Five Favorite Features on Any Automobile

2011 Scion tC 18
Letting the sun shine in! Photo by Randy Stern

As much as we love our vehicles – there's always that one thing that makes us even love it more.

Just one?

There is always some feature that probably sold you on buying your vehicle in the first place. It is probably a gadget that you loved playing with every time you’re behind the wheel. After 100,000 miles, that gadget would be worn out from you playing with it over time. Or, it could be the only thing still going after 150,000 miles on the clock.

Maybe it's an aftermarket item you put on that made your vehicle better than it was when you first bought it. It could be those awesome rims matched to the best tires you ever invested in. Maybe it's that audio system you obsessed on how to create your perfect sound inside your vehicle.

What's your favorite feature on your vehicle? Is it the air conditioning that makes things arctic in the summer? What about the heated seats in the winter? You probably like the vehicle information readout in the dash?

In my case, I can list a few – perhaps five! It is another Five Favorites for those features I enjoyed in the automobiles I’ve driven over the years. Some you might agree with. Others – I'll let you decide.

To kick these five off, how about a major advance in vehicle monitoring and communications?

ONSTAR: In 1995, General Motors collaborated with Hughes Electronics and Electronic Data Systems to create one of the first telematics systems to be installed into an automobile. The idea was to link the vehicle to emergency services if it was either involved in an accident or was stolen. An antenna from the vehicle links up to a dedicated satellite to relay information – both voice and data – to OnStar's call centers and servers to ease the minds of customers – and save their lives. OnStar is also used for navigation purposes – perhaps my favorite part of the telematics suite. Today, OnStar has reach six million vehicles on three continents. Frankly, I wished every manufacturer would invest in this service for the sake of their customer's lives. It simply works. Although, you can now add OnStar by buying the FMV – rear view mirror and all – for your vehicle. That way, you can have your telematics and your cake, too!

SIRIUS XM: In North America, we are blessed to have an option from boring radio stations that our radio picks up when we're going long distances. Just several thousand miles above the Earth are a series of satellites bouncing off the programming provided by SiriusXM to your vehicle of mobile device with every niche almost possible to humankind. Certainly, I could not listen to every station, but I make sure to program the ones that entertain and inform me the most. On the top of my dial are 1st Wave with former KROQ air personality Richard Blade, 80s on 8 with MTV's original VJs, BPM with various electronica and trance tracks, Iceberg – that's if I have Sirius instead of XM – for great Canadian music, Backspin for my hip-hop memory bank and OutQ – because it’s the law for us LGBT folk.

BLUETOOTH: As stated in a prior article, it is legal for me in the State of Minnesota to operate a motor vehicle using a hands-free device connected to my mobile phone. Yet, the Department of Public Safety would rather have me not make any phone calls using my device – hands free or not – to maintain safe operation of the vehicle. I'm also required to not text and drive. In these instances, a Bluetooth connection between my current Blackberry and the audio system of a vehicle can be a blessing or a curse. I think it eliminates the stress of dealing with phone calls while driving. Just use it wisely.

SUNROOF: It took me 31 years to finally get the gumption to drive a convertible. Until then, I was adverse to having nothing complete above and around here – especially when I was behind the wheel. The compromise is a sunroof – the bigger the better. On sunny days, I have no qualms in flipping the switch and letting the sky into the car. Looking up when it's closed – and shade pulled back – may be fine, but why not let a little atmosphere inside? The drawback may be the airflow dip I created by opening off the sunroof panel. The price I say for some limited hedonism.

REVERSING CAMERA: Not everyone can crane their neck to see what's behind them, despite the fact that you’re supposed to when you are backing up the vehicle. Then again, there are now vehicles on the road where rear vision is compromised by a designer's ego. For the owners of those vehicles, a little camera can be installed discreetly at the rear so you can see what to avoid when throwing the vehicle into reverse. I use it for guidance, because I still believe in using my mirrors and craning my neck towards the back. They certainly help ease the pain of reversing in areas where judging distance and obstacles can be a challenge.

Now, if you think I'd stop at Five Favorites – think again! Here's a bonus from my own past…

SONY AM/FM/CASSETTE PULLOUT AND INFINITY SPEAKERS: The story goes that the salesperson that sold my 1991 Acura Integra RS coupe knew I was very discriminating about the sound quality inside my new car. Instead of ordering the installation of an Alpine system designed for Acura, he figured I'd go across US-101 to The Good Guys (remember them?) and get a perfectly matched set-up. He was right. It was a self-amplified Sony AM/FM/Cassette pullout head unit (We’re talking 1990 here) connected to four Infinity coaxial speakers – two in the doors, the other two above the rear suspension strut heads and hidden with the Acura’s speaker covers. The result is a perfect sound that never buzzed on pounding bass and the sweetest highs from my cassettes. Never had De La Soul, R.E.M., U2, Sting, Lisa Fischer, and Public Enemy sounded so fantastic!

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