, but what about 10 years from now when the tech is woefully outdated? There’s no guarantee the computing hardware in your car will be able to handle features and systems a decade from now–in fact, we’ve already seen carmakers require expensive hardware upgrades in older (though not that old) cars to use new features. Current cars do not use any cross-platform standard for their center-stack screens and infotainment systems, so an easy Double-DIN type refresh is out of the question.

That sucks, and it doesn’t have to be that way. An updated standard for center-stack screens and connectors could be established, but the chances of that happening are about as good as Tesla introducing a diesel.

5. EV Battery Standards and Replacement

This is another thing I’ve bitched about before, tediously and, if you’re in front of me while I’m doing it, wetly. At this moment, every EV sold in America must, by law, be warrantied for eight years or 100,000 miles. That’s great, but the average age of cars right now is 50% longer than eight years, and the cost of replacement is, well, usually devastating.

Batteries are proprietary, too, definitely by manufacturer and often by model, so it’s not like there’s a significant third-party ecosystem around to keep competition happening and prices low. When your battery goes, you pretty much have once source to replace it, and you’re looking at a total replacement cost between $5,000 and $20,000.

This is going to be devastating to the used car market, and it also means that everyone who owns an EV over eight years old will be driving around with a very expensive electric sword of Damocles dangling over their heads.

It’s going to be shitty, and, like all of the issues I’ve been talking about here, it doesn’t actually have to be, but the nature of the automotive industry and, I suppose, capitalism and human behavior probably mean it won’t change.

There could be battery standards, if the various automakers wanted them. There are so many clever engineers out there who could come up with a good baseline set of battery specifications that all carmakers could agree to, and there could be a thriving aftermarket of re-manufactured batteries, or competing battery companies, and installation and removal could be easy and getting a whole new battery could be a relatively inexpensive process that could be done on a module-by-module basis or any number of other possibilities.

Of course, automakers have shown precisely zero interest in making this happen, which means that the likelihood of a robust standardized automotive EV battery industry is about as likely to happen as Nathan Lane is to be selected to be the next Batman.

That pretty much goes for all of these issues: fixing them won’t make carmakers any money, so if your plan was to hold your breath until these get resolved in a way that favors car owners like you or I, I’d counsel a different plan.



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111 Responses

  1. I really felt #4. A few years ago I installed a Kenwood head unit in our 2015 Ford so my wife could use CarPlay and enjoy a bigger screen for navigation. This upgrade required not only an aftermarket console fascia to accommodate the new double-DIN unit but also an intermediary module to allow some of the more rudimentary SYNC features to continue to work. The SYNC unit is now intermittently crapping out and needs to be reset. As luck would have it, the reset procedure can only be performed through the factory head unit because it the aftermarket one doesn’t have access to the SYNC’s GUI. Fortunately we’re putting the car up for sale this month, so this can soon be someone else’s problem.

  2. Good list.
    +1 for forgiving design. I know many ‘tactile drivers’.
    +1 for serviceability, especially for indi shops to keep older vehicles alive.
    Upgradeability: nice but a fantasy the way things are integrated now. Besides it would just become a subscription program of some sort.
    Batteries: similar issue as upgradeability
    Trash management: eat outside your car

    What would I add?
    – Visibility, DUH!
    – Parkability (stop the bloat, especially width)
    – Better floor covering solutions, especially for winter climate markets. Good aftermarket mats are a start, but hardly make it easy to manage the build up of muck over the season.
    – Slay all the interior crevices! Dashboards, etc. with all the stick on screens, pods, layers of pointless trim are a pain to keep clean. All those crevices are dust/crud magnets. Give us simple unified surfaces that can be tackled with one quick wipe.

    1. “Slay all the interior crevices! Dashboards, etc. with all the stick on screens, pods, layers of pointless trim are a pain to keep clean. All those crevices are dust/crud magnets. Give us simple unified surfaces that can be tackled with one quick wipe.”

      The problem is it’s very difficult/impossible to make large parts like dashboards and door cards in one piece, especially with the complex designs of modern cars, not withstanding the fact that different parts need to be constructed from different materials.

    2. Visibility! Every car in the last 15 years feels like sitting in a bathtub. I remember car reviews in the 90’s touting the “greenhouse” and “visibility”. I can ride a motorcycle with no helmet and no impact protection of any type but my daily driver has to be a freaking tank.

      1. Afaik the reason for this is that cars need to be able to not crush while on their roof as part of safety standards. This means instead of nice thin pillars we have thick monstrosities that no one can see out of. Safety added for safety compromised, then again I question most drivers abilities to even check their mirrors much less use windows to look out of.

