Kia Seat Heater Button Design

Here’s where Kia puts the seat heater buttons in some of their recent vehicles:

Kia Seat Heater Buttons Next to a Can of Soda
Kia Seat Heater Button Placement

Can you see the problem with this?  When the driver reaches over to grab a drink, it’s quite likely, on a bumpy road, that a few drops will spill into the crack between the two seat heater buttons.

When that happens, the seat heaters may completely malfunction.  Or the sticky soda or coffee can fuse the two buttons together, resulting in turning on both heaters at once.  (If the latter situation happens to you, you can fix it by sliding a small pocket knife down the crack between the two buttons.)

Other manufacturers like Saab put their seat heater buttons near the sunroof controls, above your head.  Better.  But Saab’s cupholders aren’t great for other reasons.

An ugly but effective workaround for the Kia seat heater problem is to put clear packing tape over the controls.  (shown in the above photo)  This will force you to use slightly more pressure to activate the seat heaters, but it’s worth it to avoid a potentially expensive fix at the dealer (or rental agency) if you short out the electronics.

Travel Tips: Flights, Hotels, and Rental Cars

I recently had to book last minute flights, hotels, and a rental car, and learned a few things along the way:

Flights

Book your flights first.  You can get everything else sorted later.

The last few rows of seats on pre-2015 Boeing 737 jets are 5dB louder than the wing seats.  Roughly 88dB vs. 83dB.  Significant difference.  The World Health Organization recommends a maximum exposure time of 4 hours at 88dB.  So on long flights, if you’re in the rear seats, give everyone in your family earplugs.  Or take shorter flights, and give your ears a rest during layover.

If you have a family with small children, you will usually be relocated together.   You don’t always need to purchase seat upgrades.  Sometimes your relocation will be over the wing seats.  Sometimes the only seats left with room for families of 3 or more will be the more expensive seats that others didn’t pick.  Free upgrade!

A few airlines say they can’t seat families together if you purchase economy tickets (also noted in this article), but gate agents will usually still do their best to help.  Unless you get there at the last minute, like we did.  In that case, our youngest just happened to let out a cry that made the businessman next to us want to give up his window seat for a middle seat elsewhere, and then we all got to sit together.  We thanked the man for his kindness.

The Boeing 737 2015 revision that we flew on one leg of our trip had more comfy seats than the older pre-2015 737 we flew on the previous leg.  The newer 2015 revision also had seat-back screens.

The Airbus A320 seats are a bit more comfortable than both Boeing 737s we took.  The Airbus also had a bit more room in the bathrooms, with bigger changing tables.

In most planes, if you’re in an aisle seat, it will appear like you can’t lift the aisle armrest up, but in many cases, you can.  This is required by law for accessibility purposes.  Reach under the arm (below where your elbow would sit) until you find a (probably never cleaned) tiny button/lever/toggle.  Push it and you will be able to lift the arm up.

hidden-armrest-button.png

Car Rentals

I tried renting a car through Priceline, but it fell through when I got to the counter at 1AM and the rental company refused to honor the Priceline price.  The rental counter price was well over $200 beyond what Priceline quoted.

Priceline customer service offered no help and tried to get me off the phone.  They sent me a survey days later and apparently this is a common problem, because the first option they list for not booking the reservation is “price at the counter was not what Priceline quoted“.

Thankfully, I was able to book through Costco Travel and get an even better deal than Priceline gave.

If you have kids that need car seats, occasionally they will be free with the rental, but many times you may be charged exorbitant extra fees (ex. $70/day for the seats alone).  Lyft and Uber don’t have car seats either, unless you’re in New York City.  It might pay to arrange ahead of time to have a family member or friend pick up a couple of car seats at a store and deliver them to you at the airport.

Be careful of hidden rental charges – extension fees, convenience fees, tolls, and those car seats.

2019 Ford Edge

We rented a Ford Edge sport utility vehicle, which happened to be the best deal at the time.  It seemed like a safe car, and was definitely roomy, but also felt pretty disconnected from the road.  It had all sorts of bells and whistles (unusual for a rental): radar cruise control with stop & go, lane keeping assist, auto liftgate, and automatic high beams.  And CarPlay.

