Home » What Is The Most Frustrating User-Interface Or Control/Switch Placement You’ve Seen In A Car?

What Is The Most Frustrating User-Interface Or Control/Switch Placement You’ve Seen In A Car?

Caucasian Handsome Man With Headache
ADVERTISEMENT

Remember when most cars worked pretty much the same, control-wise? Through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, you could plop yourself into virtually anything with four wheels (“normal” cars, at least) and instantly figure it out. If it was an automatic, the PRNDL selector was loud and proud on the center console or a sturdy steel arm reaching out from the steering column. Headlights, climate controls, radio tuning and volume … basically all the same. American car, maybe you pull a knob for the headlights. And the high beam switch might be on the floor (I’m a fan of that one, actually). But once you know, you know, and it’s not hard. Nor something you forget. Or have trouble instructing someone else how to do.

Today’s cars, not so much. Most recently, I was confounded by, of all things, a 2014 Honda Accord. Connecting my phone via Bluetooth was a three-step, two-screen process. WHY. But still, not too bad. Not remotely as bad as, say, the original BMW iDrive.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom
Bad Ui Examples
Wikimedia Commons; Acura

BMW presented fourth-gen 7-series drivers with a big ol’ knob, so obviously the idea was to turn it. But wait! You could also slide it side to side and fore-aft, like a very short joystick. And push it down, as a button. Slide through selections, click to choose a menu, rotate to choose within the menu–or was it rotate, then slide? Good thing nothing was labeled. And the UI you were controlling with the thing was, ehhh, not great. Even BMW owners with all the time in the world to get used to it (as opposed to finicky car journos) expressed continued frustration with the OG iDrive.

[Editor’s Note: This topic was brought about by the Jeep Wrangler YJ’s headlight switch placement. It is bad:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by The Autopian (@theautopian)

ADVERTISEMENT

-DT]

Every experienced Acura’s True Touchpad Interface (TTI)? It looks like a trackpad, but alas, it is not–not if you associate ‘trackpad’ with responsiveness to finger-swiping. TTI didn’t respond to swipes, no matter how much it seemed to invite you to drag your greasy french-fry grabbers across its matte-black surface. No, the TTI had to be precisely tapped. But there was still some swiping yet to be done! A narrow strip of pad next to the not-trackpad is where you could drag your finger–now trembling with rage, presumably–to scroll through whatever you selected with your extremely precise taps on the other pad-thing. Cool.

 

Tmab
Wikimedia Commons

And if we roll the clock back to the 1960s and earlier, it was very common for cars to have knobs and buttons that weren’t labeled at all (like the DKW/Auto Union above), and gave no indication whatsoever via form or location as to what might happen when pushed, pulled, or twisted. Maybe you’ll activate the choke. Perhaps your passenger will be ejected through the roof. You don’t know. What are you going to do, read the manual? Admit defeat and put Dymo labels on there?

And so, The Autopian asks: What Is The Most Frustrating User-Interface Or Control Placement You’ve Seen In A Car?

ADVERTISEMENT

Image credits, top shot: Hugo Venter/Wikimedia Commons; luismolinero/stock.adobe.com

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
145 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jatco Xtronic CVT
Jatco Xtronic CVT
11 months ago

My 2001 Nissan Altima is a bit of an oddball. Not so much frustrating to myself, but to others it definitely could be.
The turn signals flash (and click) irregularly. Not quite enough to be incredibly obvious, but it sounds a bit like a broken metronome. It’s incredibly weird, and when I first drove the car I thought they were broken… until i saw all 4 outside lamps flash in time with the inside indicators. Incredibly weird choice by Nissan.

A M
A M
11 months ago

I had forgotten this one… In the Avantime (at least in the highest trim level) you can’t turn off the radio except with the remote that lives in the glove compartment/cd changer cover door.

You can pull both volume triggers to turn ir down to about 20% of the current volume, though.

Anonymous Lombard
Anonymous Lombard
11 months ago
Reply to  A M

The navigation system on the P1 Volvo S40 is similar. You need to use the remote to turn it on, though after that it can be controlled with a joystick behind the steering wheel.

A M
A M
11 months ago

On my Avantime’s cruise control (steering wheel face buttons) left is faster and right is slower.

To their credit, it’s consistent: every pictogram of the car on the controls/dash shows it driving to the left. The controls for the sunroof and sunroof shade are consistent with this as well.

David Escargot
David Escargot
11 months ago

Very common and only a pet peeve of mine, but when did someone think it was a good idea for tiptronic/sportshift/ manual mode in an auto to go up gears when you push it forwards and down gears when you pull it back? It’s like they’ve never seen a sequential gearbox before

A M
A M
11 months ago
Reply to  David Escargot

That arrangement is perfectly reasonable to people who have no experience with H-pattern manuals.

The Dude
The Dude
11 months ago

Not so much of a terrible control or layout, but more a baffling oversight from a typically detail oriented Honda.

