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Car Tech: 8 Features You Might Want to Skip

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author photo by Doug DeMuro March 2015

If you're interested in buying a new car, you've probably already realized that modern vehicles offer more technology than ever before. There are advanced infotainment systems, futuristic safety features and a wide range of modern gadgets you've probably never even considered. But some of this technology isn't ready for the mainstream: A few features don't quite work like you'd expect, if they work at all. After we saw a list of car tech features that don't work properly on CarThrottle.com, we decided to make a similar list of our own: high-tech automotive options and features that aren't worth the extra cash.

Automatic High Beams

The idea of automatic high beams is a great one, but in virtually every car we've tested, we've found them a little too sensitive to actually work properly. When activated, automatic high-beam systems are supposed to shine high beams on dark roads, then automatically dim the lights when a car is approaching. But what we've found is that automatic high beams dim when there's not just a car approaching but also a street light, a porch light or even a very reflective road sign. We like the idea but not the execution.

Automatic Sound Leveling

In theory, automatic sound leveling is supposed to raise and lower the volume of the stereo as you speed up and slow down, thereby counteracting typical wind noise and road noise. What happens instead is the feature either raises the sound too much or not enough, and when you slow down, it always seems like the music is too faint, but you can't turn it back up to compensate or it will become even louder when you start moving again. This is one feature we almost always turn off whenever we find ourselves in a car equipped with it.

Auto-Opening Tailgate

Several automakers have branched into the world of the auto-opening tailgate, but we're sad to say that we don't quite think the feature is ready for its mainstream debut. Here's how it's supposed to work: Your hands are full and your keys are in your pocket, so you swipe your foot under the car's bumper to automatically open the tailgate. Here's how it actually works: You stand in a parking lot with grocery bags in each arm, swiping at an invisible force under your car that only sometimes opens the tailgate. This car tech feature is a good idea in theory but not quite ready yet in practice.

Drowsy-Driver Detection

We like the idea of a drowsy-driver detection system, which monitors your heart rate, your breathing and your eye movements to let you know if you're simply too tired to be driving a car. Unfortunately, most drowsy-driver detection systems don't have anywhere near this level of capability. Instead, they're usually based on how long you've been driving, and they rarely factor in breaks and quick stops that could include a coffee to keep you wide-awake. In other words, this feature isn't ready for the mainstream just yet, and we wouldn't pay extra for it.

Lane-Keeping Assist

We like the idea of lane-keeping assist systems, which will steer a vehicle back into its lane if the system detects that a driver hasn't noticed the vehicle starting to wander. So what's the problem? Most of these systems will only steer the car once, and they rarely send the vehicle on a straight path. What happens is that you begin to drift out of your lane, either due to fatigue or distraction, and then the system kicks in and sends you in the other direction, but now your car is pointed too far toward the other side! Unfortunately, you'll have to take over at this point, as few lane-keeping assist systems will steer more than once at a time. As a result, we strongly prefer autonomous steering systems, which can monitor lane lines on both sides to steer you in the right direction.

Massaging Seats

The idea of a massaging seat is a fantastic one: You're driving down the road and you want to relax, so you set your luxury car's seat to the massage function. But there's a problem: We've never had a single massage from a car's seat that felt even remotely comfortable. Instead, it feels like exactly what it is: devices inside the seat that move in a wide variety of motions, therefore producing the most synthetic-feeling massage we could possibly imagine. We don't think this technology is ready for the real world, and we wonder if it ever will be.

Quad-Zone Automatic Climate Control

Here's how quad-zone (or 4-zone) climate control is supposed to work: Each occupant of the vehicle sets an individual climate-control switch to a desired temperature. Air blows out of the climate-control system to automatically reach the desired temperature in each zone, but there's a problem: A car is not like a house, and the zones are hardly self-contained. In fact, they're right next to one another. The result is, if front passengers want hot air and rear passengers want cold air, the zones are bound to mix, and that means nobody will end up happy.

Voice Control

Despite repeated attempts by dozens of automakers over the last decade, voice control just doesn't work properly. In a perfect world, the system is supposed to allow you to say a few words ("Call Bob") and it will perfectly execute your command so you never have to take your hands off the steering wheel. Instead, what happens is the system asks "Call Todd?", and you must scold it. "No," you say. "Call Bob!" The system replies with an inevitable "calling Todd!", and you're reminded why voice control still isn't worth the extra money.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Car Tech: 8 Features You Might Want to Skip - Autotrader