The Money Pit of Optional Extras

It’s amazing what features there are on the modern automobile. It’s also amazing that people are demanding automakers to provide us with more and more gadgets and gizmos as standard features.

Further still, it’s amazing how few of them I actually could be bothered to use on a day-to-day basis.

I feel as though I have a fairly substantiated opinion on the matter. Currently, as readers of my other posts may already know, my daily driver is a 1981 Datsun diesel pickup. In terms of creature comforts, it is more Spartan than, well…Sparta. And I am not just saying this because it doesn’t have air conditioning or satellite radio.

You can’t count, with the fingers on both hands, the features that this thing doesn’t have that we take for granted in the modern automobile. Seriously.

ABS; power windows; power brakes; power steering; cruise control; adjustable seats; Halogen headlamps; air bags; engine management system; overdrive; rev limiter; tachometer; on-board diagnostics; and the safety feature that keeps the engine from starting while the clutch is engaged. These are just a few of the “necessities” that my truck hasn’t got. Now, I know that it could be a lot worse (I could be without a radio or syncromeshed gears, for example). But, at the end of the day, these are all features that you probably wouldn’t dare dream about living without in the modern automobile. All that sacrifice surely isn’t worth $5000, right?

Well, maybe not. But all these complicated parts do break. And require servicing. And that costs money. I get to laugh at the people who complain because it is going to cost them $100 to get the power steering fluid changed on their car. I also get to laugh at the people who are inconvenienced when their cars get recalled due to malfunctioning airbags that could possibly kill them instead of save their lives. Yes, I know that I won’t be laughing if I crash and the steering column goes through my throat, but I will have quite a bit more time and money in the meantime.

But I’m not dead. And, aside from the lack of air conditioning in the hot Saskatchewan summers, there aren’t too many extras that I really wish I had on my truck. It’s a perfectly functional, reliable daily driver that holds its own quite well in the city. So why don’t we see many no-frills automobiles like my truck being sold in dealerships?

The answer is simple: we think we’re too advanced for them.

Even if, let’s say, somebody made an extremely basic version of a car like a Kia Rio. We know those are popular amongst value-conscious buyers that want the biggest bang for their buck possible. Now, I don’t know how much it would cost to fit the features aforementioned onto a new Kia Rio. Car companies usually like to keep their input costs about as secret as KFC’s Original Recipe. But, in North America, anyways, I feel like if it cost $5000 to outfit these features to the modern car (again, I am neither a company executive nor an engineer), that the vast majority of car buyers would pony up the extra cash (especially if they are financing) and simply opt for convenience and safety.

Of course, I am not the vast majority of car buyers. Those people want more. And some of the things that the upper 1% demand in this day and age are unbelievable. I once test-drove a Lincoln MKX with some features that would be considered luxurious in a home living room, let alone a coffin-dodger’s special. For example, it came with 22-way adjustable massage seats, an active park assist system with about 250 cameras scattered about the car, and some LED projectors that would turn on when you opened the door. This “welcome lighting” made me feel particularly cynical, as it was probably not all that expensive to put in, but was a part of a much more expensive option package. It’s completely unnecessary, and very tacky in my opinion. Heaven forbid that light burns out and makes the service department a quick buck, too. And, yet, there are literally hundreds of these gimmicky devices being outfitted to cars these days.

The ones that bother me the most, however, are the features that have been installed in the name of “safety”. You know, those little orange lights in the mirror that tell you that you forgot to shoulder check and that you are going to run into a semi if you change lanes. Or the buzzer in the seat that tells you that you are way too busy texting to notice that your car is about to run off the road. My personal favourite is the automatic braking system that applies the brake when you are about to run into something in front of you. Because us mere mortals are apparently incapable of doing otherwise. Inevitably, these advances in technology will progress to the point where we will have “autonomous” vehicles in the mainstream. Fortunately, for us petrolheads, those “autonomous” cars are still fully capable of rear-ending the biggest tractor-trailers you can find on the road, so this technology needs a lot of work, to say the least.

None of these gimmicks come for free. Surprise, surprise. But an average-priced Ford Fusion comes loaded with many of them, even though you really don’t need them. This makes me wonder: how much could you actually sell a car in this day and age that is as bare-bones as my Datsun? And would people buy it, given the choice? Where I live, this seems hard to believe. I talk to far too many people that claim that they can no longer live without a heated steering wheel. I wouldn’t expect these folks to get behind the wheel of a truck with Armstrong steering.

And until we change our attitudes, we won’t be seeing any Dacias in North America anytime soon. For thrifty buyers like me, this is far from good news, to say the least.