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Here Are Two Common Automotive Features That Never Get Used Correctly

In my last five years as an automotive salesperson, I’ve learned that there are a few excellent features on modern cars that are surprisingly underappreciated by many. Now, I should nip this in the bud early and say that I’m not talking about BMW turn signals or traction control on a Mustang, but more universally unused items.

I work for a Mazda dealership — and Mazda, like many companies, is obsessed with customer satisfaction. They require their salespeople go through every nook and cranny of your new Mazda to help you better understand your car and get the most out of it. While this is a great and noble idea in theory, in practice, the amount of technology and features present in even the lower trim levels can be daunting and overwhelming for some people. Especially for those who may not consider themselves tech-savvy. Here are a couple that seem to most flummox owners.

Automatic Climate Control

This is the one I find most interesting. I will spare everyone the detailed version of how these systems work, but, in essence, you set the temperature you want the inside of the car to be and a computer sorts it out for you. I can’t think of an automaker that doesn’t provide it either standard or as an option on pretty much their full range of cars.

The premium brands have been working with versions of this system that go back decades. Indeed, my first two 1986 Saab 9000s included automatic climate control. Now, to be fair, those early ones were annoying when you first started the car, as the car would instantly set the fan speed to its highest setting. This was especially frustrating in the winter, when the engine is cold and therefore incapable of providing heat for the cabin. But the march of progress has helped protect us against being cryogenically frozen by our climate systems, at least in the winter. Nowadays, when the car is in auto mode, they don’t turn up the fan until the engine has warmed up and there’s some heat to work with.

Of all the cars I see with this feature, almost none of the drivers are using it as intended; probably 90 percent of them are not in their auto modes — and I think I know why.

It starts in the summer and relates to the previous paragraph. Let’s say it’s hot out and you have the car set for 69 degrees. Since air conditioning is readily available and doesn’t need to wait for the engine to warm up, the first thing it does is get the A/C compressor going and crank up the fan speed to max. While this is an effective way to cool the car off, it’s also loud and windy. In an effort to hear yourself think or carry on a conversation with your passenger, you immediately adjust the fan speed down. This action takes the car out of "auto" — and then, especially if you aren’t already used to this type of system, you completely forget that it is capable of taking care of itself with the push of a button, and you never again return to automatic mode. But you should.

Rain-sensing wipers

A few months ago, we had a string of mid-2000s Volvo cars getting traded in. There are three that come to mind. When I was going through the new Mazda with each driver and explaining that "this car has rain-sensing wipers, similar to your old car," all replied with: "My car doesn’t have the rain sensor."

What I found interesting is that all three of them actually did have a button to activate the rain sensor and all three of them functioned properly — but the owners never knew they were there. As much as I enjoy being right, I also enjoy people, especially customers, not being annoyed at me — and it’s not like it’ll do any good pointing out something their old car did that they didn’t know about.

What I find more often, though, is people dislike the feature — and the reasons why pretty much fall into two camps.

Camp one is the distraction crew. These folks don’t like rain-sensing wipers because they don’t function at a consistent and configurable speed. This means they can go without warning and will vary their speed as needed — which, while this is exactly what they’re designed to do, can be distracting to some folks.

Camp two is the "they don’t work" crowd. Now, this one I can understand — but, only as it pertains to early generations of the system — or possibly specific versions. For instance, in a 2005 Volvo I had not too long ago, they worked fine. However, in a 2006 Saab I owned prior to that, they were obnoxious. They would start just fine, and, in some cases, continue as intended. Surprisingly often, though, they would start as usual — but after about three wipes, they would decide that I suddenly entered monsoon season in Thailand and wipe at full speed until I shut the system off. Very annoying, indeed — and, had it not been for some experience in other cars during my "swap driver" days, where the systems actually worked, I might have found myself hailing from camp two, never to have sensed the rain again.

So, I enjoy these features — and after having them, I seek them out for my daily driver cars, especially since my daily commute is 44 miles each way. But, whether it’s because they are unloved, misunderstood or outside of the norm, they often don’t get the appreciation they deserve.

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