    3. Visibility, oh, yeah.

      Out of politeness to a buddy of mine who was a Chrysler salesman, in 2012 I took a test drive of the latest 200 model, and put it through its paces. To be honest, I really liked the looks, the performance, and especially the handling (I think the guy who rode along turned green, from testing the cornering, lol). But the sight lines were so, SO BAD. The windows were so narrow that it felt like I was driving a tank.

      I told the salesman that it was a nice car, but needed at least 4 inches more height to improve the vision, and as is, it was a reluctant “no” because of that.

  3. #3 My previous Chrysler 300S with the 3.6 V-6 was an excellent example of how this should be done. The oil filter was top, front, and center, and had a hex built into it so you could use even an adjustable wrench to replace it. They even had cup holders molded in to the radiator gap plate, in case it took you too long to find the socket that fit the filter 🙂

    On the bottom it wasn’t quite as good, as you had to remove an aero cover to get to the drain plug. I think it was 5 10mm bolts, very easy with a cordless driver.

    #2 Some disabled person backed into my C-Max in the hospital parking lot with their hover-round carrier. Hit and run, if they even noticed. I now have a nice, 2″ slot in my bumper cover. I asked the body shop for an estimate: $2200. I still have a nice slot in my bumper cover 🙁

    1. Had something similar happen to my car but the front bumper. I just kept an eye out at the u pull it junkyards(inventory is updated daily online) for a car to come in with a nice bumper and the same color. took about 4 months but one finally showed up. Took about ten minutes to remove and same to put back on. total cost was $60.

  4. This stuff is exactly why I used the insane rise in used car values to cash out my car loan and jump over to leases. I couldn’t ever see buying an EV outright, for example, there’s just no plan for what to do with these things once the batteries age out and hell of I’m going to be the one left holding the bag. It’s also why I, as much as I can, buy the lowest trim level I can get away with so there’s a minimum of fancy touchscreen-y things that can go wrong! Love my base level Carnival with the regular-type radio setup and manual knobs and dials for the HVAC. None of that swooping touchscreen crap from the premium trim, no use for that crap.

  5. And actually Torch I have another one: TRUCK BLOAT. Why the hell are F-150s and Silverados and Rams so freakishly tall these days? Those high decklines are death traps to anyone nearby.

    1. Also – Torch, since you are the guru of all things lighting, whyinhell can they not place the headlights on trucks at a reasonable level, so as not to cook the retinas of those in front of them, who happen to be driving normal size vehicles?

    2. Because they aren’t used for work any more, so nobody gives a shit that the bottom of the tail gate is now three feet off the ground. They just care that it makes them look big and tough and able to ram people who annoy them off the road.
      No, seriously. Check the specifications. The F150’s tailgate is literally 35.4-36.8 inches off the ground.

    1. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but my 2012 Prius v has a space in the center console almost perfectly-sized for a tissue box, and it’s fantastic. But my garbage can on the floor in the back row is just some $3 plastic bin from Walmart that slides around. But I need it, considering the tissues I use, masks, and alcohol wipes…I’m not sure what a “proper” solution (from manufacturers’ perspective) would look like, though. Any garbage receptacle space would take away from another function.

    1. Pressure? Sure. But they’re not automakers. So they get told “well if we do that, then this safety feature has to change.” Where said safety feature is responsible for an equal or greater value in losses. Then they hem and haw about it, consider the benefits of a 5 foot longer AEB stopping distance.

      And always seem to come to the same conclusion: “Meh, we’ll just pass the cost onto the policy holders. Just stop them complaining about how long it takes to fix.”

      It’s why they love talking up how many billions of dollars in “losses” and “claims” they have every year. That way you tune out Prudential’s $1.721 trillion in assets and $57 billion in revenue for 2020. (By the way, their $323M loss in 2020 followed profits of $4.845 billion in 2019. So yeah. They’ll be fine. Especially with their additional $1.5B share repurchase plan.)

      1. Not sure I would use Prudential’s numbers for comparison. They don’t directly sell automobile insurance in the U.S. They are more a life and health company, which is one reason they have a lot of assets. I would always look for a life insurer that had a lot of dough on the books for paying out claims. It’s not an indicator that the insurer is necessarily ripping off anyone. Over two decades ago, I sold insurance.

    2. Thats how we got the 5mph impact standard in the ’70s, wasn’t purely safety, insurance companies wanted to drive their costs down. It was dropped when automakers complained that they were too expensive to build, and also that the structures were getting too heavy and making fuel economy targets harder to hit

      1. Say what you will about the ugly bumpers, but at least they were a separate part that could be replaced without (usually) messing with anything else, and they (or their mounting brackets/damper assemblies) would take most or all of the damage from minor or even not so minor impacts. We should have been careful what we wished for.

