Confusing Car Controls

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For decades, traditional automatic shift levers had park at the top, down to reverse, and drive at the bottom. (KFSN)

Even the most basic controls are confusing and potentially dangerous.
For decades, traditional automatic shift levers had park at the top, down to reverse, and drive at the bottom. You could see and feel the shifter go into position. Now newer designs give you electronic levers, push buttons, and even dials to get into gear.

In this BMW, you push the electronic lever forward to go into reverse. It stays in gear, but the shifter pops back to center. And in this Mercedes-Benz, the shifter is where the windshield wiper lever usually is. Tom Mutchler of Consumer Reports says this can be a problem: "For people with years of driving experience, these shifters just aren't intuitive. They force you to unlearn years of muscle memory. In an emergency, you can revert back to old habits and pick the wrong gear."

The new controls are even confusing for Jeffrey Reiff, a car enthusiast and auto-product liability attorney, "I don't believe that one should have to pull out an owner's manual to figure out how to use lights or wipers."

Even turning the car on and off has gotten complicated. In the 2015 Lincoln MKC, the ignition button is on the dashboard, where you can hit it by mistake. That happened to several drivers, so Lincoln recalled the MKC earlier this year and is relocating the switch. "Design can't get in the way of function. Controls should be simple, intuitive, and safe," says Mutchler.

Not all modern cars are overly complicated. Consumer Reports found that many models from Chevrolet, Hyundai, and Kia have simple, straightforward controls, even though they still have lots of high-tech features.
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automotiveconsumer reportsconsumer watch
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