‹ Go Back

The Fixable Car


 I could have been found frozen to death in my party shoes because of that mapping device.

I suppose that if I were a good citizen I would use this space to promote my political perspective on how government can be fixed. However, I would much rather fix the automobile industry.

I’m writing as the owner of a Prius, through which the Japanese revealed to the American auto industry the dumbfounding possibility that fuel efficiency could be profitable. However, they too have now gotten off track, and Toyota, like other auto manufacturers, needs another breakthrough idea. I know what it is: The Fixable Car.

I say this because I am about to incur another very large bill to get something fixed that I didn’t need in the first place. I am speaking of computerized headlights. In the last several months and on a Prius that is now about eight years old, I have had to have both bulbs replaced at a cost of about $300 each. Amazing.

Now I am told by my repairman, who has an independent garage specializing in Toyotas, that the computer for one headlight also needs to be replaced. The cost: $400.

“Why has Toyota created computer-controlled headlights?” I asked in exasperation. “What’s wrong with an off and on switch?” He shrugged in agreement but also noted that the quality of light emitted is very special.

Right. Blinding. Ever since I got this car, people have flashed their lights at me at night occasionally as though to tell me that I’m driving with my high beams on. If I have time, I will flash back. “You wanna see bright. Here’s bright!”

As they go careening onto the side of the road, I imagine them saying, “Sorry, sorry.”

At great expense, I’ve also had my display containing all sorts of information I don’t need replaced. And that map feature could have cost me my life.

I set out for a Christmas party one snowy evening several years ago. As I drove, heavy snowfall turned into blizzard conditions. I was pretty sure something was amiss early on, but I kept following that sweet voice that said, “Go two more miles. Go two more miles.”

Soon I had virtually no visibility, and the windshield wipers were failing in spite of the heated glass. I was heading out into the desert along the freeway in search of a home in a sparsely populated new development. Finally my human brain took over, and I turned around and proceeded to inch my way back home.

In my conversation with my repairman, he pointed out that one of the new BMWs has over 200 computers. Maybe guys get all excited about everything they can do, but my feeling is that all the unnecessary features not only drive the cost of cars to untenable heights but are also serving to make us more and more dependent on expensive repair services.

At the same time, the computers are enabling us to use less and less of our own brain power to think, to remember, to compute, navigate, and strategize. Use it or lose it, you know. I could have been found frozen to death in my party shoes because of that mapping device.

I also don’t need that automatic door opener that cost about $300 to replace. I do want to keep the gas mileage—about 47 miles per gallon—and I would like a radio, air conditioning, and reasonable lights whose bulbs I personally can screw in for about—what, $12? That seems like a nice bulb.

The Fixable Car could alter the course of commercial history for the better. All the important things have already been designed, so manufacture would be extremely simple, and they could roll off the assembly line as fast as greased lightning. They would be so affordable that the demand would be enormous among all these people who are driving cars 15 and 20 years old to avoid having to pay for all the new computerized luxuries.

Madison Avenue marketing firms would have so much creative fun selling this idea to all the consumers who know, in our hearts, that something solid, comfortable, reliable, fuel-efficient, and fixable by the teenage neighbor boy is what we really need now.

With this insight in hand, the auto industry could stimulate an evolutionary leap, whereby we begin to modify a consumer culture that has driven us to buy so many things we don’t need and couldn’t afford, bringing us near to ruin and very unpleasant elections. The Fixable Car. It could be transformative.

4 Responses to “The Fixable Car”

  1. Merrill Heath

    So true, Ellen. There are so many things that come “standard” on our vehicles that are totally unnecessary. It’s really hard to understand why we couldn’t order the car we wanted, have it built to our specifications, and delivered to our local dealer (if not to us directly) within a reasonable time like, perhaps, 1-2 months. I’d certainly be willing to wait a reasonable amount of time to get a car with the specific features I want.

    We can special order all kinds of other consumer goods. Why not our vehicles? This might be a breakthrough business model for an enterprising car company.


    • celeryellen

      I think that’s a great idea, Merrill. In fact, I think I’m going to do a post inviting that input.

      Muchas gracias

  2. Kathy Horrigan

    Hear, hear Ellen! Love the image of you in your party shoes, frozen. How terrifying to think that eventually we will be at the mercy of so many computers. The aliens have landed indeed. Kathy