  6. Jason, minor but funny typo. Lustre is the shinyness of a thing. Luster is the person who lusts. So if we’re waiting for the luster to rub off on a new car…that might get awkward (depending on your kinks) and messy (depending on the sex of said luster).

  7. Number 1 makes sense to solve as it would be a marketable sales advantage, but the other 4 are all designed to pad manufacturer pockets (planned obsolescence and whatnot) so I doubt anything will change. Too few people wrench on their own or even hold vehicles past warranty, so repair costs are less of a factor nowadays for a large portion of new car buyers.

  8. #5!!!!!!!!!
    Pull into service station, switch out a 100 mile battery pack(or two,three), and off you go!
    Packs are then loaded onto pizza ovenesque recharger station for a consistent stream of recharged packs.
    Gas isn’t proprietary, why should electrons be

    1. Gas isn’t proprietary, but gas tanks absolutely are, which I think is a better analogy here. Would you try to design a common gas tank size and shape for every vehicle on the road? Because that’s essentially what we’re talking about.

    2. Okay, I scrolled until I found this; didn’t want to clutter anything up.

      I would almost think that two or more manufacturers or, hell, even different vehicles under one maker, would have incentive to make the batteries homogenous.
      “Your Mach-E battree is done died isself? Gograb-un off the Lite-nin ovah yondah.” Even better if I could slide one out of a wrecked ID4 and put it into something else.

      Anyone want to start an automotive battery recycling firm?

  9. Integration of HVAC and other vehicle controls into UI systems has made them nearly impossible to replace at a reasonable cost. I kept my 2003 Ram 1500 13 years because 6 years in, I upgraded the head unit to one with bluetooth phone and stereo connectivity. This extended the life of the vehicle years allowing me to take advantage of newer cell phone features.

    Trash management? Every time you get out of your car, you and your passengers must take your trash with you. Problem solved.

      1. Love this. Simplicity itself.

        Now that nobody actually carries maps anymore (yeah, I know I know…and I have backup maps too but I keep them in the center console), I rarely see people use these compartments for anything on a regularized basis.

        My Focus’ humorously has this gigantic bulge to accommodate a big-ass water bottle. Seems so much like a very U.S.-spec addition for Ford’s world car when sold in the States.

  10. I think you should have a weekly section on this site complaining about how stupid modern bumpers are. I love getting pissed off about it all over again and maybe if you do it weekly someone will finally start to listen.

    another thing i’ve always found annoying – drivers side seat bolsters that lose their shape after a few years and forever remind you of how old of a car and how fat of an ass you have. would be nice if they made those easy to slide out and slide back in with some sort of velcro closure.

    1. (this is mostly a slightly older domestic thing, but…) similar to your point, how about leather seats made with the thinnest possible leather that doesn’t work in and age nicely, but rather creases and cracks?

      At least for me, it’s the one thing you really notice, esp. compared with a less luxurious but more durable material dash?

      1. how about leather seats made with the thinnest possible leather that doesn’t work in and age nicely, but rather creases and cracks?

        (Insert gif of Ricardo Montalbán crooning about “soft Corinthian leather” here.)

  11. #4 hit hard dude, what happened to the DIN system? I was looking for radios to put in my car and I thought I found the perfect candidate, an SC430 radio. They had a cassette deck, a CD player and Bluetooth (I’m pretty sure by 2010) all in one unit… Until I started looking at eBay only to realize that they were a non standard radio that wouldn’t fit in my dash.

  12. The most frightening thing I see every day with new cars is complete loss of functionality of important features, even complete disabling of a vehicle, over minor software glitches.

    Recently I had a customer find themselves completely stranded in thier brand new vehicle. Wouldn’t start, wouldnt shift out of park (electric shifter) and absolutely no way to get it moving. Car was completely dead and needed a tow. The culprit? A glitch.

    Another friend found herself completley unable to activate her climate control on a 10 degree day when her radio in her 1 year old car went black.

    Another one, a customer parked on a very steep hill, and even though her fuel gauge showed just under 1/4 tank when she parked, the car would not start, because the fuel pump was starved of fuel. No big deal, just put it in neutral and coast it, right? Nope. The electric Shifter would not move from park, because the vehicle was not running. No transfer case to put in neutral either. After some frantic googling, they found the emergency Park release, which required the removal of interior panels to access.

    We have got to do better than this. I understand the manufacturers want what little reliability they have anymore to be conserved, but I feel that there should be an emergency override so at least these cars can get themselves enough Air, fuel, and spark to get out of a bad area or situation.

  13. That’s a GM size radio in the photo, likely the first non-standard size. Not quite big enough for a double DIN and looks like ass with single DIN and an adapter kit. Way back you could get a 1/2 DIN equalizer that filled the leftover space perfectly. And it had glorious actual knobs on it.

