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Automotive Innovations We Are Thankful For

Modern computerized infotainment HVAC interface

There is no doubt about the fact that we are now living in the future. Yes, there are still no jetpacks or flying cars, but it is looking like we are just a few short years from the cars that drive themselves. Things have changed so quickly in these first 17 years of the 21st century, it is easy to forget about how it used to be. Let’s take a look back and give thanks for all the technologies that we now take for granted in our cars and driving.

  • GPS - Smartphones, in general, deserve praise, but it is the GPS navigation ability built into all of them that we are going to focus on. Remember when a GPS satellite navigation system was an extra cost option available in only the most expensive luxury cars? Those early units needed maps on a CD-ROM, which were obsolete almost the minute they were shipped out. Now, for no extra cost, you can punch your destination into your phone and it will give you turn by turn directions, or even suggest gas or lunch spots along the way.
     
  • OBDII - Once upon a time, during the transition period from early emission controlled carburetor equipped cars, to current electronic fuel injected computerized cars, there was fear among professionals and do-it-yourselfers alike. Now, pretty much everyone has embraced the world of the onboard diagnostic system with its check engine lights and error codes. The amount of real-time information available about your car now dwarfs what professional race teams had 20 years ago, and make diagnosing and fixing problems easier.
     
  • Heated Seats - In winter weather, is there any feature more appreciated than heated seats? Amazingly enough Cadillac offered this first in the late 1960s, and Saab had it in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 21st century that it was available on even economy cars. No longer do you have to get in a cold car and wait for minutes while the motor warms up. Hit the switch and in seconds your backside is getting warmed by the electric elements in the seat. You can even add this feature to your car for about $20 in the form of heated seat covers.
Wild car of the future with all modern features
  • Rearview Cameras - Even if you are an expert driver, who can back a box truck up a narrow alley in the dead of night using only the side mirrors, you probably appreciate the rearview camera. These may seem redundant to some people, but for tasks like hitching up a trailer, they are indispensable. The safety aspects are the real reason they are now mandatory because small children (and pets) often don’t look where they are going and may be too short to be seen in the mirrors.
     
  • Keyless Entry - We aren’t talking about the push button key fobs here, but true proximity based entry that unlocks automatically when you approach. This tech is still not available in every car, but more and more of them are offering it at least as an option. No longer will you fumble for your keys while your hands are full of shopping bags. Some SUVs even bundle this feature with the power liftgate that you can open with the kick of a foot.
     
  • Anti-lock Brakes - This feature isn’t even all that new, but it is always extra appreciated when the weather gets bad. Can you remember the last time you slammed on the brakes and skidded out of control? It is almost unheard of, at least on dry pavement. It is estimated ABS reduced all traffic accidents by 6-9% since its introduction, and reduced accidents on wet or icy roads by nearly 15%.
     
  • Modern All-Season Tires - It is hard to pinpoint when this happened, but some time in the recent past tires got really, really good. It is not unheard of for a tire these days to last more than 50,000 miles. That is incredible, but even more so is that fact that these tires have more traction than fast wearing 1980s sports car tires on dry pavement while providing decent traction in the rain or light snow. On top of all that? They are even less expensive.
     
  • Aerodynamics - It may have taken years for computer and wind tunnel designed cars to escape from the melted stick of butter look of the 80s and 90s. These days, even with better aerodynamics, cars have regained their own unique look and style. And thanks to modern design and aero tweaks, cars cruise down the road effortlessly, getting 40 mpg on the freeway.
     
  • Modern Infotainment - It doesn’t matter if you like talk radio, top 40, classical music, or books on tape, the modern infotainment system is worlds better than the cassette and CD-based systems of last century. Sure, some cars have complicated voice-activated, cellular data plan connected computerized systems, but even the most basis has an input jack to connect to your phone. On a system with a USB input, all you need is a thumb drive to take with you the Beatles full discography, plus Benedict Cumberbatch reading the entire Arthur Conan Doyle “Sherlock Holmes” library.
     
  • Crash Structure Improvement - Cars today do everything better than they once did, and you don’t even have to buy the latest, most expensive model for this to be true. While motor vehicle accidents have ticked up a little in recent years (due to traffic and distracted driving) fatalities per capita are down 35% since 1979, and that is mostly because cars are much safer. Cars may be harder to fix after a collision, but that damage is designed into it to protect the occupants.