What’s Wrong with Cars Today

A Primer on Good Design for Automotive Engineers

There are a lot of things that are wrong with cars today, and while these things may seem obvious to consumers, they are clearly not obvious to manufacturers nor our regulatory agencies. So as a public service I’d like to be as blatant as possible–please fix these things:

Rear View Mirrors

If  I could change a single thing, this would be it. We worry about safety, with airbags, seat belts, crumple zones, 5 MPH bumpers–but we leave that rear view mirror right where it blocks your view to everything approaching to the right.

Who thought this was a good idea?

Maybe if you’re under six-foot this isn’t a problem (don’t they have any automotive designers that are tall?) but if you’ve got any height to your torso, you simply cannot see out of most cars today because of the rear view mirror.

How to fix it:

Two ways–make the rear view mirror able to be re-positioned up or down depending on preference. This is easy–MG (remember those?) did it in the 70’s–they had the mirror mounted on a rod that went from the top of the windshield to the bottom, and you were able to put the mirror where ever it worked for you, so as to not block your vision.

It was a simple solution, and it worked.

But our safety gurus killed it–talk about irony!

Second way–many (most?) cars now come with a back-up camera to help with reverse parking. Can’t we just enable those cameras so they display a “rear-view mirror” like view?

If you really want to get fancy, do a “heads up” display–but for Pete’s sake, just get that rear view mirror out of my field of vision!

Active Head Restraints

These are just plain wrong. Painfully wrong (literally).

If you sit with the seat back more vertical (as many do) then these “safety features” are a literal pain in the neck. They push your head down so that your neck can never relax.

Again, a safety hazard that was created because someone had a “bright idea” of how to improve safety!

How to fix it:

Simple–make these adjustable. Or offer an optional headrest without them for those of us that want to be comfortable when we drive.

There is no reason to make everyone suffer because someone thought this was a good idea (probably again someone under six-foot).

Touch Screen Everything

Really–a car is not an iPad. There I said it.

Knobs are good! They help you adjust settings without having to look down (and take your eyes off the road).

We all know the hazards of texting while driving. Why? Because you take your eyes off the road when you text.

How is it any different to take your eyes off the road to look down at your center console, looking for the “temperature” icon?

How to fix it:

Give me my knobs back!

And lest you think I’m some over-the-hill technophobe, my field of expertise is information technology–but we have a saying: “Just because it can be done with a computer doesn’t mean it should”. This is one of those cases.

Good simple design always trumps “cool”.

Especially when driving.


Guys–we are not all 5’6″ tall!

How to fix it:
  • Make seats go down (give me headroom)!
  • Make seats go back (give me legroom)!
  • Make seats adjustable (don’t put the lumbar support where it fits a short person, but dislocates my spine)!

This is not hard–really!

 “Manual” Automatic Shifters

The guys at Top Gear call them “flappy paddle” shifters. I just call them silly. They’re the tabs on the back of the steering wheel that allow you to shift your automatic transmission in manual mode.

Stop–please stop. No one needs these. No one uses these.

If you want a manual transmission, buy a manual.

And please don’t add this feature to the shift knob with a button, or even worse by moving the shift knob forward and back.


Because you all design it wrong! Downshift is forward, upshift is back (like a manual transmission from 3rd to 4th).

If you’re going to design a “fake” manual transmission, what would possess you to design it backwards from how a manual transmission works?

(I’ll never understand automotive engineers).

 Gas Filler Location

Why would anyone ever consider putting the gas filler on the passenger side?

Not only is it harder for most people to get close to the pump, but it means you have to walk all the way around the car to fill the tank.

Ever heard of winter? Or rain?

Just put the gas filler on the driver’s side and stop the insanity.

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