  14. The EV battery replacement is a big deal. I had a 2014 Chevy Volt and, even though I had 0 repairs during my ownership, I sold it last year because of the battery replacement cost hanging over my head. A few years ago, GM stopped just replacing sections of the Chevy Volt battery, and if you lost a cell, you had to replace the whole battery. The quoted cost tended to be $12,000-$14,000. There are a few places that will do it aftermarket with a 3 year warranty, but it’s still a $7000 job. The car doesn’t work at all if the battery needs replacement. While it probably would have been fine for another 3-4 years, I didn’t want to play that lottery.

    Recently there were reports that GM was discontinuing providing batteries for the Spark EV. They’ve since denied the report, but that was a car that was made up until 2016.

    My parents have one of the rarest GM EV’s, the Cadillac CT6 PHEV. There were less than 300 imported to the US over 2 model years. It’s basically a Gen2 Volt battery, but mounted between the trunk and back seat, but it functions completely differently from a Volt (Turbo 2.0L that will kick in whenever you put the pedal past about 50%, and about 30 EV only miles. It’s a great car, but I don’t know that I’m going to recommend they keep it past the 8 year mark, because I’m worried about GM support and costs if something goes wrong.

    1. So much this. I own a 2012 Volt and I’m going the opposite direction – I’m basically just driving the car into the ground. I’ve driven it 65,000 miles without issue and I figured that in 2020, right at the 4 year mark (I bought it in 2016), it had completely paid for itself through fuel savings alone. So now every mile is gravy, but it still seems such a waste to just ditch the car when the battery goes. And that likely won’t be long now as I only get around 20 miles out of a charge. BTW, awesome car your parents have! I was aware of the existence of those, but I still haven’t seen one in the wild.

      1. You might never notice a CT6 PHEV in the wild, because they look exactly like a CT6. The only clue is a PHEV badge below the door, a charge door, and a 2.0T badge on the trunk lid.

        My folks liked my Volt and were in the market for a new Cadillac to replace their 2008 STS. They were looking at the DTS. At the time, there were alot of 1 year old CT6. Phev that were on the used market with really low miles. All from Michigan. All I can figure is that they were executive driven cars that were then auctioned. The MSRP new was something like $70,000. They paid $44,000 for a 1 year old, Cadillac certified with 5500 miles. It was a bargain and was like new. Nobody knew they existed and they just sat on lots. Fun fact. All CT6’s for the US market were built in the US except the PHEV. The PHEV was imported from China and had no options other than paint and interior color. My parents only complaint is that the trunk is tiny because of the battery and it doesn’t have a heated steering wheel.

  15. #5 is a BIG one!
    Related anecdote: My iPhone SE would go through a 9 hour workday with 40% battery life leftover at the end of the day. Apple ran an OS update I completed on Jan 15, and my phone’s battery life has been random since then. I’ve watched my phone go from 100% battery to 10% in 10 minutes. Whatever they’ve commanded my phone to do, it has made it quite unreliable. And it IS random from my point of view, but very regular. I get by with charging it at work a lot.

    Is my battery old? Yes. Is it defective? No, only as defective as Apple decides to make it. (Yes, I AM salty about it!)

    Now imagine that your car company decides it wants you to buy a new car after the mandated 8 year warranty. What are you going to do? Learn how to block updates?

    1. Not happening tho. Electric cars are too new and the battery chemistry is changing far too quickly to allow for any sort of standard. Tesla is going to the battery pack as a structural member (which is smart, because it reduces weight and thus increases range) and they appear to be leading in development. I’m sure we’ll eventually have a robust industry of “pull/rebuild” companies that can refresh a battery pack because the drive units on most EV’s are 1 million mile designs.

      Once EV’s are stable enough to not require vertical supply chains we might see some level of commonality. Maybe in 20 years.

  16. Serviceability is not the same as design for manufacturability. My wife’s 2014 Fusion Titanium has a backup camera that is now failing intermittently. A query of the dealership netted an $800 quote to repair. A query of RockAuto showed the retail price of the camera is $140. A search of YouTube revealed replacement requires a lengthy disassembly of much of the trunk lid to replace the camera. We’ll be using mirrors.

  17. Going way, way old school here- lack of rain gutters. Some people still smoke, (egads) I personally frequently ride with a very sweet but obnoxiously flatulent Basset hound and others just like a little fresh air. Would be nice to crack the damn windows without a constant stream of water spraying all over myself and the inside of the car.

