Recently one of those heartwarming stories popped up in my news feed, about a group of workers who banded together to provide a car for a disadvantaged colleague.
The middle-aged sedan in question wasn’t much to write home about, but by contrast to a multi-bus, two-hour-each-way commute to her job as a cleaning worker, it probably looked like a brand-new Mercedes through the lucky recipient’s tears of joy.
With more than 250 million cars zooming around the United States — eight for every 10 people in the country — it sometimes takes a story like that to remind us that not everyone is fortunate enough to own a personal ride. And it’s a nudge to be thankful if we do have a set of wheels in the driveway or garage.
A veteran driver of some very homely and no-frills vehicles, I still think of my five-year-old hatchback as my “new car” and am grateful every day for its cute styling, nimble, responsive drivability and great fuel mileage.
The amenities don’t hurt either. Motorized and heated leather seats are worth every penny, as is the remote start function. No more toe-numbing cold in the pre-dawn hours of January and February, with just a click of the fob.
As an early adopter of satellite radio, I can’t imagine the everyday driving or leisure travel without an array of talk radio, news and entertainment. The USB ports for charging a phone or listening to an audio book are pretty handy, too. Intelligent headlights and windshield wipers that activate themselves reduce the mental load of driving, as do reverse sensors.
Other snazzier technology not available on my compact is something to look forward to — from built-in vacuum cleaners to autonomous assists with tricky maneuvers. Can’t say I’m really worked up about self-driving vehicles, but my car is welcome to take over parallel parking any time.
The technology that burgeons every year is impressive. But as in life, it’s the little things about driving that can get you down. In case anyone is listening, here are some features I’d be truly thankful for in my automotive future:
■A gas-cap cover that doesn’t fly open every time car-wash dryers blast it.
■A magnetic board or white board on the dash area for holding coupons, lists and reminders.
■An analog odometer. Ticking off the fractions of miles is useful for functions ranging from giving directions to comparing commutes. I really miss the aesthetic of a mechanical mile-o-meter and hope they return.
■Side-vent windows for fresh air without the noise.
■Some sort of non-carpet alternative. Everything else in the vehicle’s interior is wipe-down ready. It would reduce a lot of car-owning stress if dog-hair-magnet black carpet was replaced by a surface that didn’t harbor fur, crumbs and dirt.
■Snap-in protective lining for the molded-plastic interior components. Most of us use our vehicles as utility haulers to some degree. In just the past week I have toted an antique chair, a three-pronged garden shepherd’s hook with sharp edges and a roll of wire fencing. Each trip required placement of tarps and blankets to protect further blemishes to my already-scarred car. It would be nice if there were some sort of hidden hooks or snaps that could hold up protective quilted mats when the need arises — or better yet a pull-out protective barrier.
■Also in the durability vein, an exterior finish that doesn’t chip or scrape so easily. I realize that tougher finishes mean higher costs but surely there is some coating that can withstand ordinary highway debris and the occasional supermarket buggy.
■More personalization options, from decals to offbeat paint colors.
■Easier-to-change headlamp bulbs. Need I say more?
Admittedly, these are the “first-world problems” of car ownership, and what’s sitting in the driveway right now is pretty comfy and cool. Thank you, little hatchback, for the first five years, and here’s to many more.
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com