A computer on wheels
As some people say, a car is now a computer on wheels. Tesla cars in particular have massive TV screens on the front dashboard. Not only that, some cars have video cameras too. You only need to get into your car and you can have most of the facilities that you get with your smartphone, but you can only use your phone in ‘handsfree mode’ when driving. Obviously there are many advantages of driving assisted by a computer, because it can control the engine to make it more efficient and economical. Needless to say, there are disadvantages when there is no electric power (i.e. flat batteries).
With an electric car, it will clam up completely if you try to plug in to charge while the engine is running. If you leave the interior lights or the radio on all night, then it will have the same effect as in a normal car – that is, you will have a flat battery and the car won’t start. You might need to call the RAC or AA for this, or a friend with jump leads. However, the battery that drives the car (the one you charge up) is unaffected by this.
One of the annoying things about modern life is beeps. A new car beeps at you for all sorts of reasons, and of course you cannot fathom why it is beeping. You just know that something is wrong. It would almost be better to have a voice say ‘your car door is open’ or, better still, see a message on your screen. Beeps I have traced are for a) not having your seat belt on, b) reversing, c) having a door open. I once had a hybrid that beeped when the temperature was 4 degrees and I couldn’t switch it off. I think it was telling me that there might be a frost – as if I couldn’t feel it!
Heated seats and muddy cameras
Some cars come with features that you would rather not have – e.g. auto light-dipping (sometimes it is not as quick off the mark as you would be). With a new car, you might never find out how to switch off that feature and might need to ask your salesman to do it. I was stuck with a rear-facing mirror that used the back camera on a filthy wet night, which meant I couldn’t see much as the camera was just muddy. I simply couldn’t work out how to stop using the rear camera and just use the old-fashioned mirror.
Some new gadgets, such as a heated steering wheel and heated seats, are generally popular and less difficult to operate than the digital devices. It is wonderful that Bluetooth allows you to get into your car with your phone in your pocket or handbag and lo – it works. You have access to all your contacts and also to previous calls. Your audio even fades when you make or receive a call. I have not got any particular gripes about audio systems, but I do have about SatNavs.
I had one SatNav that asked me for my preferences when I was setting it up. I told it not to direct me through town centres. It consistently did the opposite. My present SatNav is quite good at warning me about toll roads and bridges. It is most important that you get to know your SatNav and learn to trust it. Most of them will try to turn you back onto your original route (either a mistake or a deliberate change). You need to ignore this if you know a better route and generally, by about the third time of asking, it finds out your preferred route. If you are genuinely lost, then you need to obey it – to get you out of trouble. I had one SatNav that actually learnt my routes. I wish I had that facility now.
There is a learning curve that applies to fully electric cars. The first rule is to be gentle with the plug-in device and not try to force it in or out. Most cars have a locking device, so you cannot just pull out the plug; you normally need either the car keys or to switch something inside the car. You can either set it to charge when you put the plug in or use a timer (with the plug in), which will only charge when you are getting cheaper electricity (say in the middle of the night). Public chargers are usually more expensive.
When you have charged up your car, when you switch on the engine, it will give you a range of how many miles you can do. This can range dramatically depending on the temperature (particularly whether it is winter or summer). It is worth knowing that heating and aircon make quite a difference to the mileage you can do on one charge. How you drive also affects your range, with some cars able to make more use of regenerative braking.
Before there were any electric cars on the market, there were computer-assisted aeroplanes – particularly the Airbus. I once heard from a pilot friend that his co-pilot was having a bad day when they landed at a Spanish airport. He switched off the electrics in the cockpit and, although they had three computers on board, none of them would come back on. They therefore moved the passengers onto another plane, but they still had to fly the plane back manually …. It was much more difficult to fly!