  18. On DT’s note about Chrysler making sure vehicles are serviceable, you must mean that they take a vehicle that would be serviceable and make it a god damn fucking nightmare to work on. David, Mr. Jeep, do an oil change on a 2015 WK with a Pentastar, then do it on a 2016 with the Upgrade 3.6, and then get back to us on that.

  19. Serviceability should be NO.1 by far. I have owned several vehicles that drastically range in ease of serviceability. My 1996 4-banger Tacoma is ingeniously designed. I can get to anything on it very easily using only 3 different sizes of bolts, and can do so mostly without a lift or jack stands. OTOH We had a Volt and now a Subaru. Good gawd. The spark plugs on the subaru are right up against the firewall. I dread the idea of having to change them one day.

  20. I remember when Federal regs mandated the size and shape of passenger car headlights, and mandated those infamous electric track front seatbelts. The Fed should mandate standardized EV battery sizes (like automotive A, C, D batteries) for different categories of cars. AND all EV’s should have standardized, accessible battery placement. This will facilitate easy-swap batteries. That has so many advantages:
    – gas stations can become battery swap stations for any EV, and drivers can get a new battery in about the time it takes to fill a gas tank.
    – it frees the owner from the tyranny of Dealer battery service
    – It would negate the need for so installing charging stations at grocery stores, etc.
    – it saves the viability of the used EV market
    – the swap station can handle all charging and battery recycling.
    – It would open the EV market to buyers who don’t have garages to charge the car

    Do the Feds still have this authority? The recent ‘right to repair’ laws could also be leveraged to make this happen.

    1. Aaaaahhhhh!!! Big gummint!! Job-killing regulations!! AAaaaaaaahhhhhh! Ahem. Not gonna happen in our currently polarized political environment. Anyone on either side of the aisle might very well come up with some sensible ideas on these subjects, and it’ll immediately die so NO ONE gets to claim a win.

    2. I proposed this awhile back on Jalop and the response from one guy was hilarious. He was all about keeping his precious battery for himself because no one else would take care of their batteries like he took care of his battery. He was like Gollum with ‘my precious battery’, etc. etc.
      But really it’s the future. There are always some people who want to everything their way without understanding how bad their ideas are.

      1. I remember that guy! He’s probably the same guy that repaints his propane tanks and actually gets them re-inspected instead of just exchanging them at a Blue Rhino location when they get grungy or close to their recert dates…

  21. I think it is too early for battery standards: standards will slow down technology advances, which are still necessary.

    Also, there are companies that will replace Leaf battery packs, which seems to undercut your point.

  22. Mr. Tracy, please explain what happened with the PT Cruiser, maybe a future story idea for Serviceability Failures.

    [Editor’s Note: At Chrysler, there is a team whose job is to make sure that cars are engineered in a way that’s serviceable. This is important, because it affects cost of maintenance even if the owner takes their car to a shop. And that plays a big role in owner satisfaction. -DT]

  23. Regarding #3:
    I find DIY servicing and repairs on my newer vehicles to be far easier than on my older vehicles. As an example, I had a mouse burrow his/her way through the foam isolator under the intake manifold on my 08 Tundra and chew through the knock sensor wiring harness on the driver side cylinder bank. A quick look with my $20 OBDII code reader and a short google search later, the problem was identified. NAPA had the harness connector in stock as well as the intake manifold gaskets. I had the intake manifold removed within 10 minutes which, unlike my old SBF manifold, is a dry manifold with no water jacket. No scraping of old gasket material and having to vacuum it out of the intake ports, no gasket sealer needed, the Tundra intake gaskets have O-rings! After a quick solder, shrink tube, and reassembly, the Tundra was back on-line and my hands weren’t covered in oil and grease. I think OBD and improved build quality have done wonders to support DIY wrenching. As long as you don’t own a Tiguan 😉

  24. As others have said the big one for me is Driver visibility, or rather the lack thereof. Tinted windows definitely shouldn’t be standard.

    So with that I’d add a couple more:

    Wasteful chip usage: We don’t need electric seats, electric mirrors, electric hood/frunk/trunk latches, electric windows etc. So when there ends up being a chip shortage it’s a mad dash to find places where they can cut chip usage. Well guess what? When you design a car to ONLY have electric windows, electric hood/frunk/trunk latches, etc. it’s basically impossible to retrofit manual options. However it’s very very very very very easy to convert a car that has manual options to electric ones. Hand crank windows? Just put a little electric motor where the crank went and wire it up to a switch. Manual seats? Design some electric seats, drop them in, and wire them up. Manual hood/frunk/trunk releases? Just install a electric latch and hook it up to power with a toggle switch. You can have luxury seats that are manual with finite adjustments, sit in a Merkur XR4Ti and fiddle with the seat controls some time.

    Weight: The only “compact” pickup sold in the US is over 3600lbs, all over automobiles are horribly overweight.

