Hardly Worth Mentioning: Features We Take for Granted

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Oct 19, 2016

When I was a little kid, I used to puzzle over used-car ads that boasted “R&H”? Later, I realized that this stood for “radio and heater.” Wow, those used to be optional extras?

Swaplease.com points out that the national online car leasing marketplace no longer cite these things as features: airbags, side airbags, MP3 jacks, cassette or CD players, t-tops or targa roofs.

Sure, but that’s just the beginning. I've used my 1963 Dodge Dart convertible to illustrate the way things used to be back in the do-it-yourself era.

What, you were expecting an airbag? Forget it, the Dart doesn't even have a padded dash. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Scot Hall of Swaplease.com points out, "It certainly seems as though vehicles and vehicle technology are advancing at break-neck speed. Imagine the day down the road when autonomous vehicles are so common place that the rear-view backup camera is no longer a relevant feature?" Amen. Here are a few other former wonders we now take for granted.

"R&H" stood for radio and heater, both of which my Dart has. FM? No. CD player? No. Auto climate? No. (Jim Motavalli photo)
  • Air conditioning. Is it worth pointing out that a car has “air” these days? Nope, it’s in 99 percent of all new cars. In 1969, when only half of cars came factory equipped, then they boasted about it.
  • Power windows. It would be worth noting if a car doesn’t have them. According to Cars.com, 2016 models available with crank windows include the Ford Fiesta S, the Nissan Versa S, the Chevrolet Sonic LS and the Kia Rio LX. That "available" is key—just try to find one so equipped. Even in fleets, they’re rare.
Power windows? A rare luxury that Cadillac, not Dart, buyers got in 1963. (Jim Motavalli photo)
  • Power locks. Ditto. This is where I can mention that my 1999 Mazda Miata is a transitional model—it doesn’t have a remote, but locking the driver’s door locks the passenger’s door, too. What’s that? Half-power locks?
  • Automatic transmission. C’mon, imagine an ad that brags about that. The clutch is an endangered species, as is the teenager who knows how to use one. But there are still at least 20 cars on the market with available manuals in the 2016 model year, including the Miata. Others include the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S, the Porsche 911, the Fiat 500 Abarth, the BMW M5, the Ford Shelby GT350, The VW Golf R, the Corvette Z06 and the rapidly vanishing Dodge Viper.
  • Cruise control. What was once a high-ticket item is now solidly mainstream. What is worth a mention is adaptive cruise control, which is much more sophisticated technology that enables you to follow the car ahead of you. Even that is becoming old hat. According to the Detroit News, it’s standard or optional on more than 60 U.S.-market vehicles, including 30 from the Big Three.

There’s a bunch more things that are hardly worth mentioning: disc brakes, multiple speakers (with tweeters!), heated seats (well, maybe them), automatic climate control.

Push-button automatic was quite a space-age feature during the Kennedy Administration. On Edsels, it was mounted on the steering wheel. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Still worth shouting about: heads-up display, back-up cameras (though they’ll soon be mandated), rear-seat video, fancy wheels and tires. We’ve come to expect a lot from our cars, and in most cases we’re getting it.  By the way, if you see another puzzler—“FSH”—in a car ad, it stands for “full service history.” That’s a good asset to have.

As a public service, here's a video tutorial on how to drive a car with manual transmission. It's useful, but you're still going to have to get your lazy self out on the road and practice. Expect a few gears to grind:

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