This post is part of a series.

I spend two hours a day in my car, a large 2001 Chrysler LHS.  I grew up in a family that always had large cars – a 1960 Olds 98, and at least three models of LTD Station Wagon (woodies) – in fact, my mom still owns one.  I have come to require enough space to be comfortable, and today’s compact, even mid-sized cars, seem to be built for small Japanese women.

But autos have a world of things that ought to be improved upon, or problems that need to be solved.  Thankfully, most of the premium car manufacturers like BMW and Lexus have been addressing these problems, but they are woefully slow.   Here’s what I would like to see changed about cars.

1. Car Doors

This is truly my #1 pet peeve with cars.  What I love about our 2000 Honda Odyssey is the sliding doors.  So easy to get the kids in and out.  So let me ask you, why in God’s name have they not done the same for the FRONT doors?!?  I absolutely despise having to squeeze out in parking lots.  I’m sure they have some excuse for not doing it, like cost, or safety, or some other lame reason, but that’s what you pay engineers for.

I mean, just off of the top of my head, I can think of many alternatives:

  • Gull wings
  • Lamborghini doors
  • Sliding doors
  • Doors that swing up over the hood
  • Doors that swing over the roof
  • Doors that disappear under the car
  • Doors that open and close like a camera shutter
  • Force fields

2. Other access issues

I just got back from a week in Lake Tahoe, with 7 individuals and our luggage in a Honda Odyssey.  The trip was great, the ride?  It sucked.  The lone adult in the back had to fight car sickness and had not enough space to relax.  Not only that, getting to the baby in back when she was hungry was like squeezing through a crowded room with a 4 foot ceiling.

Solution?  I need one of those – a Dodge Sprinter.  While it is expensive fully equipped ($52K), the diesel engine should go for 300-500K miles, and it gets as good mileage as a fully equipped Odyssey, which comes in at $40K.  Total cost of ownership would be equal or LESS over a period of 10 years.  And it can carry 12 passengers plus luggage, and has dual power sliding doors.  When the Odyssey dies, this will be my #1 contender.

3. Blind-spot management

Why do we still have to use mirrors?  Every time you look back, you risk hitting something in front of you.  Thankfully, Mercedes has a nice solution coming out in which red lights appear in your mirror when someone is in your blind spot.  Nissan also has implemented (in Japan only) a full set of cameras to project a birds-eye view of your car and it’s surroundings right in front of you.  Now, if such technologies would filter down to American consumer cars.  Volvo, BMW, and Audi all have their own solutions for this problem.  All I can say is, ‘it’s about time!’

4. Rear leg room

One of the criteria I set for the purchase of my last car was this – if I’ve got the driver’s seat all the way back, I do NOT want to move up my seat when someone rides behind me just to give them leg room.  They should have plenty of leg room with my seat all the way back.

As it turns out, that limited me to looking at the LARGEST vehicle from each manufacturer.  Now, I wish I could afford to buy and maintain a 740iL, but I can’t – so I got a Chrysler.  Admittedly, I think some cars like the newer Honda Accord and Ford Taurus try to correct this problem, but many cars allow something like 3 inches of leg space in the back when the front seats are all the way back!

5. Gas Mileage

Why are we still languishing with cars that get under 30mpg?  Look, I saw Who Killed the Electric Car, I know there’s a conspiracy out there ;).  Seriously, when they make a full-sized car that gets 50mpg, then I’ll be impressed.  Until then, they’re just being lazy.  Or selfish.  Or bribed by the oil industry, I don’t know.

6. Sunlight management

So-called privacy windows (dark tinting on the rear windows) on autos make some difference during those hot sunny days, but really, can’t we do more?  I like the automatic sun shade that BMW has implemented in the rear window of its vehicles, as well as the manual ones that can be drawn up on the side windows.

So tell me, why don’t they have one implemented for the front window? Why must I have to pull out those stupid foil-covered sun-shades every time I park?  Just let me push a button!

Even better, why make me crack my windows or sunroof, esp. in areas where it rains in the summer (east coast)?  Don’t make me buy some stupid solar-powered window fan, just build one into the car!  I remember back in the 1980’s, Saab was exprimenting with putting solar cells in the sun roof to drive just such a fan, but they never did it.  Now, you can buy them as a $1000 option on some high-end Audis.  How generous.

7.Child restraint systems

Actually, booster seats, like the Graco Backless Turbobooster are pretty easy to get in and out, and infant car seats do have the base that you can click in and out of.

But have you ever tried to get a Britax toddler chair out?  Once you get it in, weaving the seatbelt through the back, and clamping the top restraint down, it can be hard work to get it in and out.

Not only that, but few of them have decent side-to side restraints, which means that in a t-bone accident, your kids could fly all over.  More issues include:

  • the bottoms often ruin seats – I’ve got a seat protector under my carseat, but why do I have to buy something extra?
  • moving the straps up as your children grow is a pain in the neck – you have to take the car seat out, unthread and rethread the straps
  • reaching down beside car seats to click in the seatbelt can be a real chore, esp. if you’ve got two right next to one another

Solutions?