    Size: Speaking of the Maverick it’s 6.6 inches longer and 6.1 inches wider than my 1994 Toyota pickup which can legally seat 5 AND it has a 6ft bed. I’ve never driven my pickup and felt like it was “compact”, I sincerely doubt I’d feel that the Maverick is “compact” since it’s a bigger pickup than my pickup. Everything is too damn big. I’d argue a new “Scion” (Toyota) iQ remade as a hybrid with AWD-e and given a tow hitch it would get at least Maverick Hybrid MPG and it would make a better work vehicle and daily driver give that you don’t mind towing a trailer. (Get on it Toyota! If it seats 4, is a hybrid with AWD-e, gets better that 35 MPG highway, and turns as tight as the old iQ, I’d buy one in a heartbeat.)

    Turning Radius: We need tight turning cars. In this era of massive automobiles they already take up too much room, and to add insult to injury said massive automobiles don’t even have a semi good turning circle. I’ve never driven a car and felt like ‘This car turns too tight’ but I’ve sure felt that a ton of the cars I’ve driven don’t turn tight enough.

    Replacing passive safety with “active safety”: This combines most of the above problems into one.

    We’ve made massive, overweight vehicles we can’t see out of because we “need” 100 airbags (rally racers, Nascar drivers, etc. do fine without any airbags), because we “need” to survive a head on accident with a semi truck at 80MPH, because we need 300+ HP.

    Because people are “too lazy” to look out the rear window we “need” backup cameras you’re not legally required to replace once they fail.

    Because people are “careless” we “need” Automatic Emergency Braking and when it fails to prevent an accident (because people were relying on it and it failed) or when it causes an accident because it saw a shadow, or a bird flew in front of it and it slams on the brakes at 80 MPH noone is going to blame the automaker for that.

    Honestly if automotive design doesn’t get better I might just have to move to the city and ride a bike everywhere. I’m sick of all this nonsense.

  25. I proposed this awhile back on Jalop and the response from one guy was hilarious. He was all about keeping his precious battery for himself because no one else would take care of their batteries like he took care of his battery. He was like Gollum with ‘my precious battery’, etc. etc.
    But really it’s the future. There are always some people who want to everything their way without understanding how bad their ideas are.

  26. How about a standardized slot for adding in bits like a phone/GPS mount? Something like a pop-in/out cupholder except with a pad for mounting a suction cup pad, or a grip clip for a phone, and a USB port. A simple version would be just the pad unit. It’d be simple to do and would solve some many problems.

  27. The issue with media systems not being upgradable and appearing several years behind your phone is this. They have to be, essentially ‘flight rated’. They have to be able to operate in a noisy, vibrating environment subject to extremes of temperature every day for the life of the vehicle. Remember when Tesla though it could get away with using non-automotive rated screens and then had to replace them all because they failed?

    All this testing and development means the systems are expensive, and that cost has to be amortized over many models over many years. So it’s not economically viable to upgrade the chip set every two years because that would mean another round of time consuming and expensive development testing.

  28. Pedestrian safety or lack thereof “ SUV design with its larger body and taller carriage poses a greater risk to pedestrians and increases the probability of deadly blows to the torso. The higher clearance of factory models (and aftermarket lifted) SUVs means pedestrians are prone to being trapped beneath the vehicle instead of being forced onto the hood of the vehicle or pushed out of the way”

  29. I’m glad non of this applies to me and my vehicle.. I’ve upgraded my 62 continental to my liking and drive it daily…as for trash… It comes out anytime I get out of the car.

  30. I fully agree with #3. Replacing a headlight bulb on a Tesla Model S requires removing the wheel and well liner. Did I mention that the car does not come with a jack?

    Disagree with #4, though. My BMW i3 just lost a bunch of features after AT&T dropped support for its 3G network with no upgrade or workaround available. Many menu items on my infotainment system are strictly for show now, and there is a big fat button on my rearview mirror that says SOS and does… nothing. Still, I will take this any day over coming back to a broken window and missing stereo because I did not take it with me MacGruber style.

    1. And the same thing is happening to 2G OnStar customers; once the 2G network goes silent at the end of the year, any OnStar equipped vehicles that aren’t 2015 and newer lose any and all services with no plans to compensate for the loss.

  31. Repairability, design to actually be used in the real world without breaking on curbs and such, infotainment upgradability and non-terrible UX…

    I can’t read this whole article. It hurts too much knowing that these things that consume my mind every day will never be fixed. I need to scream.

    1. If designers and manufacturers are doing their jobs properly, minimizing susceptibility to curb damage is something that can be designed in through careful rim design and specifying tire profile. We spent a lot of time on this in the studio.

