Technologies that previously were reserved for luxury vehicles have become commonplace, even in the most affordable models.
The 1964 Aston Martin DB5 sports car driven by James Bond in Goldfinger was equipped with numerous hidden features that would be of questionable use to the average car owner but that were lifesaving for Bond. The equipment included a hidden telephone, radar tracker, revolving number plates, front turrets, wheel-mounted tire scythes, and of course, the famous ejector seat.
In today’s cars, both high-tech (and some low-tech) features focus more on vehicle safety and making the driving experience more pleasurable. Technologies that previously were reserved for luxury vehicles have become commonplace, even in the most affordable models.
Automobiles are the incubators of rich and robust technology and the rate at which innovations are introduced to the automotive industry only continues to accelerate as costs diminish. The reverse cameras, navigational devices, and touchscreen displays that have become standard features in modern vehicles provide drivers and passengers with more sophisticated and safer rides.
Many car buyers are now asking about such features as adaptive cruise control, smartphone integration for hands-free driving, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warnings, just to name a few. Others have these features on their cars but are either unaware of them or don’t know how they work.
The following are 20 hidden features most people don't realize their cars come with.
20: Umbrella Hidden In The Door
The umbrella is an awkward device (except perhaps the collapsible version) to store anywhere and in a car, it is entirely out of place. It is best stored in the trunk, out of sight and where it doesn’t occupy a seat or leg room on the floor. However, when it suddenly starts raining, a driver who parks their car in the grocery store lot can get soaking wet in just a few seconds from walking to the rear, fumbling with the keys, and opening the trunk to retrieve the umbrella.
Car manufacturer Skoda has the solution: a hidden umbrella in the door panel, where it is out of sight but readily accessible once the downpour starts. The feature is also available in a Rolls-Royce (at a slightly higher price than the Skoda).
19: Volkswagen Beetle Flower Vase
For years, the Volkswagen Beetle came from the factory with a tiny flower vase, blumenvasen, mounted on the dashboard. It’s not clear if the partially hidden vase was inspired by the “Flower Power Hippie” years or placed in the car to confirm the assertion by some critics that the Beetle is a “chick’s car.”
Owners who opted for the flowers usually used fake ones to avoid the watering requirements and withered appearance of real flowers left in the car under the hot sun. The most practical use of the vase was to hold lipstick and pens, easily accessed when the need arose.
18: Adaptable Ambient Interior Lighting
In recent years, more car manufacturers are offering ambient interior lighting as a standard or optional feature. The lighting softly illuminates the car's center console, door handles, cup holders, and on some models, across the dash and in the vehicle's footwells. Most owners are aware of ambient lights in their cars but many do not know that the color can be changed to match the interior design or to create the desired mood.
Although ambient lighting does nothing to improve vehicle safety, studies by BMW and Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany have shown it may increase a driver’s perceived safety. The lighting may also enhance the apparent quality of the car's materials and design and make a car's controls easier to use.
17: Honda Magic Seats
Many owners of economy cars are not aware of a feature that provides hidden load space that can exceed the cargo area of the trunk or hatchback. The Honda Civic and Jazz have the Magic Seat system, which allows the backseat bases to fold up and stand vertically to add load space. It creates an area from the car floor to the headliner allowing objects to transported that otherwise would not fit into the hatch space.
The space is ideal for transporting a small bicycle, beach chairs, large suitcases, a 42-inch flat screen TV, or a medium-sized potted plant (not all at the same time, of course). Other car manufacturers provide similar hidden cargo space.
16: BMW Brake Drying
According to John Cuprisin, Associate Professor Automotive Technology at Pennsylvania College of Technology, exposed disc brakes get wet in a typical rain shower. However, they are designed to hold the brake pad against the rotor with no pressure, no space between them, and no drag. The rotating disc riding between the two brake pads is wiped of contaminants and water.
However, if the pads and rotor are not perfectly aligned, a gap can form and allow water to accumulate, diminishing the friction and braking efficiency. The BMW Brake Drying system, activated by the windshield wiper's rain sensor, moves the brake pads closer to the rotors to keep the brakes dry and improve stopping power in wet weather conditions.
15: Nissan Easy-Fill Tire Alert
Properly inflated tires have a longer life, improve fuel efficiency, and help prevent accidents. Most drivers are not aware that their car is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). Required on all cars since 2008, the system alerts drivers when their tires have lost 25% of their air.
When tire pressure is low, the process of filling up the tires is tedious: fill the tire, check the pressure, add more air, check the pressure, let some air out, and check the pressure. In a Nissan equipped with their Easy-Fill Tire Alert, the monotonous process is nearly eliminated. Start adding air and when the tire reaches the ideal pressure, the vehicle's horn honks and its lights flash. The only system better would be one with self-regulating and inflating tires. Perhaps next year?
14: Signal Change Warning
Waiting at a traffic signal can seem like an eternity. One driver swore the signal stayed red so long that he ha