The Pointless Thing

I recently bought a new car. Well, it’s new to me, even if it is nearly 12 years old. I got it in Wales, where car prices are much less ridiculous than in this part of Scotland. You can get a much better one for the same limited budget.

It’s the same age as my old Ford Fiesta (it hasn’t travelled anywhere near as far) and I only really changed because of where I live. I need higher ground clearance and occasionally four wheel drive if the steep dirt driveway is wet. Yet it has more buttons than a button-based thing made out of buttons and I’m still working out what they all do. There are some I might never press.

It also has all manner of strange indicators. One, at least, is so pointless as to be potentially dangerous.

Yesterday, while driving at my normal sedate and leisurely pace (CStM need not comment here) along a country road, the car started to slide. While I was engaged in not crashing, which the car managed really quite well despite a hairy few seconds of steering, the dashboard beeped and lit up a little light. So while dealing with a skid, part of me had to wonder what was wrong with the car. What was that warning light?

No time to look at it, no time to study the tiny image. When I had the car under control again the beeping stopped and the little light went out.

I had to drive home at a ridiculously low speed, almost within the speed limit, because I thought the warning light meant something had gone wrong. Was there a fault in the steering?

No, it turns out the car has a ‘slipping wheels’ indicator. If it skids, a little light comes on and a warning beep sounds. And I thought… well, I can’t tell you what I thought because that would get the blog rated ‘not suitable for children or the delicate or pretty much anyone’.

Really. It has a warning to tell you when the thing it’s warning you about is actually in the process of happening. What the Hell is the point of that? I knew the car was skidding. I was driving it at the time. I was in the process of dealing with it while the car whined at me ‘We’re skidding’. I KNOW!

That kind of indicator is beyond superfluous. It’s a distraction while you’re dealing with a problem. It could really prove to be dangerous. Still, at least I know to ignore it in future.

The trouble is, I see it as the ‘Tobacco Control effect’ in my car. If it keeps telling me about things I don’t need to be told about, or things that don’t matter, I will ignore it.

Then, one day, it’ll try to tell me about a real problem and I’ll ignore that too…

I have the Haynes manual for this car now though. Let the meddling commence  😀


32 thoughts on “The Pointless Thing

          • Yeah, right. Not political correctness eh? Odd how Brenda Starr, Rex Morgan, Dick Tracy, Broom Hilda and all the rest of the comic strips had characters who “just happened” to all decide to quit smoking at about the same time eh?

            Like the way sitcoms “just happen” to have episodes like this 7th Heaven one I wrote about in Brains:

            One particular episode of 7th Heaven featured an evil twin smoking after his smoking father passed away from lung cancer, while one of the regular teen characters started smoking, influencing two toddlers to emulate him by pretending to smoke with crayons as another teen regular kept loudly proclaiming all smokers’ stupidity and another younger teen quit a newly acquired habit to prove that he wasn’t stupid. To top it all off, yet another smoking character was thrown into the mix to rudely blow smoke in a nonsmoker’s face at an outdoor café while the home she was house-sitting simultaneously burned down from one of her cigarettes… after which she simply lit up another smoke and stalked off with a comment about the place being insured and nonsmokers being uptight! (No, I am not making this up.)

            Of course with TV there was an economic pressure: when shows did stuff like the above they got their “PSA Requirements” forgiven, so it was worth millions to them in being freed of public service advertising requirements when they’d insert antismoking messages into their programming.


            Liked by 1 person

  1. Leggy – the dash light isn’t telling you that you are skidding, its telling you that the traction control has kicked in. Power is reduced to the drive wheels to prevent them spinning. If the car has electronic stability control the brakes are also applied to each wheel individually to help steering.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. You may have the Haynes manual, which nowadays tells you to take the car to the main dealer whenever it’s too complicated for your girlie brain, but have you bought an OBD scanner to tell you when something really matters? If you do you’ll be one step ahead of the garage’s invoicing department!

    Liked by 1 person

    • OBD scanner? Cripes, that sounds expensive!

      It really bugs me that modern cars are completely off-limits to the DIY mechanic. I used to do all (or nearly all) my own car repairs back in the day, but these days when you lift the bonnet, it’s like you’re looking at some sort of warp-drive unit.

      No more nipping down the local breaker’s yard to pick up another engine for transplant purposes. Gone are the days when you carried wire coat hangers for exhaust repairs, emery paper for cleaning the rotor arm and a gallon of brake fluid for frequent top-ups.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You can pick up a decent OBD scanner for £10 from fleabay, which will give you all the standard DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Codes). However some manufacturers have introduced their own set of codes on top for things like ABS, and these scanners cost a bit more.

        Repairs and maintenence are easier now than they have ever been – I also spent years fiddling with points and rotor arms but now its done electronically. You can tweak the timing/fuel mixture simply by plugging a laptop into the OBD port.

        Similarly, carbs are now replaced by throttle bodies – no floats or jets to have you tearing your hair out. There is no fuel in a throttle body, the only substance to pass through it is air. Fuel is added to the airstream by an injector, its ‘open’ duration, and thus fuel/air mixture controlled by the throttle position sensor and ECU. Brakes, clutches and engine block are still basically the same for repair or maintenence and exhausts are now often double skinned or stainless which eliminates the need for coat hangers, though there is nothing preventing you from using one as before.


        • I have two problems with these management systems in cars. One, I’m a better driver than any computer and have a lot more actual experience. I also know that sometimes you need to be able to power out of a skid and the computer (that will say no) won’t let me do that. Result….crash.
          Two, quite often the management system is the thing that is wrong and you spend a fortune fixing things that aren’t actually broken. This happened to me recently.


