The Star-Herald

Lessons learned from a four-wheeled marvel

My car is way smarter than I am.  

In fact, it’s an idiot-proofing marvel with all kinds of features designed to keep me from doing stupid things.

But I need to back up. These are new wheels for me.

Sadly, my old vehicle had fallen into difficulties that would have led to a monumental repair bill, so I reasoned it was better to put money into a newer model. It was time to let it go. 

So after much discussion with the good folks at my local dealership, and a few test drives, I decided on an SUV model. With all the requisite paperwork done, I drove it home.  

Then all I had to do was drive and enjoy it.

Right?  

Nope. I wound up sitting in the thing with the instruction manual, trying to figure out what all the bells, whistles and buttons meant. Sure, much of it was intuitive, like the turn signals, wipers and so forth — but there were features none of my previous vehicles had had.

Case in point: the push-button start. I get the concept, I really do. But years of habit don’t vanish in five minutes. I still sit inside, holding the remote — which for my old vehicle contained the key — and looking for a key to insert into an ignition. 

Already, though, I’ve learned some valuable lessons.

I was at a stop light when, all of a sudden, the engine abruptly stopped. “Oh, no,” I thought, “don’t tell me this engine has stalling issues.” At the green light I stepped off the brake, and the motor purred into life.  

At the next red light, I braked — and the engine stopped. Green light, off the brake, engine started. I began to sense a pattern. I seemed to recall pressing a button at one point that lit up a message saying “Auto stop off.” I had wondered what that meant; now I thought I knew.  I pressed it. At a red light again — the engine stayed on. 

That was my first lesson: Keeping your car running while you drive it (does this only make sense in Maine?) by disabling the fuel-saving “auto stop” feature.

Back at home, I grabbed the keys to open the house door and set a few groceries inside, leaving the engine running. I had just rounded the front bumper when the lights flashed and the horn — the very loud, sounds-like-a-fire-truck-is-going-to-run-you-over horn — sounded three times. I believe I was level with the peak of the garage roof before I came down from that one.

Lesson number two: You will be sorry if you leave the engine running and attempt to take your keys out of the car. Please keep a change of underwear in the vehicle at all times.

 A couple of days later, at the grocery store again, I grabbed my list — but had mistakenly left my keys in the vehicle. I attempted to lock the car with the push button. The horn shrieked again and the driver’s door button would not lock. I grabbed the keys and tried again — bingo, the door locked that time.   

Aha, I thought, now this is useful.

Lesson number three: You cannot lock your keys in the car. 

See? This smart car really is idiot-proof.

Now I’m waiting for the day the car decides not to unleash me on society and keeps me trapped inside.

Paula Brewer is assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times, St. John Valley Times, Penobscot Times/Weekly and Piscataquis Observer, plus websites TheCounty.ME, FiddleheadFocus.com, thepenobscottimes.com and observerme.com. She can be reached at 207-764-4471 or via email at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com.

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