Home » These Are The Five Car Controls That Should Never Be On Screens

These Are The Five Car Controls That Should Never Be On Screens

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I think it’s safe to say that David’s recent review of the Tesla Cybertruck stirred up a shocking amount of emotion among our readers, Tesla fans, Tesla haters, and people who just wanted to say mean things to poor, sweet David. But that’s fine; that’s how the world works now, I suppose. For me, that review, especially the section about the Cybertruck’s user interface failings, reminded me that we’re currently living in an era when some genuinely bad ideas, human/car interface-wise, are happening. And we need to speak up. Specifically, we need to set some firm parameters regarding which controls can exist on a touchscreen display, and which ones should be forcefully and dramatically forbidden from existing in the flat, digital realm of a touchscreen. We need to be draconian about this, friends, because there are some very bad habits being set, and if we don’t nip this shit in the bud now, we could be plagued by annoying, useless, and perhaps even dangerous touchscreen-based controls for who knows how long. We must act.

I’ve picked five crucial controls that I feel have absolutely no business being on a touchscreen, and should be instead some manner of independent, physical control. I’m not including controls that are already legally mandated to exist separately and physically, like hazard lights, and instead am focusing on common controls that have been located on touchscreen interfaces, for reasons one can only guess at.

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Okay, let’s get to it! I should warn those of you with high blood pressure or similar ailments to be wary when reading this list, as the act of imagining using a touchscreen for some of these things is maddening and could cause some manner of health issues, probably. Why take a chance?

Dashboard HVAC Air Vents


This one I find especially baffling, because there really is no possible justification that can explain why anyone would actually want to adjust their vents like this. The current, accepted way to adjust air vents is perhaps technologically crude, but it works extraordinarily well: you physically move the vent itself to adjust the direction it blows air, either by tilting it up and down for vertical axis control, or sliding a little lever that controls the vanes on the vent, directing the air on the horizontal plane. Sometimes, the vent is round/roughly spherical, and you can just move it on both axes until the air is blowing in the direction you choose.


This method is incredibly quick and visceral and takes almost no actual thought or focus. You decide you want more air on you, so you reach out and physically move the thing blowing air until it blows on you. It needs no explanation, it’s understandable in the most basic, physical way, informed by all your years of being a physical being, living in a physical world.

When you move air vent controls to the touchscreen, you add a needless level of abstraction to everything. I can accept setting the specific temperature or choosing defrost/defog or dash vents on a touchscreen because those are generally less immediate and visceral controls, but I can never accept moving the vents themselves. I mean, is this really an improvement over physically directing vents?

Here’s a video of someone using the on-screen air direction controls:

All that fussy pinching and finger sliding, and, sure, the guy there seems enamored by the novelty of the process, but I’m pretty confident in saying that, no, this guy is absolutely wrong. This is in no way better. It adds layers of complexity and removal from the actual actions, you have to get to this at least one level down in a menu, so it’s not always available, unlike physical vents the passenger and driver can’t just adjust them simultaneously and at will whenever, you have to focus your eyes on the screen to do this – it’s simply idiotic. It’s not better.


It’s just not. And, sure, there’s some technological wizardry going on to allow for remotely-moved vents actuated by touching a screen, as is explained in-depth in videos like this one:

…but, let’s be real here, who gives a shit? Nothing of value is gained here over just basic dash air vents. Nothing. In fact, it’s far worse, because you have to take attention away from driving to do this simple thing that you used to be able to do immediately, any time, and just with touch. If you prefer touchscreen control for adjusting air vents, I suggest you seek your clergyperson or someone for help, because you’re deeply, irredeemably wrong.


Glove Box Latch

Volvo Touchglove


This one I’ve definitely bitched about before, because it’s a miserable crime against humanity. There is no good reason any human being should be opening a glove box remotely via a touchscreen. Aside from perhaps a bit of excitement that some physical event is happening sort of remotely, which may prove a thrill for Amish or unfrozen cave-person car buyers or people unfamiliar with the magic of a television remote, I can’t think of a single reason why one would choose a touchscreen control for opening a glove box over actually just using a latch right there on the glovebox door.

I actually confronted one of the designers of a car that uses this depraved setup, and this is how it went:

There’s no advantage here. There’s no benefit. There’s only complications, headaches, and potential new problems caused by this insipid idea. Let’s just decree that this should never happen again. Ever.




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Again we find ourselves in the situation where even if a touchscreen shift interface was executed in the best possible way, it adds nothing of value to the shifting experience. The only reason this would be chosen is because a touchscreen shifter can save some money, but – and this is important – I don’t give a shit. Let those bigshot CEOs eat some dogfood every now and then like the rest of us. Like delicious Ol’Roy, which has real peas and carrots! It’s not worth the indignity of having to squint at some fussy little icons on a screen and drag your finger in a little rectangle of space like you’re cleaning something crusty out of the inside of a shot glass.

