Commentary: Resolving The Not-So Graceful Entry

2014 MAMA Spring Rally
Photo by Victory & Reseda


You know what that sound is? That's the sound of my head meeting the driver's side A-pillar when I'm climbing into the car. It's a weird sound – to you, perhaps.

And, I can feel your question already: Why does my head always meet the A-Pillar when I'm getting inside the car? I can also guess what your next question is…"How in the hell am I getting into a car?"

I do get into the car much differently than I'm supposed to. Since I don’t drive as often as I should (in pertaining to writing such a blog), it may seem that I’ve forgotten to properly do so.

Well…you tell me: "How do you get into a car?"

Before I go on, an explanation for those of you who do not know what an A-Pillar is. From the front of the car, each "pillar," connecting the body to the roof, is counted from the windshield to the rear. The A-Pillar frames the windshield and the front edge of the front doors of an automobile. It seems harmless enough – except automotive design dictates for better wind management inducing less drag and better fuel economy making the windshield angle more rakish than before.

Now that you had your engineering and design lesson for today, I did some research to find out how to manage the mystery of getting into an automobile. What I found online was some humorous website there is an eight-step way to get into as car.

1. Lean into cabin and insert the key…which is not exactly doable in some vehicles. A high-riding four-wheel-drive pickup, SUV or full-sized van would require you to climb into the cabin to execute the first step. In sports cars, do you have to squat down to get to the ignition key slot? Not exactly a pretty sight if you're tall and end up showing the moon, stars and sun to the world. Oh, who slots a key in the ignition anymore? We now have fobs that are distance sensitive with push buttons to start our cars. Maybe that's one less thing to worry about in today's machines…

2. The site says for me to sit down and adjust the seat accordingly. How? The site never told me exactly how to sit down in the seat. Do I face out the side of the car and plunk my butt down first, the swing my legs in? I heard that’s how women did it in the 1950s – or, at least that's what I saw in old commercials featuring Dinah Shore when she sold Chevrolets on NBC. There is a problem with that: What if my head smacks the door opening in the roof? My height is still an issue there, too! I normally get in feet-first – something I learned from driving pickups and older SUVs. Maybe I should try to sit down-first approach for sedans, coupes and SUV/crossovers with extreme windshield angles.

3. Check the mirrors. Well, of course I do! How else could I drive competently and defensively? Mirrors work well for the most part. I've yet to find a mirror I didn't like (that I could publicly comment on…).

4. Put the brake in. In automatic gearbox automobiles, there's no need to depress the clutch at the same time – though you would if you have a manual. In my case, pressing the brake is important. Otherwise, I'd be dead. Right? Thank you, unintended acceleration class-action lawsuits…

5. Release the parking brake. See the paragraph above. Oh, and parking brake repairs aren't cheap – and are quite embarrassing. Plus, today's vehicles have those electronic parking brakes. More things to worry about…

6. Start the car. Now, this could be interesting. What if you have an older car with a low battery and it won't start when it's subzero temperatures outside? The facts of life living in the Northern Climes is that winter can play havoc to a car. It is always assuring when you put the key in, turn the switch and hear the assuring sound of the motor come alive – or some indicator light in the dashboard of a hybrid saying that the engine is indeed on.

Here's another thought: What if you own a car without the traditional bladed key. As discussed in tip number one, the "key" that's actually a fob you slip in your pocket and is read by a sensor…and all you have to do is to push the button to turn the engine over. Welcome to the majority of vehicles I work with today!

No matter what your key looks like, it is the greatest feeling know your car will start so you can on your merry way – into traffic.

7. Put the car in gear. Reverse or Drive – wherever – as long as you're in motion somehow. Of course, you have to put the car in Drive – or some forward gear – when you are on the road. I can't imagine driving to work in reverse…

Oh, and by the way, if you have one of those newfangled e-shifters…in the mortal words of the late Robin Williams, "good luck!"

8. Select tunes. This is no longer as simple as it sounds. Still, solo motorists know to rely on something come from all corners of the cabin to ensure that life goes on outside the metal confines of the automobile. Think about all of the options you have: Bluetooth, USB, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM…and, which tunes should I select?

Why go through all of this? We often take the most mundane things for granted. We're also creatures of habit. Our start-up routine may be different pertaining to vehicle and driver. One cannot simply do the same thing to achieve the same result – right? A routine, such as getting behind the wheel of an automobile, we take for granted all too often to think we can do the same thing – in a different vehicle. That has been my lesson for years – a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited are not created equal. Neither is a fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro or an Alfa Romeo 4C.

If the "accidental A-Pillar test" proves one thing is that we often forget how familiar we get with the automobiles we love. We just don't adjust for new designs based on increasing aerodynamics to squeeze an additional 1-2 MPG out of something. If we do, we do so gracefully. Maybe that’s the answer! Just remember to gracefully get into the automobile and forget about playing race car driver the next time I get behind the wheel.

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