13 Popular Car Features You’ll Probably Never See Again
All sorts of things that were must-haves or standard equipment back in the day can't be found on any vehicle these days. Here's why.
If it’s a been a while since you’ve shopped for a new car, the array of features and options can be dizzying. Rear-view cameras, beeping safety sensors and large screens displaying navigation and music information used to be found only on concept cars. Now, they’re common. How did we ever drive without them?
“Car design evolves with the needs of the customer,” says Darren Palmer, Ford’s global product development director for battery electric vehicles. “Today your phone is your key, audio player, map, direct line to roadside assistance. As technology plays more roles in our lives, it frees up space inside the vehicle and gives automakers like Ford the opportunity to design with new rules.” We’ve curated a list of the best car innovations that have decreased the number of accidents.
Cassette Players and CD Changers
With the ubiquity of satellite radio and streaming audio, physical media has been relegated to dusty shelves in the basement. While there is certainly a nostalgic element to pushing a favorite mixtape into the dashboard, the convenience of thousands of songs, engrossing podcasts or audiobooks you can’t put down makes digital media the choice for most new car buyers.
Front Bench Seats
Bench seats were the standard of most family cars through the 1980s, though a couple of cars (notably the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon) retained a three-across seating option into the early 2000s.
That middle seat was never the most comfortable. It was typically narrow, causing elbows, shoulders and knees to rub, though some drivers enjoyed the extra room sans the third passenger. Others might be nostalgic for the cozy confines of a bench seat on date night, where a loved one can slide closer to the driver.
Safety is the primary reason bench seats have been relegated. Airbags tend to work best when directly in front of the passenger, and it was nearly impossible to fit an airbag for that center seat where the radio would go.
Classified advertisements for used cars years ago highlighted the expensive options. Power windows, power door locks and air conditioning were all features that once cost extra. Manual, wind-up windows have disappeared — and good riddance! Never again will drivers know the struggle of reaching across the car to raise windows while driving in a sudden rainstorm. A press of a button opens or closes everything.
In this case, manual windows are obsolete due to modern manufacturing efficiencies. It’s much easier and much less expensive in the long run for a car factory to stock one type of window winder instead of two. It’s easier to train a factory worker to install one type of part instead of two. Once most cars offered power windows as an option, it made sense to prioritize the more popular choice.
A popular feature on luxury cars like the Lincoln Continental until the 1960s, the rear-hinged door allowed a more graceful entrance and exit for rear-seat passengers. Unfortunately, these doors were often less safe since they would open easily into traffic or in an accident, leading the style to be termed “suicide doors.”
Opening any door, rear-hinged or otherwise, can pose a danger to pedestrians and bicyclists. If you frequently park in an urban area, it might be a good idea to learn the “Dutch reach.”
Ashtrays and Cigarette Lighters
There was a time, not long ago, when smoking in public or private places was a way of life. Nearly every car was equipped with ashtrays and cigarette lighters to accommodate smoking while driving.
As people became more conscious of the health effects of smoking, ashtrays fell out of favor. Most cars no longer come standard with the traditional push-button cigarette lighter; instead, they offer 12-volt power outlets for electronic devices. Smokers can usually still be accommodated, however, with an optional “smokers’ package” that includes a lighter and an ashtray that fits into a cup holder.
When was the last time you had a flat tire? It’s not that common these days, and more and more cars are being fitted with run-flat tires that can be driven without air for several miles. This, and the ever-marching quest to improve fuel economy (a spare tire adds weight, which is the enemy of efficiency), has led many cars to replace spare tires with a can of tire sealant and a small air compressor.
It still pays to know how to change a tire, even if you don’t have a spare in your car.
They haven’t disappeared altogether. Entry-level cars and cars destined for car rental agencies often have traditional keys, the latter because they’re harder for careless renters to lose. But most new cars offer a proximity key, which allows a car to be unlocked, started and driven without physically taking the key out of your pocket or bag. Radio signals digitally unlock the car.
One drawback to these proximity keys: Thieves walking through your neighborhood also might access your car, since the key is usually right inside your house. There are a few strategies to help prevent this kind of theft. These are the secret powers of your key fob you need to know.
Parking Brake Handles
Often referred to as an emergency brake since it will usually still work should the regular floor brakes fail, the traditional parking brake pull-up lever is disappearing from most new cars. It’s been replaced with an electronic parking brake that activates with a push of a button.
The push button is much easier to package for automotive engineers, leaving (among other things) more interior room for cup holders, places to set and charge a cellphone, or one of these 13 weird car features you didn’t know you might have.
One nice thing about electronic parking brakes: They can often be programmed to automatically engage when parking. That saves wear and tear on the transmission when parking on hills, since the weight of the car won’t be borne solely by that transmission.
Power antennas were one of the least-reliable features on a car. They always seemed to break, especially in colder climates where they were often frozen shut by snow and ice. Power antennas were necessary to pull in distant radio stations. With modern digital broadcasting as well as satellite radio, the tall antenna is often replaced by a small plastic “shark-fin” antenna on the roof, or even a wire embedded into the windshield glass. This improves radio reception and aerodynamics.
Before air conditioning was standard, lowering the windows was the only way to drive on a hot day. Many older cars featured a smaller second window on the front door near the side mirror that would rotate open or closed, allowing fresh air to be directed at the driver’s or passenger’s face. Even with the other windows closed, a bit of cool fresh air on the face made driving so much better.
One other nice thing about vent windows — the ease of accessing the car if you locked the keys inside.
We can blame the government and car stylists somewhat equally for the rise of pop-up headlamps. For many years, the U.S. government mandated that cars have only certain sizes and shapes of headlamps. As stylists and engineers tried to make the front ends of cars lower for better aerodynamics and cooler looks, the headlamps needed to go, so they were hidden away until needed.
Government regulations on headlight design were relaxed in the ’90s, and technology advanced to allow smaller bulbs. Safety has claimed the pop-up headlamp as well. Those protruding lamps can be dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists. See if you can name these car dashboard lights.
A few expensive luxury cars may still have chrome stand-up hood ornaments, but safety regulations required changes since these protruding symbols can injure pedestrians or cyclists. Some cars sticking with the ornaments feature an automatic retracting mechanism that pulls it back under the hood at the first sense of impact.
Fun fact: Hood ornaments were once somewhat functional. Most cars built before World War II and some shortly thereafter had an exposed radiator to cool the engine. The hood ornament was mounted on the radiator cap. Plus, find out why all gas caps aren’t on the same side.
In the future when you pull up to the pump, you may not have a gas cap to unscrew. Ford, for one, started doing away with them after introducing the Easy Fuel feature in 2011. The capless fuel feature helps prevent gas siphoning and eliminates the hassle of unscrewing the gas cap, a bonus in the winter when your hands get cold. Plus, with no gas cap, there’s one less accessory for you to lose.
Gas cap or no, avoid making these 10 potentially dangerous mistakes at the pump.