June 9, 2013

Have you ever noticed how different one car is from the next? I have. After weeks and weeks of rental cars, I still seem to have some trouble with figuring out exactly how a car works. For background, I had a Toyota Corolla for three years – manual locks and windows.

Let’s look at the first time I drove the Prius, which is my boyfriend’s car. I already knew I just had to have the key in pocket. But then, I hit the power button, switched to reverse and nothing. Had to call to learn that you have to push the brake first. Ok, that seems kinda obvious now. Then I couldn’t find the emergency brake, which at least I realized was engaged. This resulted in another phone call and kinda my fault because my Corolla had the e-brake by the side of the driver seat and not the foot pedals. Then I never really figured out that you need to turn the lights OFF so that the screen is BRIGHTER during the day. This gets me every time! Last – when the key runs out of batteries, it does not unlock your car. It is not terribly intuitive to figure how to do this when the key is not really a key. Had to make a phone call for that too.

So that was a lot of trouble with the car I currently drive. But rental cars. Why can’t everything be the same? Here’s my list of things that seem to confuse me every time.

  1. How to open the gas tank – at least it’s pretty standard how to tell which side it’s on.
  2. Different air controls for driver vs passenger – who really needs this?
  3. Up or down for intermittent windshield wipers?
  4. Lights – where are they? And why can’t the icon for automatic be the same everywhere?
  5. OnStar – why do they put this almost in the exact place I put my hand to adjust my rearview mirror? I accidentally called them in my last rental car and did not know what was going on.
  6. Radio controls – I thought this was pretty standard. Until I got a car where the seek buttons only switched between saved stations. It took me almost all week to figure out how to get to a non-saved station.

Final notes – the new Prius has the WORST graphic for the hybrid system indicator screen (I had to do a lot of googling to figure out what this was called). Had pretty had (still have?) zero clue what it’s telling me. Do I make the bar fill up? Is that good?

Also Minis are a terribly confusing car. The rental car person spent almost 10 minutes explaining how to drive this car. Why would you put window/lock controls in the bottom middle? And why does the turn signals have a weird half on mode that only lasts for three seconds?



  1. I drove Dan’s car for the first time a couple weeks ago, to drop him off at the train station. That was super confusing. It had this weird-ass gearshift that was all zig-zag. It was also during a massive rainstorm, which didn’t make things easier.

    • Except that all of the settings go in downward sequence. It’s zig-zag to tell you where you are on the shift.

      • I was essentially solving a puzzle box every time I wanted to shift gear.

      • Yeah, dude, it’s super complicated:


      • That picture is so deceptively angled. It looked more like this:


        But in my mind it felt like I was trying to operate this:


  2. I had an issue with an American car once where the lights were on a dial instead of a lever to the left of the wheel. I hated it.

    Every car has a slightly different design philosophy, which is neat, but then you also come up against design philosophies of different countries. Very cool stuff to me, but frustrating if you need to do get somewhere quickly and have to move quickly. I suppose this is yet another convenient lie told in movies where people steal/jump in new cars…

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