Crappy automobile user interfaces (was: Re: Wang 300 Calc)

Chris Kennedy chris at
Sun Sep 9 12:17:58 CDT 2007

Mr Ian Primus wrote:


> I agree that a certain amount of symbols may be
> required for the language barrier problem, and the
> fact that they take up less space. But, I was very
> confused recently - I rented a truck for a trip to
> pick up some computer hardware.


We recently had a somewhat similar situation.

About a week ago we ended up renting a car for a few hours.  We were
eventually delivered a Nissan Altima, which was already running.  As we
were climbing into the car, the rental agent tossed us a keyring dongle
_but no key_ and said "To start the car, hold the key to the start/stop
button, then press the button".  Whatever, we were in a hurry so off we

Upon completing our appointment, we returned to the car, dutifully held
dongle to button and pressed said button.  'Acc' lights on the bezel.
Press again, 'On' lights on the bezel and the Tokyo-by-night disco
dashboard and environmental controls come to life.  Press again
and...everything turns off.


Fortunately the owner's manual was still in the car; buried in chapter
five is disclosed that in order to start the car it must be in park or
neutral (check), the parking brake set (check) and the brake peddle
depressed (ah, there we go).  Dongle in place, press...'acc'

What irked us was the fact that despite having enough chatty real estate
on the dash for the car to announce useful things like "Good morning!"
(literally) there was precisely zero prompting of any sort that the
configuration of the controls wasn't precisely what it wanted in order
to cause that third button press to take the 'start' arc rather than the
'stop' arc.

Driving back to the airport it occurred to us that there were other
problems with this little dongle.  It's an active device, so if the
battery goes dead you have to stick it into a hidden "docking port" in
order to start the car.  Unfortunately, if the battery is dead and the
doors are locked you can't get into the car in the first place.  The
manufacturer recognized that flaw and provides normal key locks in the
doors, but the rental company doesn't provide keys because "they're not
needed".  Then there's nifty secondary effects; for example the steering
column lock is electrically actuated so low/no bus voltage translates
into "you can't unlock the steering".

In the end we were left with the distinct feeling that this was one of
those ideas that fell out of Marketing; further, regardless of the
genesis of the concept it's a very bad idea for the user interface of a
rental car to differ significantly from the mainstream.

Chris Kennedy
chris at		AF6AP	PGP KeyID 108DAB97
PGP fingerprint: 4E99 10B6 7253 B048 6685  6CBC 55E1 20A3 108D AB97
"Mr. McKittrick, after careful consideration..."

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