  32. #1 – I drive a Volvo XC40 with the built-in centre console removable trash bin, and I have to admit that I’ve never actually used it for its intended purpose.

    If I create trash during my drive, I just throw it away at my next stop.

    #2 – The front seriously looks like a cow catcher.

  33. Agree on all counts, especially forgiving and DIY-friendly design. I think this is mostly what people mean when they say “they don’t make them like they used to.” It’s not that old cars were better, but they were infinitely more approachable and understandable, and that fostered a connection with the machine that’s much harder to develop with today’s bulbous plastic monoliths.

    And I would TOTALLY watch Nathan Lane as Batman.

  34. 2) It’s never going to happen. Because the fact is, designing something forgiving to repair that looks good? Really hard at best, more frequently impossible. And when it’s hard, it also increases warranty costs.
    Take for example a pickup with ultrasonics in the rear bumper. Let’s just put them in the tailgate, right? Wrong – they won’t work there. One, ultrasonics are cone-shaped beams. Two, now you have a sensitive and fragile wiring harness in an area of extremely high damage risk during normal operation. Which means huge warranty claims.
    Worse, consumers won’t accept it if it’s not sleek and stylish. Consumers don’t care about things like repairability, by and large. The first time they even have an inkling of what a minor front end collision costs is if they look at the bill when they get into one. They usually don’t – just let the insurance deal with it.

    3) Look, this war was lost in the 1980’s. I’m not saying it doesn’t still need to be fought. But it was lost. Welcome to the results of regulatory capture. The only way we got OBD-I and OBD-II is when they said “okay, you don’t have to include anything but emissions. You can have all the manufacturer-specific codes you want. And you can use whatever bus you want.” Everyone went CANbus because it’s cheap, not because they’re standardizing.
    And we’ve already seen the auto manufacturer response to any attempt actual regulatory enforcement at the state level: “fuck you, we’re taking our ball and going home. Have fun walking, bitches.”
    The only way we’re fixing this is nuking the DOT, NHTSA, and EPA’s upper echelon from orbit, removing appointments that can dictate policy and axe anything they don’t like, and putting an absolute ban on the revolving doors. The ruling class will never, ever let that happen. Absent an ironclad combined mandate for standardization and enforcement with fines measured in double digit percentages of revenue? They will continue finding excuses like ‘but emissions!’ to lock people out of repairs. They’d already weld the decorative engine covers on if they could get away with it.

    4) This too is never going to happen. Because your choices are the deeply, criminally unethical people at Google, or the fart-huffing, deeply unethical people at Apple. Both of which will demand in exchange for their blessing, you give them preferential treatment over the other, and also you’re required to lock out anybody else who comes along. Under penalty of infotainment death. Oh, and as part of the deal, you will be giving them all of the data you collect as well. (Apple collects data. Their claims to the contrary are absolute bullshit. They just aren’t in the ad business primarily.)
    Manufacturers don’t develop their own infotainment either – haven’t for decades. GM calls on Delphi and Bosch, Chrysler has relied on Infiniti and Alpine, Ford’s systems are built by Sony, Porsche is Bosch.
    But let’s say the car manufacturers decide to start making their own universal protocol equivalent to Carplay/AndroidAuto. Just install their app. Well guess what? They can’t. Google and Apple control basically 100% of the phone market, and are more than eager to lock out any app they don’t like. That effort would last about 2 weeks at which point they’d get a call from Apple or Google legal telling them that if they continue, then they’re in breach and they’ll blacklist all their existing radios.
    Sounds like dystopia, but I assure you, that’s reality. I worked for a Google ‘partner’ for a while. We did something they didn’t like, even though it was okay – according to them. Then they decided it wasn’t. In less than 24 hours they changed Android so our clever trick no longer worked, and told the corporate attorney that if we didn’t remove it post haste, they’d pull the app and do a lot worse. (Since they couldn’t push the patched version for months.)

    5) Sigh. I’m not going to wade through the ignorance of people who insist manufacturers make all their money off parts (yes, there are people that dumb.) But I am going to tell you why they won’t standardize: “fuck that, they’re the enemy.”
    Welcome to capitalism kiddos. Where contrary to what you were told by people who benefit most from an ignorant population, everything in capitalism is a zero-sum game. The goal of every company is to achieve an absolute monopoly, and settle for nothing less. Because competition cuts into the golden rule of “make more money!”

    1. In terms of sleekness of sensor packaging, wouldn’t it be fairly easy to have sensors in panels inset in holes in the bumper, but flush with it? There would be a slight discontinuity, but nothing that would really disrupt the lines of the car.

      1. No. Most sensors won’t work with anything covering them – you usually can’t even use metallic paint on parking sensors.

