Dear Car Talk:
In a recent column, you gave some advice on buying a new car. My wife and I are in a similar situation, looking for our first vehicle in about 20 years. We’re thinking of a small SUV – like a Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester or Mazda CX-5. But I’m unsure about the new safety features that just weren’t available the last time we were in the market for a car. A rearview camera is a must, but what about the others – blind-spot alerts, bird’s-eye cameras, lane-drift alerts? Which ones are worthwhile, and which will I be kicking myself for spending the bucks on a month from now? Thanks! – Mike and Marcia
Ray: They’re all worth it. A rearview camera is necessary because you can’t see out the back of most cars these days. The Forester is a rare exception.
The bird’s-eye-view cameras stitch together the views from four cameras – one on each side of the car – so it looks like you’re watching from above. It makes parking and maneuvering in tight spaces much easier.
Blind-spot monitoring is a feature that you won’t believe you lived without, once you have it. It’ll seem barbaric that we used to wrench our heads all the way around backward while going 65 mph, just to check our side flanks before changing lanes.
Adaptive cruise control maintains a safe distance from the car in front of you while you’re using cruise control, slowing down and speeding up as needed.
Lane-departure warning reads the lines on the highway and alerts you, or even nudges the steering wheel, when you accidentally drift out of your lane. I actually enjoy drifting out of my lane, so I find that that feature disrupts my bad-driving pleasure, but it does work very well.
And, perhaps most importantly, the newest technology to filter down to moderately priced cars is pre-collision warning and automatic braking. Those technologies use sensors that keep track of your distance from an object in front of you (a car that’s slowed down or stopped, or in some cases a pedestrian), and if you are not slowing down in time, it assumes you’re distracted and sets off a warning light and sound. And in the better systems, if you still don’t respond right away, it automatically applies the brakes. Pre-collision warning and automatic braking absolutely will save lives and reduce the severity of accidents. Every car should have them.
While it’s great that these technologies are filtering down to mid-priced cars, it’s unfortunate that you often can get automatic emergency braking only on the highest-end levels of cars – the versions that come with the heated leather seats and the optional butt-scratchers. So you may end up spending several thousand dollars more than you would have otherwise.
But if you buy a car only once every decade or two, you might as well get the state-of-the-art safety equipment – especially when it’s as effective and life-saving as the stuff that’s coming out now.
So get all of it, Mike and Marcia. You won’t kick yourself for it. Besides, in a few years, the car will kick you automatically.
Kids are gross – now car needs to be deep-cleaned all over
Dear Car Talk:
How do I completely take out the third row of seats in my 2002 Acura MDX? I need to deep-clean under it, thanks to the kids. – Ashley
Ray: The third row in that car is a bench seat, and it’s held in place with bolts that go into the floor. I can’t remember if there are four or six of them.
If you open the rear liftgate and follow the seat posts down to the floor, you’ll find that there’s a flap in the carpeting. If you fold it back, you’ll find bolts. The bolts come out, and then that bench can be lifted up and removed. But it’s pretty heavy.
My suggestion would be: Next time you take your car in for any kind of service, ask your mechanic to remove the third row of seats for you. It’ll be easy for him to do in the shop. And he can get another guy to help him lift it out.
Then have him put it aside while you take the car home, or to a local napalm factory, and steam-clean whatever disgusting bodily products your kids deposited in the carpet.
When you’re done, drive back to the shop, and have him put the seat back in for you. He’ll charge you a few bucks. Or if you’re a good customer – and you come back for your seat in less than a year – he might even do it for nothing. In which case, brownies would be the appropriate payment. Just make sure the kids don’t grind them into the carpet on the way back to the shop, Ashley.
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