Where Have We Gone Wrong?!

Paul Morrone |

By Paul Morrone, CFP®, CPA/PFS, MSA

Most days, I feel like I was born in a different generation. I find myself saying things like ‘I like how it used to be,’ ‘they don’t make it like they used to,’ ‘I don’t get all this technology,’ or anything else that you would hear from one of your grandparents. While I can stomach most of the technological advancements, and embrace many of them, I am very reluctant to get excited about much of the automotive technology available on today’s cars. My frustration with this stems far beyond the example I’m about to share, and I’ll save you my soapbox speech about the lack of cars with manual transmissions, but I want you to reflect back on your last rental car experience and tell me if you don’t agree.

Think about the process of renting a car at an airport (when flying was still a thing…). You’ve just sat for 3+ hours in an airplane seat that is barely suitable for a small child, your knees hurt, your back is stiff, the plane’s wi-fi didn’t work, your neck is kinked and you have been herded like cattle through the TSA checkpoint, onto the plane, off the plane, through the baggage claim and finally arrive at the rental car counter where you can take a deep breath.

You are all excited to get to your final destination, take off your shoes and enjoy your vacation. You pick up the rental car and then you suddenly realize you don’t know how to start the damn thing. Maybe you got lucky and your car still uses and ‘old-fashioned’ key – but that is likely not the case. Those practical tools were largely replaced with ‘fobs’ or ‘smart keys’ long ago which now require you to bend over the steering wheel in search of a button, socket or other apparatus designed to wake your car from the dead. If you’re lucky enough to get it started, then you need to figure out how to calibrate all of the settings, starting with the seat and mirrors (which, thankfully, tend to be relatively ‘manual’ still). Next up is the heat/AC/climate control – which means an inevitable trip into the labyrinth of what has become known as the ‘infotainment’ center. This is where the wheels really start to fall off. 

Interpreting the symbols peppered all over the screen is like reading hieroglyphics. And it seems like nothing is set correctly from the get-go. The AC is blasting when you land in Connecticut in January, the heat is on in Florida in the dead of summer. The heated seat is on, too. The radio is stuck on the local Spanish channel. You then need to program the GPS, find a radio station that isn’t just static or AM talk radio, or heaven forbid, try to connect your phone to the car. 

By now, at least 15 minutes have gone by, the kids are screaming, you’re hungry, your spouse has to pee and you still have to figure out how to put the car in gear (is it a lever, stalk, knob, dial, paddle or touch-screen button that does that…) to simply back out of the parking spot without setting of a myriad of alarms, sensors and cameras. It’s exhausting just thinking about it! If it was legal to drink and drive, they should put a cocktail in the cupholder just to make the process of getting out of the parking garage a little less painless.

I don’t care what any manufacturer says, none of it is what I would call ‘intuitive.’ I’m a buttons guy. On/Off for the climate control, a dial for the temperature, a separate one for the radio and a handful of preset buttons for your favorite local radio stations – the rest is just superfluous. Anyone that has seen many of the newer model cars know why I start to get heart palpitations when I look inside them – the screens are now larger than my computer monitor and there seem to be are two or three scattered throughout the interior. Give me a dial with my speed, tachometer and gas level and we’re good to go. Why have we made it so complicated!? 

In case you’re wondering – there is one modern amenity that I love – the ‘cooled’ seat. What a genius invention!

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