        There are sometimes exceptions depending on the type of sensor. The Active Cruise Control radar on the new L663 Defender is behind the grill badge.

  35. How about the visibility thing?

    And I don’t mean the high beltline/small greenhouse thing we all hate (as I get at least the purported rationale), I mean… dark factory-tinted windows everywhere it’s legal.

    Hugely pronounced on SUVs, but I see it on other vehicles as well now.

    Given the huge amount of distracted driving already going on, do manufacturers need to make it harder to see too?

    1. Not to mention windshields at ~45 degree angles that when combined with thick A pillars (the standard nowadays) you have horrible blind spots and you’re sitting damn near in the middle of the automobile when you’re in the driver’s seat for 90%+ of the new automobiles sold in the US.

      It’s atrocious. I personally hate tinted windows and I’d pay extra to not have them on any new car I want to buy, but short of getting custom replacement windows made you’re stuck with them on a lot of new cars.

    2. I like that the factory tints in my Juke’s rear windows make it harder to see what’s in the car back there when nobody is in the car.

      Not that I keep valuables in there. Most just 2 liter bottles of Diet Pepsi, during the winter.

      1. How do you like your Juke? It always seemed to me like an intriguing concept that was (in that classic Japanese auto manufacturer way) kinda mis-marketed.

        And what do you do with the Diet Pepsi in the winter? Is it like a contemporary life hack version of oldschool kitty litter or something? 😉

    3. Compromised sight-lines are a side effect of automakers focusing on things that they deem to be more important than visibility, like exterior styling, rollover protection, and aerodynamics.

      But I’m willing to entertain the thought of poor visibility being intentional. If you include excessive sound deadening, one could argue that automakers are actively trying to sabotage our senses to make us less aware of our surroundings, while numb controls like electric steering make us less likely to prevent crashes from happening. Advances in crash safety then function as a selling point, influencing survivors to stay with the brand and purchase repair parts (or replacement vehicles), further increasing demand, pricing, and automaker profits. It’s a conspiracy!

    4. So, this one I can really speak to.
      “It’s the safety, stupid(TM).”

      No. Really. Know when A/B/C pillars started getting ridiculous and creating mile wide blindspots? When the NHTSA added FMVSS 216: Roof Crush Resistance, and updated it in 2009.
      FMVSS 216 specifies that any passenger car, MPV, or truck or bus with a GVWR of 2722kg or less must withstand a resistive load equal to 1.5 times the unloaded vehicle weight or 22,240 Newtons (whichever is less.) And only the A pillars are tested.
      UNTIL 2009.
      In 2009, FMVSS 216 was changed to 216a. Which now requires that vehicles withstand 3.0 times the unloaded vehicle weight, multiplied by 9.8 for cars under 6,000lbs and 1.5 times the vehicle weight for cars between 6,000 and 10,000lbs. And in order to pass, the roof cannot deform more than 127 millimeters in any direction touching the force plate during the test. And now all of the roof points are tested.

      And that, my friend, is why all of a sudden you can’t fucking see shit out of a car or truck. It’s also why we got a backup camera mandate – because to pass FMVSS 216a? The rear window had to shrink to Countach sizes. And every other window. Even with high strength alloys. Because let’s say we’ve added a bunch of reinforcements to handle that unloaded vehicle weight. Oops, we increased the vehicle weight. Add more reinforce-oh, we got heavier again.
      So a 2018 Buick Regal Sportback has a portly curb weight of 3,840lbs. To pass FMVSS 216a, the roof has to withstand … carry the two, multiply times fuck-me … 112,896lbs of pressure without subjecting a test dummy to more than 50lbs of force. Applied to the roof.

      What the real benefit of FMVSS 216a is though, is a significant reduction in rollover related ejections. Yep, that’s right. The combination of mandatory vehicle stability programs and 216a reduced ejections from 6,000 out of 10,350 rollover fatalities to about 3,000 out of 7,000 rollover fatalities.
      And the math absolutely does hold up under all scrutiny. FMVSS 216a significantly reduced ejections and injuries in rollover accidents. The weighted average of ejection areas goes like this: left front window, right front window, roof, rear window, left rear window, windshield, right rear window. Yep! Being thrown out the roof (which was no longer there) was number 3 – at 300% higher than rear window. And in all injury associated rollover accidents, the roof was the #1 injury contact area by a huge margin.

      Blackout tint’s a whole other thing; factory blackouts are basically one-way glass. So you can’t see me, but I really do have no trouble seeing you. (I have one-way glass in most of my cars.) At this point I’m assuming default inclusion is a futile effort to stop causing heat stroke with every manufacturer’s ‘you can have any interior you want as long as it’s black on black faux leather’ policy.