Memo to automakers: Please reintroduce some traditional analog gauges as standard equipment for the typical American car's dashboard. I'd particularly like this for the gauge that monitors system/battery voltage. The analog version goes through a little dance when you turn the ignition key to let you know the starter will fail a few days to a month before it actually does. Your modern digital readout displays don't lend themselves to that sort of detail.
There's a host of applications other than automotive where I need analog instrumentation. Nevertheless, automakers, you actually provided some basic circuitry in a proactive capacity — both analog and digital — over the years. You should just complete the job.
Reject the notion, if you ever had it, that you tread on the turf of those working in the auto repair business. Mechanics tend to offer that curious argument when discussing simpler yet useful systems, but that argument is a non sequitur . I need to see the mechanic whether the car gets to him via tow truck or I find a way to drive my smoking and choking auto there before it gives out. The issue is not getting stranded on the road at any time if I can help it. Help me do that.
Besides, today's autos are way too complex for me to service, even for the simplest jobs. I don't have the time or even the basic knowledge to reset my mileage counter after a simple oil change — even if I could gain easy access to the oil pan and filter. Do I resent it? You bet. One recent article discussed models that no longer provide the owner another kind of analog instrument — a dipstick. If true, that's just not right.
Providing gauges where I can see the rate of change (versus an idiot light that often indicates a failure after the fact) gives me time to drive to the shop instead of being towed there. I'm not willing to put up with being towed at my age, even as a member of the American Automobile Association (now AAA). There's no good reason today not to know about a simple end-of-life condition weeks beforehand.
We now have new economics. People aren't made of money, as they tell me every day. More of them aren't sure about the future of America, and I'm more pessimistic than they are. As a result, I'm holding on to my autos a lot longer (up to 15 years), and I'd expect to see more people in the senior community doing the same. Older cars tend to need more attention — which, by the way, gives the mechanic some work to do. Deliver a machine that gives us a lot less unexpected grief as it ages.
I appreciate the various general and safety innovations you've added — having the car drive itself, monitoring the air pressure in my tires, and wiring in access to glucose monitoring systems for those of us who are diabetic. But the core function of the automobile is getting me from point A to point B with five-nines reliability. I don't expect that perfect a car, and I recognize we run into a bit of conflict when trying to produce a quality auto with components that have reasonable lifetimes. That tradeoff goes all the way back to Henry Ford's efforts to create a profitable production line. But that tradeoff isn't good enough in today's world, where we need a car that's going to work well for 15 years.
Give me more diagnostic-type instruments on the dashboard and a dipstick. Also, give me a system that immediately detects a pin-leak of transmission, brake, or power-steering fluid or any of the other lubrications that tend to exude from various joints, seals, or whatever. All those lost fluids don't necessarily hit the ground, and they can't be distinguished from water during our increasingly extended periods of rainfall here in the Northeast. Some leaks aren't even detected during a routine visual inspection, and then it's too late. Some of these failures lead to thousands of dollars of damage. That's been true in my own cars over the years, despite my best efforts to keep up on maintenance. How many times have I heard that a system breakdown was “one of those one-in-a-million things”? I no longer buy it. We can do better.
Yes, it's a great feat of engineering to transform a car into a communications center on wheels to meet the demands (but not necessarily the necessities) of today's world. Worthwhile complicated systems are OK, but I'd prefer a system without today's standard bells and whistles. To me, those features are a collection of toys that can be a distraction on the road. I'd rather have a basic car.
How much would it cost you to provide me with the degree of advance-notice monitoring I want, minus the presently standard features I don't want? Who knows? You just might sell more cars to a growing senior market worldwide. Just talk to me, Detroit.