The radar cruise control was okay.  It would take you all the way down to a halt in stop and go traffic, but many of the stops would be so jerky the whole cabin/vehicle would lurch forward.  So we ended up stopping manually.

The lane keeping assist was kind of cool but mostly ping-ponged you around the lane.  It would also lose confidence in its lane keeping ability, turning on and off seemingly randomly.

The auto lift-gate was cool but slow.

The automatic high beams were great – I want them on my next car.

The infotainment displays were faster than the ones in older Ford vehicles, but still way too information-dense and distracting.  Most Audis, VWs, Volvos, and even Kias are much cleaner.

Hotels

For hotels, Priceline is actually decent.  Especially the Express Deals on 3 and 3.5 star hotels, which are often cheaper than AirBnB.  There are several ways to find out the naming of the mystery Express Deal hotels before you book them – search online.  Only caveat: You will probably not get hotel points when you book through Priceline.

Hope these tips help!

Received My Automatic Link

So I was one of the first to order an Automatic Link for $69.95.  It’s a dongle you attach to your car that allows your iPhone to talk to the car’s onboard computer.  Why would you want this?  To track your trips, fuel mileage, decipher the check engine light, and most importantly for me, automatically remember where I parked my car.
Anyway, I received mine today, and wanted to share some quick first impressions:
* The box would fit right in next to the other items on a shelf at the Apple Store.  Besides a magnetized cover and a sticker, the box includes a tiny “manual” under the Link, which basically tells you to get the (free) Automatic app before you plug it in.  The app is well designed, with a lot of thought & care.

* The Link itself is also nicely built.  It does not feel exquisitely made, like an iPhone 5S, but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart either.

* The app’s instructions say to plug the Link in very firmly.  I did so, and even heard it beep, but the app wouldn’t connect to it the first time.  I had to unplug it and plug it back in, again, very firmly.  Then it connected.

* The first drive I took, it actually recorded the trip.  It told me interesting things like, I was getting almost 11 MPG on my 0.5 mile test trip to the grocery store.  It also told me I was very well behaved during my drive, which means I didn’t go above 70 MPH, didn’t slam on the brakes, and avoided stoplight races.

* Automatic’s app took a long time (at least 45 seconds) to actually record my car’s parked location.  I’m using the very latest app (1.01), which is supposed to correct this problem, but it doesn’t for me.  I don’t understand why it takes so long, when Apple Maps finds my same location in 5 seconds.

* The second drive I took, I tried not opening the app first.  I found out at the end of my drive back home that the Automatic didn’t automatically connect, and so my trip wasn’t saved.  Bummer.  Looks like I’m going to have to open the app first every time I start the car, until this is fixed.

The really nice thing is Automatic’s customer service team is actually listening to all of our impressions and feedback, providing answers within 1-2 days, sometimes even directly from engineers who are working on the app.  They really care about customer satisfaction, so I’m thinking this app is going to keep getting better.

Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go in 2013 US Cars

I’ve moved to an area where my commute isn’t so long, but there’s still a lot of stop & go traffic, so I’ve become interested in adaptive cruise control with stop & go abilities.

I’M A’ FIRIN’ MAH LAZER!

Stop & go means the adaptive cruise sensors (radar, laser, or cameras) are able to bring the car to a complete stop and resume from a standstill.  (As opposed to quit working around 25 mph.)  This is a fairly high-end feature normally associated with luxury cars.  A couple makes are bringing this second generation adaptive cruise technology down in price, and I wanted to see what the price range is, so here you go:

Car Edmunds True Market Value* with Stop & Go Adaptive Cruise and Auto Trans
Subaru Legacy Limited $28,229
Volvo S60 $33,003
BMW 328i Sedan $38,637
Cadillac ATS $44,841
Mercedes E350 $52,401
Audi A6 $55,097
Porsche Panamera $77,879

* Only the lowest cost car of each make is listed.  No SUVs or crossovers.  No non-US cars.

