6 Things You Can't Do in a Car Anymore

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by Eric Peters: Where
We’re Headed…



1) Burnouts

It is still
possible to light up the tires, but there’s more involved than
just stomping on the gas pedal.

First, you
usually have to turn off the traction control – which exists
to prevent you from doing burnouts. As soon as the tires begin to
slip, the electronic brain instantly pumps the brakes, or backs
off the power – or some combination of the two – in order
to restrain you from partaking of antisocial activities.

In some late-model
cars, it is impossible (or extremely difficult) to turn the traction
control entirely off. You think you did, but pushing the button
only partially disengages the system. Real burnouts – the fishtail
sliding type – are not allowed. At least (in some cars) not
before you go through a multi-step process of depressing/holding
the button – after which – for a brief time only –
the computer will permit you to spin the tires. But only just a
little bit.

Then it re-sets
and you have to ask permission all over again.

2) Smoking

You can’t
do that anymore, either. At least, not if you don’t want to
burn holes in the upholstery.

Most new cars
don’t come with ashtrays. You have to pay extra to get them
– if they’re even available – as part of a “smoker’s

It’s another
passive-aggressive manifestation of subtle behavior modification
techniques, like those 85 MPH speedometers cars had for awhile in
the early ’80s. If the speedo doesn’t read any higher
than 85, you won’t be tempted to drive faster. Right? So, if
there are no ashtrays in the car, maybe you’ll give up that
filthy habit.

the automakers are writhing to outdo each other in getting Internet
in cars, so you can read e-mail and surf the web while driving.
. .

Because that’s
so much safer than smoking.

3) Rest
your left arm on the top of the driver’s side door

New cars have
very high doors. In some, you feel like you’re sitting in a
really deep bathtub, which makes it impossible to rest your left
arm on the top of the door with the window rolled down, like you
could do Back in the Day.

Doors have
grown taller to provide better protection against side-impact crashes.
Federal regulators demand it; the insurance companies lobby for
it. Whether we – the people who actually pay for the cars –
necessarily want it is apparently beside the point. Just like air
bags and so many other things we’re forced to buy. If we want
a new car, anyhow.

4) Pick
a custom steering wheel

For most of
the history of the automobile, it was possible to either order a
new car with one of several available factory custom steering wheels
– or buy one on your own, afterward, and install it in your
garage with basic hand tools. It was a fun – and fairly inexpensive
– way to set your particular car apart from the crowd. And
also for the automakers to differentiate one trim level from another
within a given model series.

the nicer/top-of-the-line trim came with a different steering wheel
that became the centerpiece of the interior. For instance, in a
’70s-era Pontiac Trans-Am, you got a racy-looking three-point/spoked
“Formula” wheel with thick custom padding around the rim
– vs. the standard car’s cheap-looking vinyl deal.

In a new car,
all trims within a given model get exactly the same steering wheel
(maybe embellished with different trim). There are no optional wheels
to select from and it is not possible to swap out the factory wheel
for an aftermarket unit.

Because of
the air bag. When these things were first introduced in the ’70s,
almost no one voluntarily bought them. So the government mandated
them. And now we’re all stuck with them.

5) Parking
brake bootleg turns

Recipe as follows:
With the car tracking straight, yank on the parking brake lever
to lock up the back wheels as you simultaneously crank the wheel
hard left or right (depending on which direction you want to go).
The back end of the car will swing around, enabling you to make
an abrupt 90 degree turn. Release the brake as the car turns, punch
it – and go! (You can also use this technique to execute a
complete 180 degree turn.)

Except you
can’t – not in a new car, anyhow.

In almost all
the new cars I have test driven recently, the parking brake is factory
adjusted to barely have enough holding power to keep the car in
place when it is parked.

It is insufficient
to lock up the rear wheels suddenly, essential to a properly executed
bootleg turn. There is also usually a super-annoying claxon (along
with flashing warning light) that goes ballistic the second you
begin to raise the brake lever, if the car is moving. Danger! Safety!
What about the Children!

Possibly, you
can tighten up the adjustment so that the brake comes on hard and
fast when you need it. And certainly, you can ferret out the buzzer
under the dash and smash the little monster to pieces with a ball-peen

But you shouldn’t
have to do either, right?

6) Fine-tune
the radio station

Years and years
ago, cars had dial-type radios. The reception was crappy, but it
was possible to find and keep on listening to a weak station for
longer by making fine adjustments to the dial.

In a modern
car with a digital-seek radio, this is often impossible. The radio
will just skip over any station that’s not putting out a strong
enough signal. You’re forced to listen to only the stations
that the radio will let you listen to.

The other thing
that’s gone forever – and maybe it’s not a bad thing
– is the modular, one-size-fits-all stereo.

Most older-than-1980s-era
cars, no matter the make or model, came with your standard rectangular
slot – into which you could fairly easily swap in an aftermarket
unit. This you almost had to do because most factory stereos sucked.
The downside was that putting in a nice aftermarket stereo was an
invitation to smash n’ grab thieves.

Today, factory
stereos are very good; and they’re typically specific to that
specific car – which is a deterrent to thieves, since the unit
is useless outside of the car it came in.

But it was
kind of fun spending a few hours on a Saturday afternoon installing
a new high-powered custom stereo.

Like multiple
ashtrays and three-across bench seats, that’s something that’s
probably gone forever.

with permission from the National
Motorists Association

12, 2011

Eric Peters
[send him mail] is an
automotive columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs
(2011). Visit his

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