As with most (all?) modern minivans the Odyssey allows you to roll down the sliding door windows and you can even lock them too. Except locking them also locks out the drivers control.

You haven’t lived until one kid rolls down the window at 75 mph while the other kids starts screaming in annoyance. Meanwhile dad (me) can’t roll up the window because the driver’s window controls can’t override input from the rear, hence the window staying open until the rear passenger stops trying to open the window.

And even once I’ve won the window game of chicken I better be quick to hit the lock button lest in that split second my kid starts to open the window again.

Marcus Fnord
Marcus Fnord
11 months ago
Reply to  The Dude

That sounds hilariously frustrating!

Jatco Xtronic CVT
Jatco Xtronic CVT
11 months ago
Reply to  The Dude

Same problem in my Highlander (essentially a two row minivan replacement, right?). You also can’t control any window but your own if you lock the window controls. Not entirely sure why this is something they never thought to fix.

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
11 months ago

The XJ Jeep electric window controls. Three columns of two switches each, flush with the door. (Two are the window and door locks.) It’s horrible to try to determine by feel which switches you’re operating and I never get it right. The light control knob also falls into the category of unmarked switches that require practice to use, but at least it provides tactile feedback once you get used to it.

https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/Y6EAAOSwNsdeliW4/s-l640.jpg

On my 2016 Audi Q5, if you switch it into manual shift mode, the number of the gear that you’re in is invisible at the bottom of the screen, behind the steering wheel, at least from where I sit. As a result, I barely used this feature until my daughter started complaining of the smell of hot brakes on a recent trip to Yellowstone.

Ben
Ben
11 months ago

Two that I can think of in my cars:

  1. The fan speed knob in my truck has a button in the center that says “Fan Off”. It’s also the button you use to turn the fan back on, but it took me an unnecessarily long time to figure that out because of how they labelled it.
  2. I hate the shifter in my Prius. It’s one that snaps back to a central position after you select a gear, and it’s absolutely infuriating when I think I’ve put it in a gear, but it turns out I didn’t quite move the stick far enough to actually engage the new gear and end up revving it in P or, even worse, remaining in reverse when I didn’t mean to be. It’s just so unnecessary. People hate on rotary shifters, but at least they have detents so you can tell immediately if you actually changed gears.
Black Peter
Black Peter
11 months ago

I’m definitely voting for the killer Jeep Grand Cherokee shifter, I had the same thing happen to me, as happened to Anton Yelchin, but as I was getting out of the truck.. Luckily before I was actually out.

Jon Winsley
Jon Winsley
11 months ago

2015 era CRV hood release. On the vertical panel to the left of the foot operated e-brake. You cant see it unless your head is down in the footwell by the brake pedal. I repeatedly had to go into the manual to find it until its location finally stuck in my head.

2018 Mini engine start stop switch. Right behind any cup in the cup holder.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
11 months ago
Reply to  Jon Winsley

Isn’t that where almost all hood releases are? My 92 Accord, 95 f150, Jeep Cherokees, 94 Nissan pickup all have it there.

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
11 months ago

Now don’t get me wrong, I really like my Cadillac CT6. It does everything I ask of it and does it all well. BUT, why in the hell did they have to redesign the cruise controls? GM has had one of the most widely used and intuitive cruise controls for years. A simple stalk on the left side of the steering wheel with a button to hold or slow down. The same stalk has a small flat button that when pushed accelerates the vehicle. Works great on every Chevy, Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac built since the early 60’s.

So, just for the CT6 some genius has replaced the above system with four buttons that work counter-intutively. They are located on the left side of the steering wheel. One button to turn the system on, another to shut it off and two large push bars for accelerate and slow down. Yeah, it works and over time you do learn the new system but . . . why?

Oh, and the guy who decided the radio volumn should be controlled by a wide bar located directly above the climate controls where the most intutive thing to do is to rest your fingers on the volumn bar. Want to lower the temperature while enjoying a surprise blast of sound? Capability built right in!

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
11 months ago
Reply to  Opa Carriker

See, I thought GM had one of the dumbest and worst labeled and least intuitive cruise control schemes in the whole industry, and they’ve stuck to it for the same reason they’ve stuck to so many other dumb things like side post batteries and the fuel filler on the wrong side.

David Escargot
David Escargot
11 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Fuel fillers should be on the left hand side (looking from behind) of the vehicle yes no?

Last edited 11 months ago by David Escargot
A M
A M
11 months ago
Reply to  David Escargot

Where I live passenger side fuel fillers make sense. Tiny gas station lots, so you need to get the car close to the pump, and you have to go inside to pay anyway.

VanGuy
VanGuy
11 months ago

I can’t say I’ve personally experienced any truly awful *designed and working as intended* vehicle interface things.

However, as a general complaint, the windshield wiper controls in my Prius (and probably a LOT of cars, really).

My ’97 Ford van had what I think is how wipers should be: a single rotating piece. Off –> ~10s intermittent –> various intermittent settings –> continuous –> continuous fast.
You could think of it like a simple escalating intensity. Need full intensity? Just turn it all the way!