Here, listen to what David had to say about the Cybertruck’s on-screen shifter:

“None of these are as bad as the Cybertruck’s “shifter,” because at least these are three-dimensional shifters. They can be used without requiring you to take your eyes off the road, and they offer a positive engagement that makes it easy to know which gear they’re in. The Cybertruck requires you to look at the screen, press your finger on the little cybertruck icon in that small vertical shifter “column,” and then slide it up to go into drive or downward to go into reverse… The shifter works, and it isn’t confusing like some shifters can be, but I still struggle to find a worse transmission shifter in the automotive industry. There’s a reason why the Ford F-150 has stayed with its T-handle PRNDL shifter despite the fact that it takes up a bunch of space and doesn’t actually mechanically connect to the transmission: That’s what Ford’s customers want. They want a physical, substantial shifter. Ram went to a rotary dial, and that received a bunch of criticism, though I think most folks are used to that now. But this “shifter” in the Cybertruck? One with minimal feedback to tell you what’s going on and one that you cannot use without looking — it may work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the worst of the bunch.”

No one wants to shift on the dumb screen. And, I think there must be some safety-related rationales for having physical shifting controls, because even Tesla has a duplicate set of shifter controls above their rear view mirror:



Why’d they even bother with the silly on-screen shifter when they already had a shifting solution? This cramming shit onto the touchscreen, needlessly, is a sickness! A sickness!


Any Wiper Controls

Wipers Touch

This is another great example of touchscreen controls making shit more complicated for absolutely no good reason. The generally-accepted modern-car method of windshield wiper controls is via a stalk, usually working by a light touch causing the wipers to give one wipe, perhaps to clear off some splashed Kool-Aid if you’re driving past a location where that giant pitcher has just breeched the outer wall of a building, and then the other speeds are generally activated by moving the stalk up or down into however many notches you have, corresponding to wiper speed. Maybe there’s also a knob for setting intermittent wiper delay. That’s pretty much it, and in this common setup, everything is done via fingertips, and there really isn’t any visual component beyond actually seeing the wipers themselves doing their job. It generally just works.

And yet, in a car with some amount of wiper controls relegated to the touchscreen, the complexity level ramps up dramatically. Here’s an explanation of how Tesla wipers work:


Oy. How much of that was really necessary? Tesla does have some physical controls that can actuate the wipers, buttons or scroll wheels on the steering wheel, or previously, a stalk, but they still have the wiper  speeds on screen by default, which makes no sense at all. When you need to adjust your wiper speeds, it’s usually because there’s rain, which is when you really don’t want to be taking your eyes off the road in the first place. And, yes, you can customize the scroll wheel to handle speed of wipers, sure, but it all just comes back to why did they bother putting the speeds on an on-screen menu in the first place?

This wasn’t broken, it didn’t need to be fixed, and the world will be better once teams of hired goons work over anyone who tries to stick any wiper controls on a stupid touchscreen menu. You’ll see.


Volume Control



There’s never a reason to put this on a screen. Ever. It should always just be a big, easy-to-find knob. Volume is one of those things that you want to change on the slightest whim! What if the Emergency Broadcast Whatever comes on, with its shrill tone of alarm? Then you want to quiet that alarmist shit up, pronto! What if Radar Love comes on? Then you want to crank that shit, right-a-fucking-way! You don’t want to fumble around in some stupid touch menu, like a toddler on an iPad, you want to full-wristedly crank that knob so everyone can fucking hear that you’re driving all night, hands wet on the wheel.

And what about when you may be lost, and need to focus on directions? Then you need to turn that volume down, so you can think! What if you need to comically drown out whatever bullshit your passenger is going on and on about? Then you need to turn the volume up, at just the right time, perhaps over and over, as they get more and more frustrated.

Look, I know touchscreens are here to stay, and that’s fine. They have their place, they can do useful things. But if these five controls end up on touchscreens instead of having physical controls, so help me, when I’m Emperor of America I will find every motherfucker responsible for this society-degrading rot and throw them in my UX gulags, which will be entirely controlled by stupid, overly complicated touchscreens, from toilet flushing to blanket covering to ferrying food from plate to mouth.

Don’t test me!



Europe Is Requiring Physical Buttons For Cars To Get Top Safety Marks, And We Should, Too

These Ferrari Warning Lights Seem To Demand The Impossible

Nobody Wants Touch-Screen Glove Box Latches And It Needs To Stop Now

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26 days ago

I dont know about the other controls, but I know there are people out there modifying their new vehicles (with a drill!) to add a volume knob switch. Out of everything listed, the shifter is the unforgivable one…let the UI designers eat dog food forever

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
28 days ago

Oh that Kool Aid Man commercial with Peat Rose you link to? Hou inow who else is in it playing the kid? Johnny Rampage. Here is what IMDB has to say about him

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
28 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Stupid edit button

Oh that Kool Aid Man commercial with Peat Rose you link to? You know who else is in it playing the kid? Johnny Rampage. IMDB actually has a page for that commercial . https://www.imdb.com/title/tt13213538/

Here is what IMDB has to say about him
“Johnny Rampage is an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, actor, and screenwriter. He is the vocalist, lyricist, and guitarist of the influential noise rock band K.K. Rampage. Known for their chaotic live shows which included full nudity, biting audience members, rolling in vomit, and scaling walls and high ceilings.”

And that’s just the first paragraph
The whole thing gets even better

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
28 days ago

You won’t be getting any of those Emergency Broadcasts unless AM radio is mandated…

28 days ago

#6: Turn signals

Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli
28 days ago


28 days ago

Other controls that need to be physical, not touchscreen:
Trunk release
Hood release
Gas door
Seat adjustment

Tom Gabriele
Tom Gabriele
14 days ago


Brake pedal

Steering wheel

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