We’re supposed to be pros at this. Us auto writer folk are generally a well-educated if occasionally off-kilter lot, with some engineers, many fascinated by cutting-edge auto tech, and who regularly push a car’s dynamic limits at test tracks around the world.
Plus we cycle in and out of test vehicles regularly, often test driving different new vehicles every week, sometimes back to back in our famous comparison tests. And that’s not counting the many technical briefings we absorb (or at least sit through), interviews with senior auto execs and engineers, plus sneak previews of all-new models or concept cars that we jet off to see or sample.
And sometimes, we can’t figure out how to pop the hood.
Yes, I’ll admit it – this one happened to me. Thanks BMW, for requiring a unique two-pull latch that sounds like it’s unlatching on first pull, and even pops up slightly to tell you it’s a done deal. But that is just a tease, apparently, to lure you into groping the entire underside of the hood multiple times, with extra dirty fingers as your punishment for persistence (or for failing to note the ‘x2’ on the hood latch that seems so obvious when viewed from the passenger side, but less so from the driver’s side).
We’ve now surveyed our regular writers for their stories of auto frustration, confusion, and angst, and somehow it feels better to know that I’m not the only one of my peers to be confounded by a hood latch. Or a hidden gas-cap release.
So hopefully we can make some of you feel a little better if your car’s ever confounded or frustrated you by rounding up a few tales of how modern cars – or even our own older ones – have made us feel dumb, inadequate, daft, or just overall unworthy of being a car enthusiast.
“I looked. And I looked. And I looked. At the centre console, within the gauge cluster – everywhere. Even spent 20 minutes or so navigating the infotainment system to see if I could find a way to activate what I was looking for – a simple back-up camera in the 2017 Toyota C-HR.
“‘How could this be?!?!?’ I thought. ‘How could a car championed as the tech leader in its segment not have a simple back-up camera? Even the almost-base model Mazda3 sedan gets one of those!’
“Turns out, much to my chagrin, so did the C-HR: right there in the left corner of the rear-view mirror, activated as soon as you select reverse. Every time.
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“Almost turned in my auto journo card after that one.”
“A colleague had to find the one USB port in the 2017 Mitsubishi RVR for me. Looked for the usual 2.0 port under the dashboard, in the armrest, under the armrest, under the dashboard, in the doors, on the sides of the tunnel....
“It was in the glove box... At the end of a CABLE (insert campside horror story screams).”
“I was driving a Cadillac ATS a few years back to visit my sister three hours out of town. The entire ride, there was an annoying ‘ding ding ding’ every 15 seconds or so. Three dings, 30 seconds of quiet, then three more dings.
“All. The. Way. There.
“Lane departure? Attention alert? Some malfunction? Nope – a comical selection of things. Specifically, an overly sensitive passenger-seat occupant sensor that thought my large water bottle was a person sitting there, who wasn’t buckled up.
“And the seatbelt alert light? That was mounted up on the ceiling, where I didn’t see it when glancing around. It was blinking with the dinging, but I didn’t see it.
“And now, I know.”
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“Well, I guess like my old 2000 Viper, the seats don’t recline on my 2008 Dodge Viper. I told myself, ‘Oh well, part of the charm. Oh, and I guess there’s no trip meter for the digital odometer read out, either. Oh well!’
“Turns out the seat recline levers and trip meter button were both present, but hidden behind or jammed into some interior trim panels that were clearly not designed to accommodate them. I went two months before realizing the car had both features.”
“Trying to put the first BMW M car I drove, an M6, into Park. Spent 15 minutes in front of the grocery store.
"There is no Park.”
“Despite being a known fan of BMWs, I must say I’ve taken issue with them forcing technology and change just for the sake of doing it. Several years ago the geniuses in Munich decided that the way turn-signal stalks had successfully operated since the dawn of man was no longer satisfactory, and they changed them to the current style that always springs back into its ‘resting’ position. A half movement equals three flashes for a lane change, and a full movement keeps the signal on for a turn – but the stalk doesn’t ‘click’ anymore.
“Not only did it drive me nuts, but the first time driving a new BMW with this ‘feature’ had me doing all sorts of erratic signaling, assuming it wasn’t working properly.
“And don’t get me started on BMW going to an electronic gear-selection stalk. Much like the turn signal fiasco, the gear selector no longer moves through a set track for P-R-N-D, instead requiring a forward push for reverse, and a backward pull for drive.
“Figuring out Park required a separate, small button on top seems second nature now, but the first time I drove it, I sat there for what felt like minutes trying to figure out how to actually park the darn thing.”
“My first drive of an NC model Mazda MX-5 remains one of the worst and most embarrassing times of my life. Not only was I at a servo [Australian for ‘gas station’ – Ed.] with one of my rugby mates, but a car load of other teammates rocked up to refuel at the exact same moment.
“I couldn't find the fuel-cap release. Anywhere. I climbed in, I climbed out. I looked under the wheel, the floor mat, the hood release. I tried to push the door like one of those spring-loaded jobbies. No joy.
“In the end, I had to google ‘how do you open the fuel door on a 2016 Mazda Miata’ to find the lever – hidden in the cabinet between the seats.
“To this day, whenever someone at rugby finds out what I do and tells me it’s ‘cool’, someone asks me, ‘How do you open the fuel door on an MX-5?’
“It's hard to be cool when you're a moron.”