  • Require cars to have standard attachment points for car seats – above AND below – which would then make it a four point diamond of attachment points (seatbelt provides left and right).
  • Make installation and removal easier – easier clamps (like mountain climbing clamps), easier routing of the seatbelt.
  • Make strap adjustment easier – you should NOT have to take out the seat (although I would not mind if it was easier).

8. Adult restraint systems

While three-point seatbelts are much easier to use than the older style ones, I’m still amazed that car makers don’t offer the safer version that comes over both shoulders and clamps between the legs, like race car drivers use.  Sure, if you’re wearing a dress, that’s not fun, but if they are so much safer, why not make a consumer version that allows for it?

One other seatbelt pet peeve, which seems to be only on my Honda, and not my American car – if you pull the seatbelt out a little, then let it go back a bit, it locks and you can’t pull it out any more.  This is very frustrating when trying to strap my kids in.  Argh.

9. Cup holders

How is it that no one can make a secure cup holder for more than one or two cup sizes?  I’ve seen some cool ‘ratcheting’ types in pickup trucks, but seriously, someone needs to make cupholders deeper and more flexible so that cups stay in there when I go around the corner, and alternately, can hold my 48 ounce Big Gulp.

An older pet peave of mine, which most car makers have solved (although I think Volkswagen still has this issue in some models) is putting cup holders in places where cups obscure stereo controls, vents, or other things you want to get at while driving.  D’oh!

10. Dumb cruise control

I hesitate to mention this, since the luxury brands are dealing with this nicely, but cruise control should be able to adjust my speed, even brake instead of making me pay attention when I’d rather be texting.  I mean, I’m just saying, it should do more than keep me at a constant speed.

11. Noise and pollution

OK, the electric or hydrogen cars really solve this problem.  I can’t wait!  Nice.

12. Arm rests

Again, some cars are made for small Japanese women, not for your average American male. Have you ever put the seat all the way back so that you’ve got leg room, only to find that your head is behind the center pillar, and the arm rest ran out 3 inches ago?

Even worse, some arm rests are hard, and when you lean your left leg against them, they are VERY uncomfortable.  Arm rests need to be designed with the leg in mind.

13. Air vents

Some air vents are difficult to aim, in part because there’s not much to grab, and even when you do, they seem sticky and hard to move.  I like the oversized and simple vents in the new Mustangs.

Another problem – those stupid symbols they use for opening and closing the vents.  Which one is which?  They’re as bad as the stupid power on / power off symbols.

14.Bucket seats and center consoles

One of the songs that captures my feelings about bucket seats is the song by Cake called Stickshifts and Safety Belts:

stickshifts and safetybelts,
bucket seats have all got to go.
when we’re driving in the car,
it makes my baby seem so far.

i need you here with me,
not way over in a bucket seat.
i need you to be here with me,
not way over in a bucket seat.

I really love bench seats, but they are much harder to come by.  Center consoles make me feel trapped.  One of the things I like about Texas is that they have a nice descriptive name for the center of the bench seat – it reflects the fact that when you are driving, sometimes you want your woman right next to you.  It’s called ‘riding b*tch’ (as opposed to riding shotgun).  Damn straight (spits in spittoon).

15. Car stereos

This deserves a post all it’s own.  Small stereo labels and controls – why do they make car stereos with little buttons that you can’t even read when you are in the passenger seat?  I swear, on my wife’s stereo, I still can’t figure out how to turn off the power, and forget about changing the time! Sony is the worst offender, but they all do it.  I mean, can you see any text on those buttons?  It doesn’t get much better even up close, and who’s gonna get up close while trying to keep eyes on the road?

And then there’s the complicate displays that have that damned ‘Display mode’ – you know, the one that cycles what amounts to a never-ending ad for the receiver’s features?  It took me 6 months before I figured out that you can turn that off.  And I’m technical.  But for some reason, car stereos just bug me when they are complicated.  That’s why I kinda like my stock Chrysler stereo.

16. Clothes hangers

I’m sorry, but those clothing hooks just don’t cut it.  I’ve seen some solutions, like one that hangs on the back of the seat, or even a rod across the entire back.  But seriously, when you get into the car with your suit jacket, isn’t there some convenient, out of the way place to hang it?  No.

Solutions?  That’s tougher.  I’d say put something cool in the trunk that keeps the suit hung up, clean, and unsquishable.

17. Storage

The list never ends, huh?  We need more cubby holes for stuff like papers, briefcases, purses, and the like.  Storage systems for the home and work have come a long way.  Someone needs to innovate storage in the auto.

I mean, I *hate* having my wife’s purse at my feet when she’s driving, or my loose portfolio and books just sitting on the passenger seat waiting to slide onto the floor the next time I brake.

18. Grocery nets

Auto makers may have meant well when they created these, but really, they still allow stuff to fall out of those crappy plastic bags.  Our old Honda CR-V had nice little hooks to hang stuff on, and some minivans have that too.  There’s nothing like having your oranges roll around to the far reaches of the trunk on your way home.

Even better, how about a built-in cooler compartment that is insulated so that you can put perishables like ice cream in there for the ride home?  How hard is that?

CONCLUSION

Autos have a LOT of room for improvement, which means opportunity for someone.  Heck, the first company that solves the front-door problem will have me as its first customer.