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About A Week: Too Many Buttons

Peter Hinchliffe is beginning to think that modern cars have bigger ďbrainsíí than their owners.

My dadís tiny pre-war Austin car had an in-built air conditioning system. Wind a handle on the dashboard and the windscreen opened outwards.

On rare hot sunny days we raced across the Yorkshire moors to Whitby at all of 30 miles an hour, a welcome blast of air rushing inwards to cool sweated brows.

Keep the windscreen open for more than five minutes though and you ended up spitting flies.

No in-rushing fly problems in our jazzy new Honda. Press a button, an electric motor whirrs, the sun roof flips open. Press another button, the sun roof rolls back.

The passenger window needs to be opened a tad? This button does the trick. Wing mirrors require adjustments? Here are buttons to make them move side to side or up and down.

If the breeze through roof lid or window is inadequate just turn on the air conditioning.

Frugal Yorkshire folk will probably choose to sweat a bit rather than opt for conditioned air. It results in the car travelling four miles less to every gallon.

This is the first car weíve had with electrically operated windows. Canít say Iím impressed. One more electrical device which will be costly to repair when it goes wrong.

Turning a handle to wind a window up or down never struck me as being particularly stressful or burdensome. And who in England needs a sun roof on a car? Open the lid in eleven months of every year and all you see is a grey cloud canopy.

Mind you the little Honda has a splendid sound system. As an aria from Mozartís Magic Flute comes soaring in you can almost convince yourself you are at Covent Garden.

Then the soprano is rudely interrupted by a flat radio voice announcing traffic hold-ups because of an accident in Armley, Leeds.

Maybe thereís a simple way of telling the radio that we are prepared to take our chances. That we no longer want our music interlaced with traffic announcements. If so, I have yet to find how to do it.

Iím not alone in being bemused by in-car wizardry. Damon Hill, a Formula One world racing champ, recently wrote despairingly of the sound system in his new Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Sportwagon:

ďIím in my forties.. I have four children. My life is nearly at an end, and I just want to listen to my favourite radio station without reading the b----- manual.íí

Here, here Damon. Iím beginning to think that modern cars have bigger ďbrainsíí than their owners. There are 343 pages in the Honda Jazz manual. Thatís going a bit for a small car. I donít intend to peruse all of them. Iíd rather spend time reading the local newspaper, even though it often brings grim tidings for motorists. Hold-ups on the M62. Drivers fuming in traffic jams at Waterloo. More cars on the road than ever, with traffic volumes increasing week by weekÖ

One day soon that wretched Traffic Announcement channel which I donít know how to switch off will chortle: Traffic in West Yorkshire is at a standstill. All major roads are blocked.

And Iíll be stuck on some city by-pass, wondering if Iíll get home for Christmas.

Never mind. I can fiddle with the buttons. Roll the windows up and down. Stick my head out of the sun roof to confirm that Iím not going anywhere.


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