Help! I am being held prisoner!
How did I end up a prisoner in a car? Here’s the saga.
My car had been recalled to replace something called a valve spring. From a mechanic’s perspective, this would not be difficult but could be very time-consuming, because the engine would have to be removed to reach the crucial spot. So it could be a one-day job or might take two or three days.
I accepted a loaner, which was a 2019 car with just a few thousand miles on it. In other words, new. The first time I’d driven a new car since 2002.
By letting you drive the newest cars with all the latest features while your older car is being worked on, the dealership hopes you’ll be more likely to return when it’s time to buy your next car – and you might even love the new car so much, you’ll buy it that much sooner.
I requested that someone accompany me to the loaner because I would need help figuring out how to adjust the seat – the mechanics there have legs much longer than mine. So a chap escorted me to the vehicle. Despite its being a hot day, all the windows were up. I wondered why. I always leave my windows open when parked on a hot day. The fellow handed me the key fob, I thanked him, reached for the handle to pull open the driver’s door –
WROO-WROO-WROO went the car alarm. I froze and meekly held out the fob so the employee could make the noise stop. He did so.
“The alarm was on?” I asked, incredulous.
“Sure,” he replied. (Would anyone have tried to steal the car if the alarm hadn’t been set for the 30 seconds it took from the time it was brought around until I reached it? I think not. The alarm is needless dazzle.)
“Does that mean the doors are locked too?” I asked.
“Please unlock all the doors.” He pushed a button to do so. “Good,” I said. “Now the doors are unlocked, and they’re going to stay that way until I return the car.”
I bet the car had a good chuckle over that one.
The employee politely and efficiently adjusted the car seat so my feet could reach the pedals. Then I turned on the ignition and –
“BABY-BABY-BABY,” blared a song on the radio. I winced at the sonic assault and turned off the device.
“Guess the last driver left the radio on,” I stated.
The employee smiled but said nothing.
I drove away to Walmart. I purposely did not lock the doors, because I wanted the ease of being able to put my purchase into the rear seat and then getting back behind the wheel without having to do any unlocking. Plus, I wanted the car to remain unlocked, at all times, until I returned it; with just one key, I didn’t want to risk getting locked out.
But when I returned to the car and attempted to stow my purchase, the rear door was locked.
“Funny,” I muttered. “I don’t remember locking it.” I reached for the driver’s door so I could open the rear door from within.
But the driver’s door was locked too. (At least the alarm hadn’t been set.)
I fussed with the key fob to unlock the disobedient vehicle.
Then I got in and turned the key to start the engine –
“HONEY HONEY HONEY!” Oh no. The radio again. Hadn’t I turned it off? I pushed the button to get blessed silence. Then I drove.
En route, I stopped at a red light. I was fourth or fifth in line. The car first in line made a right turn on red, and the cars behind it inched up. I stayed put.
BLAM BLAM BLAM! There was sudden activity – lights and noises – coming from the dashboard screen. Taking my eyes off the road and the other cars, I studied the dashboard. With icons and words, the loaner was saying the car in front of me had proceeded and so should I.
“But the light is still red,” I protested. “My inching up is not going to do anyone any good. Besides, I’ll be going straight, so let’s wait for it to turn green.”
“PAY ATTENTION!” the dashboard kept silently screaming.
“Hey, who’s the driver here?” I retorted. “If a car runs a red light, would you tell me to follow it? Are you even aware when the light is red?”
As I drove, I pushed the button to unlock all the doors. (I’m happier with the doors unlocked. Don’t like feeling trapped.) After a second the doors re-locked. I pushed the button once more, unlocking the doors again. They quickly re-locked.
“Hey, let me unlock the doors!” I commanded.
“No way!” it mutely replied.
I was a prisoner in the car. I imagine kidnappers would find this feature useful, to prevent their victims from escaping. Otherwise, I can’t see why a person in a car should not be allowed to unlock a door and have that door remain unlocked.
When I got into the garage at home, I tried to outsmart the car. I left all four windows open before exiting. Then I went to each door and, reaching in from outside, unlocked each door manually. Now the car doors would remain unlocked. Or so I hoped.
At least they would remain unlocked until I restarted the engine.
I was too scared to drive the car anywhere else. It stayed in the garage until the next morning when the dealership phoned to say my older car was ready.
I jumped into the borrowed car and turned the key to head off to the dealership –
“ROCK, ROCK, ROCK!” screamed the radio. This time, before shutting it off, I carefully lowered the radio volume to zero. At last, I had outsmarted the car. Perhaps the radio would still start automatically, but it wouldn’t emit an aural blast.
Eventually I found myself behind a bicyclist, who was trying to keep to the edge of the road. But the road was narrow, just one thin lane in each direction, and the car was wide. I decided the safest course would be to veer left and give the bicyclist a wide berth.
“ERROR! ERROR! ERROR!” the dashboard silently shrieked. This time the buzzers and icons and words were criticizing me for having crossed the yellow dividing line and having entered partially the oncoming-traffic lane (which was empty, of course, or I wouldn’t have performed such a maneuver).
“Stop being a back-seat driver,” I told the car. “You’re worse than a mother-in-law.”
“STAY IN YOUR LANE,” the car silently commanded. “WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM? HAVE YOU BEEN DRINKING?” Or so I felt it was saying as the dashboard kept flashing its disapproval at me.
The dashboard messages were far more distracting than anything I could do on my own. If I ended up clipping the bicyclist, it would be because of dashboard distraction. The car’s “intelligence” was making this a far more dangerous and stressful drive than if I had been in a traditional car.
When I reached the dealership, I inquired about the doors locking automatically.
“That’s one of our newest safety features,” an employee proudly told me.
“Is there any way to turn it off?” I asked her.
“Did you know the radio turns on automatically even if you don’t go near it?”
“That’s what our customers want.”
“Can’t turn off that feature?”
I had more questions but I slunk away, eager to reclaim my “dumb” car, and then drove gratefully home with the doors unlocked and the radio off.
I’m sure many others would have loved the car I was loaned, but I hated it. When it’s time to buy another car, it will NOT be that model or any other vehicle with self-locking doors, a constantly-on radio, or a “back-seat driver” dashboard that nags and shrieks to the point of distraction.
The consumerism lesson is: Figure out for yourself what you want or need, and then pursue it. There’s no need to follow the crowd. Some crowds don’t merit following.
If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.