          • The computer’s reactions are hundreds of times quicker than yours, it can apply then let off individual brakes 50 or so times in the time it takes you to react to the situation. You may be a better driver in general but these systems don’t need to make any decisions or assess road conditions – all it needs to know is that one or more of the wheels has lost traction. Also powering out of a skid is useless if the wheels have no traction, it just makes them spin more which is why the computer doesn’t do it. The quickest way of getting out of any skid is to give traction back to the wheels and restore control.

            In answer to your second point, if you intend fixing things yourself then you should start with a little knowledge of how they work and what they do. If you fix what isn’t broke its hardly the fault of the technology, its your lack of knowledge about it.


      • I had brake fluid and a bottle of water in the boot of the last car. The one before, I had to carry a can of petrol too, because none of the dashboard was working.

        So far, no supplementary bits in the boot but it’s a big boot. I can get a lot of crap in there.


  3. One of the things that put me off the RAV4 was all those warning devices going off mid maneuvre. I bought a Subaru instead, which just gets on with managing the skid and doesn’t make a fuss. So far I’ve only had a couple of twitches when crossing packed ice, and then I was going at a fair lick round corners.


    • I did see a few Subaru Foresters going for sale but they were so old they still had cassette players.

      Also if the UK insurers hear ‘Subaru’, their eyes light up like cash registers.


      • An old (2007) Forester would be a good bet. The Symmetrical AWD is brilliant on rough terrain, ice and snow. We have a 2010, with it’s iconic crossover SUV styling. They’re safer than just about any other car I’ve driven. No idea why the insurance would be so high, unless it’s because they’re eeeevil carbon belching SUV’s. Which is nonsense of course.


        • I’ll look again next time I need a change – after I make my fortune as a publisher 😉

          I think the UK has the idea that all Subaru make are racing cars for the boy racers.


          • I has a subaru legacy for a… number… of years, until I spent more time welding it than I did driving it. Fantastic car. Replaced it with an ‘outback’ – which is the nearest they now do.
            Absolutely brilliant on and off road, if you’re driving in winter, get winter tyres even if you’ve got AWD. If you’re driving anywhere north of Rannoch Moor carry chains as well. 4WD will only do so much.

            I think the reason insurance is so high for subaru’s is that they’re intended as cars for farmers. So there are a lot of sheep related claims (surprising how much damage an angry sheep can cause in the boot of a car). This is based entirely on the condition of the boot of the last two I’ve bought. To say they needed a deep clean is… an understatement.

            The other side of it is that insurance agents hear ‘Impreza’ and see pound signs light up in their eyes.


            • The RAV4 I bought was immaculate. It had done about 2000 miles a year for the previous five years, with service history intact.

              It’s done almost a year’s worth in the last month 😉


          • My daughter drives a Subaru Impreza (with all the letters and numbers after the name, designating it as the fastest of that model). Plus she’s had larger turbos fitted and the engine management system remapped so it now registers over 400 bhp on the dynamometer.

            She’s a bit of a fast car nut. Fortunately, she’s also a very good driver, and actually understands what’s going on under the bonnet.

            I drove her last Impeza (only 340 bhp) a few years back and it was frighteningly fast. When I gave it a bit of wellie, in no time at all I was doing 130 mph, with lots still in hand, so I shudder to think what her current one is like.

            Needless to say, she pays a fortune in insurance, despite being mid 30s with a clean licence.


  4. I mildly disagree. I think that modern cars that tell you loads of stuff are marvellous. Also, the general reliability of all systems has risen exponentially in the last 25-30 years. One thing for example: who cares if an alternator or a starter-motor fails? You just get a new one for about £100, ish; you can’t economically repair it anyway, although I guess Legiron could! The real fag is climbering about upside down in the dark with a greasy spanner trying to fit the thing.

    Er no, sorry; I support the effort of modern cars in their attempt to grow up and learn how to speak to us, their masters!


    • I did, twice, fix a starter motor. First on the Cortina, a jammed cog that refused to move down the shaft to engage. Then one on the Princess. It had sheared off the copper power connector and I had to take it apart to fit a new one.

      I think I still have the spring compressor in my toolbox.

      I also stripped and serviced several carburettors on the kitchen table while smoking. In those days we didn’t have health and safety so nothing was dangerous.

      I’m with Nisakiman on modern engines. It takes long enough just to find the oil dipstick now!


  5. All that’s going on with that indicator is that the car is telling you that the surface is skiddy, and that it is having to use the traction control system (which applies the brakes on wheels it thinks are skidding) to maintain traction. If you don’t like it, you can turn it off via a discreet button that is usually somewhere out of the way on the bottom-right of the dashboard (it was on both the Toyotas I’ve owned).

    At a deeper level, the old car technology can only get you so far. As soon as you reach the limits of carburettor technology, for instance, that’s it, you cannot refine the system any further without introducing technology. Diesels are worse for this; an old indirect injection diesel was about as far as you could get on simple technology and to go any further you have to put more technology in.

    So, a modern petrol engine has a variable-pitch turbocharger in it, and direct fuel injection. It injects fuel so that most of the cylinder is at a very lean mixture, and only the bit next to the spark plug is rich enough to be set off by that spark. Direct injection petrol is now as efficient as diesel; you waste almost no calorific value in the fuel. The only way to do any better is with a hybrid system of some sort.


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