The Subaru Legacy wins on price, and there are quite a few reviews of the Eyesight camera based system it uses at the Subaru Outback forums.

The 2014 Chevy Impala LTZ also has Stop & Go for about $41K.  Also, the 2014 Kia Cadenza is coming with Stop & Go for around $40K.  (Thanks to Emil for the tip!)

If I’ve missed any cars in this list, feel free to let me know by posting below.

Replacing Ford’s Stock Stereo

A while back, I bought a Ford with a 6CD changer in it:

Old Stock 6CD Changer

I played a lot of CDs the first year.  Then I got an iPod, FM transmitter, and eventually an iPhone, and rarely touched a CD again.

Every morning before starting the car, I’d mount the iPhone, attach the FM transmitter cable, flip the radio to 88.1FM, check that the transmitter is still on 88.1FM, unlock the phone, and finally press play to get some tunes going.
This worked OK most of the time, but I’d get interference from nearby stations as well as from other drivers using the same frequency.  Then I sat in a new Ford, tested the built-in Bluetooth, and fell in love with the wireless audio.  But I wasn’t going to buy a new Ford as I didn’t want the slow & cluttered MyTouch / Microsoft Sync interface.  So I did the next best thing: replace the stereo.
After researching stereos at Crutchfield, I picked out the Sony DSX-5300BTX.  Since this was my first time installing car electronics, I put a few hours of research into how to do it.  I was surprised at how straightforward it was – it only took 40 minutes to do the actual install.  I didn’t need a soldering gun or even a screwdriver.
What I ordered:
Sony DSX-5300BTX head unit: $139.99
– Total Cost: $146.48
Install steps:
  1. Use Crutchfield’s provided OEM stereo removal tools to pull out the factory unit 
  2. Test to see if Crutchfield’s included adapter harness fits
  3. Hook the Sony head unit wires into Crutchfield’s harness adapter (This is the longest part, but it’s only stripping wires & matching colors.  It can be done in your home in about 30 minutes.)
  4. Temporarily connect the Sony unit to the car and test to ensure the wires are connected properly)
  5. Use garden shears to cut off two plastic clips on the top of the Crutchfield provided enclosure (as instructed – but this will depend on your vehicle)
  6. Attach the ground cable
  7. Insert the stereo inside the (included) enclosure
  8. Push the assembly into the gaping hole in the dash & lock into place
Results:

New Shiny: Sony Bluetooth DSX-5300BTX Stereo – Day

I only have a few nits to pick with the new setup.  When the iPhone switches radios between wifi & 3G, there’s a brief blip in the playback.  Also, the buttons on the stereo are much smaller than the stock stereo, so they’re hard to hit if you want to switch sources while driving. And the digital clock in the upper right is too small — unless you put it into sleep mode by holding the off button for a few seconds — then it becomes huge.

Other than those few things, I’m really quite happy with it.  It sounds better, there’s no more static or interference, and best of all, I can leave my phone in my pocket for the whole drive.

Also want to give some feedback to Crutchfield’s tech support guys, Josh and a another person whose name I don’t recall.  They were so helpful & knowledgeable, even picking up the phone on a Saturday night to answer a couple questions I had during the install.  Thanks!

In Defense of BMW Drivers

A perfectly nice fellow, I’m sure, goes and writes this:


… BMW drivers are bar none, the worst around. They have managed to achieve that elusive combination of disdain, money, attitude, disregard for others, and self-importance that no other drivers have. BMW drivers don’t just not care about you … they HATE you. They hate having to share the road with any other driver. They hate those who drive what they consider sub-standard cars (i.e. any car not costing over $40,000) … They are the scum of the earth, and are truly deserving the title of the worst drivers around. If you want to have fun, do yourself a favor and cut a BMW driver off without acknowledging him. Then when he honks his horn or gesticulates at you, give him the bird. The audacity of your display will send him into a rage the likes of which will provide you with hours of enjoyment as you recall how many shades of purple his face became as he cursed you out for soiling his planet with your existence. 

He’s not alone in his opinion.  It’s a worn-out stereotype.  Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I’ve been driving for many years, and don’t think it’s justified.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t drive a BMW, but see a lot of them on my commute.

