Thanks to car tech innovations, it’s a good time to be a senior driver

Feb 09, 2018
  • By Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk:

You recently answered a question from another 83-year-old woman who asked about upgrading her car for a newer Subaru with more safety features. I just want to second your advice. I took your suggestion and bought a new car with such features, and I love it! I feel much safer now. Thanks. – Barbara

RAY: Aw, c’mon Barbara. I know you just wanted that 28-speaker stereo!

This is actually a pretty good time to be a senior without a car. You no longer have to be isolated or stranded. Now you can summon a Lyft, instantly, on your iPhone, and get picked up and dropped off anywhere you want. And in a decade or so, cars probably will be capable of driving themselves, so we won’t even need luxuries like vision, hearing and reflexes.

But for those who still count on their cars and like to be able to drive themselves around, there are (early self-driving) technologies that are worth upgrading to now. We particularly recommend cars with city- and highway-speed automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist. Those can be lifesavers. And then there are the mere fender savers, like rear cross-traffic alert and audible parking sensors.

And while these technologies are great for everybody, they’re particularly helpful for older drivers, whose reflexes may have slowed down a bit. Automatic emergency braking, in particular, is awesome. If you don’t notice that a car in front of you has slowed or stopped, you’ll get an audible warning. If you don’t react and hit the brakes yourself, the car will then hit the brakes for you in order to prevent or lessen the severity of an accident. It’s pretty amazing.

What usually happens with older drivers is that at some point, there’s an “incident.” You don’t notice a stopped car, or you lose all common sense and try to brave a Trader Joe’s parking lot on a Saturday morning, and bang – there’s an accident. At that point, the kids gang up and decide it’s time to confiscate your Mercedes S-Class, and you lose a big piece of your independence.

Well, these safety features can often delay that day of reckoning by helping you avoid certain accidents. Not every accident, but a lot of common ones.

So why not take advantage of them if you can? Everybody should, but especially those whose lives and routines could be permanently disrupted by one unfortunate accident.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety maintains a pretty good list of cars that have the most up-to-date safety equipment. You can find the 2018 picks at www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/TSP-List. Look for cars with TSP-Plus ratings (Top Safety Pick Plus).

And if you actually go out to buy one of those cars, be sure to carefully check the equipment on the exact car you purchase, since many of these features are optional still.

So, some cars on the lot will have the good stuff, and some identical-looking cars won’t. Triple-check.

And Barbara, we hope these technologies get you safely through the next decade, when you can write back and I’ll recommend a self-driving car for you.

How to find the parts you need at a junkyard

Dear Car Talk:

What was the Chevy equivalent of the 2002 Buick Century? A dashboard part has broken on my Buick, and if I need to go on a junkyard search, it would help to broaden the range of possible donor cars. Thanks for any info. – Emma

RAY: It depends on exactly which dashboard part you need, Emma. In addition to your Buick Century, GM made a number of cars on what they called the “W-Body chassis,” including the Buick Regal, Oldsmobile Intrigue, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Chevy Impala and Monte Carlo. But not all of them used all of the same parts.

The good news is that any decent junkyard will have a computerized database that will tell you exactly which other cars have a part that will work on your car.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have an ’08 Toyota Camry with a set of fuzzy dice that have lost their fuzz. Your local automotive recycler (aka junk man) would type in the part number, and the database would tell him that, for instance, the fuzzy dice in any Camry from 2006-2011 would fit your car – as would the dice from the same year Toyota Avalons.

And he can do that same kind of search for whatever dashboard part you need for your 2002 Buick Century. Then, of course, he can look up whether he has any of those cars, with those parts, on his lot. Or, if he’s tied into a larger database, he may even be able to locate a part for you at another yard anywhere in the country and have it sent to you.

Just don’t leave your old Buick unattended for too long when you visit the junkyard, Emma. Some other hungry customer might assume it’s inventory and start plucking off parts. Good luck.