Meanwhile, in the Prius, you click the entire stick down once for intermittent which is then controlled by a rotating switch, but you click the stick down again for continuous, and once more for continuous fast. Why separate these? In particular I loathe going through varying rain because anytime I’m switching between continuous and intermittent I have to see “what intermittent speed did I leave it on?” because that can be adjusted independently.

The only thing the Prius has that is a solid upgrade is the ability to just nudge the stalk upwards from the off position for a single wiper motion. But in every other category, it’s a downgrade. The whole stalk moving also makes it more likely to be bumped accidentally when the car is off.
Plus, even the slowest continuous setting is ~7 seconds or something, which doesn’t sound like much, but I end up needing to manually nudge the stalk every so often in really light drizzles.

I’m used to it now, sure, but I see the separation of continuous and intermittent speeds as wholly unnecessary.

Ben
Ben
11 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

I find the directions you need to move things in that system highly counterintuitive too. In almost every stalk-based system (including the headlight knob in the Prius), you turn the knob “up”* to turn something on/up. For the Prius wipers, you turn it “down” to increase the speed of the wipers and pull down on the stalk to move from off to intermittent to on. I’ve put 40000 miles on the car at this point and I still have to think about that every time I adjust wiper speed.

*: I’m putting the directions in quotes because strictly speaking you can’t move a knob up or down since it’s a circle, but I’m referring to the direction that the part of the knob facing you moves.

VanGuy
VanGuy
11 months ago
Reply to  Ben

Ha! I never even thought about that. Doesn’t bother as much as what I mentioned, though.

As a tertiary annoyance, the rear wiper system isn’t great either, although I don’t know what a better system would look like. A single knob–“down” is hold to spray; “up” is intermittent, up again is continuous, and up AGAIN…..is also spray. I don’t think that one should be there, redundant.
Plus, when it’s dark and I can’t see the labels, I still get confused. The physical “resistance” to it turning is similar in either direction. Am I turning it on intermittent, or using wiper fluid? Flip a coin! I’ll only know if/when it clicks into position.

Ben
Ben
11 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the rear wipers work in the exact opposite direction of the front ones too. It’s mind-boggling that someone signed off on this. 🙂

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago

I never used early iDrive, but I like it our 2021 330e. You can use the touchscreen too though. My wife doesn’t like the iDrive though, so she just uses the touchscreen.

The controls that drive me crazy are the PRNDL controls being different.
We have 5 cars between the kids and us, and every one of them is different.
One has the newer GM push or pull button lineup. (This is my least favorite because you have to look at it every time)
One is a traditional PRNDL, but with “manual mode” where you can move it to the Left and tap up or down to manually shift (I never use that).
One has the tiny stick that returns to the center after every command. (It’s fine)
One has the Stellantis rotary dial (which I initially hated, but kind of like now because at least it’s tactile and you can know what gear you are in without looking).
The last is a manual 4-speed – (the best of the bunch)

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
11 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

We can all agree that the best shifter design, overall, is a dogleg five speed.

David Escargot
David Escargot
11 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

And second best is a regular 5 speed

SuperNova
SuperNova
11 months ago

Touch screens on the dash are number one…but that Ford escape with the temperature on the button…that would sync with the tombstone tablet on the dash and show you the number you set the temperature on the bottom button drove me crazy for 2 days.
set at 72….flash!!!! you’ve set the temp at 72….
kill me now.

Dug Deep
Dug Deep
11 months ago

The worst I saw was the parking light button on top of the Subaru steering column through certain 00 years. I had a rental Tribeca and the morning of my first night in my hotel I came out to see the parking lights were on. Luckily it started, but I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to turn them off. I finally called Hertz who called a couple of other people to finally figure it out…a little rocker switch perfectly hidden by the top of the steering wheel that must have gotten hit when the car was being cleaned.

Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli
11 months ago

New Tundra touchscreen… It’s huge. Yet remarkably underutilized with no split-screen capability. Going from Android Auto to change stations in Sirius XM requires no less than 5 button presses. You want to turn the screen off to reduce eye strain at night? No less than 5 presses, plus scrolling a settings menu.

Last edited 11 months ago by Anthony Magagnoli
Josh Jones
Josh Jones
11 months ago

I don’t get the hate on iDrive… I’ve always found it pretty intuitive myself… but then again, I’m autistic, so…
For me, touchscreens are the worst. They’re never properly calibrated (and I don’t just mean x/y… if you pay close attention, you’ll find that you don’t actually need to “touch” most touchscreens, you can just get close to them and accidentally hit buttons,) and even when they are, there’s no feedback… I also sometimes have the opposite problem when it’s too dry. Some of my fingers are too calloused, and find that they just don’t work at all when it’s particularly dry.

I can’t even stand modern phones, I certainly don’t want a giant iPad in the center of my dash.

145
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x