The ones I’ve encountered are courteous and respectful.  Three examples:

  • Just the other day, one guy in a BMW stopped traffic to allow me to make a left turn, when nobody else would let me in.
  • I know a BMW driver.  He’s an Indian small business owner in his 50s, and works very hard.  He’s not a lawyer or investment banker, but so what if he was?  He drives courteously, parks correctly, and is an all-around good guy.
  • I know another BMW driver.  He’s in his 60s and works in sales.  We met when he backed into my car, causing over $2000 worth of damage.  But we exchanged insurance info and he was a perfect gentleman about it.  (He was also helpful to his insurance company in making sure I was paid in full to get it fixed.)
So world, next time you’re tempted to demonize BMW drivers, try getting to know a few of them first.  (Hopefully not by having one of them crash into you.)  They’re not all bad.

Got any stories of BMW drivers doing things you wouldn’t expect BMW drivers to do?  Post in the comments.

Too Many Buttons

We’ve all been frustrated by remote controls with too many buttons.1 2

Now cars are morphing into entertainment centers.  And they’re developing the same problem remotes have.

Take the Ford Focus.  On the first gen Focus, Ford simplified the center console, with 3 easy dials for heat/air, and a minimum of buttons:

1st gen Ford Focus: 19 switches & buttons

On the second gen Focus, it blew up into this:

2nd gen Ford Focus: 49 switches & buttons
(including 3 placeholder buttons that do nothing)

That’s 19 controls on the original Ford Focus, and an incredible 49 on the next gen.

Quick, you need your windshield defrosted.  What do you do?  On the 1st gen, you keep your eyes on the road, and flick the middle and right dials to the right.  
2nd gen?  Feel around for the circular button in the lower middle, and then push smaller buttons like mad until the windshield hopefully clears.  Or take your eyes off the road and figure out which of the tiny mass of similar-sized buttons clears the windscreen.

But it gets worse:

On the 2012 Focus, Ford’s gone bananas with their MyTouch touch-activated controls.  Now the “buttons” feel exactly the same!

3rd Gen Ford Focus: Unlimited buttons – Wheee!
No wonder Consumer Reports called Ford’s MyTouch system “overly complicated and distracting“, pulling their recommendation from two Ford models.  And it’s so buggy it has to be restarted automatically every 24 hours.

A commenter on DailyTech says it best: “Trying to cram everything into a touchscreen just because you can is the sign of a designer who is trying to follow a trend rather than making the user’s experience his top priority … None of the options as implemented works as well as a simple knob and dial.

Now I’m not just picking on Ford here.  (I love their cars and their desire to bring new tech down in price.)

Other automakers are just as guilty:

2011 Chevy Volt: 41+ buttons & switches
(including touch screen)
2011 Acura MDX: 48 buttons & switches

At least Volvo is restoring some sanity in their 2011 S60 with an easier to use pictogram control:

A bit better: 2011 Volvo S60: “Only” 32 buttons,
and pictogram HVAC controls

Hyundai copies Volvo’s pictogram and makes the buttons larger:

A bit better: 2011 Hyundai Sonata: “Only” 33 buttons,
and pictogram HVAC controls
(Photo credit: familycarreview.com)

Jaguar reduces the number of buttons and makes them bigger:

Improved: 2010 Jaguar XF: 21+ controls,
large clearly marked defrost

And Scion angles the controls toward the driver, like old BMWs and the 1st gen Focus:

Much better: 2011 Scion tC: Just 20 controls
and simple, traditional HVAC

Hopefully more automakers follow Scion and Jaguar’s lead.  Take a hint from Apple – it’s not just the touchscreen that makes iPhone a hot seller, it’s the ease of use.

Distracted driving resulted in 448,000 accidents and more than 5,400 deaths last year.2  Reducing the number of buttons, knobs, and switches can only lead to safer roads.

Who else is frustrated by the complexity and number of controls in modern cars?  Should you really need a 516 page manual to figure out how to operate this stuff without taking your eyes off the road?  Post in the comments.

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