I’ve been exposed to the automotive industry for as long as I can remember. From my earliest childhood memories to my university internships and my eventual foray into the industry proper, I have developed a sort of romance with this little part of the world that has somehow not just been able to modernise society over the last century but also invoke an immense sense of passion and community among a select plenty.
As with any romance however, it’s not always a bed of roses and there are bound to be things that irk and annoy us. So here I will share with you some of my biggest pet peeves about the automotive industry. Now it’s not to say that any of these are major issues and do not have a reason behind their existence, but that doesn’t mean they are immune from being annoying to me.
The lack of standards for common consumables
Starting off with one of the biggest ones that annoy me, not just as someone in the industry but also as a consumer are the serious lack of standards for the most basic consumable parts. These include the most basic essentials like oil filters, air filters, spark plugs, brake pads, and the list goes on. The level of fragmentation is really quite annoying especially when you consider that it routinely occurs not just across brands but even within the brands themselves.
For example it is not uncommon for the same car with the same specs but built in different years or a different region to require different types of oil filters or brake pads. This fragmentation is even greater across different brands as there is simply no set of industry wide standards for such consumables. Now I suppose the problem is that a lot of these manufacturers go back many decades and they historically designed and manufactured the majority of their parts in-house hence the lack of standards between different manufacturers and sometimes even amongst their own suppliers. These days with the industry consolidating itself and moving towards more mergers, acquisitions and alliances, shared parts are becoming more and more common between brands but we are still a long way from seeing any semblance of an industry standard or common set of standards for parts.
Now I can’t say I blame the manufacturers for this fragmentation as automotive design and packaging is a highly complex and largely proprietary process. Also, every designer has their own ideas of how to design and engineer a car which has in fact been a hallmark of the automotive industry since the beginning. This strong sense of uniqueness is admittedly one of the amazing things about cars that I would really hate to see disappear, but it does create this annoying situation that we have today.
Fake vents and exhaust tips
Now I’m probably not alone on this one. While fake air vents and exhaust tips installed aftermarket do enough to invoke the ire of purists, it’s worse when they come straight out of the factory. Now I’m all for customisation and I do believe everyone has the right to style their ride however they please, but that doesn’t mean I’m obliged to agree with it.
So here’s my beef. I think it’s perfectly fine to sport something that you like even if you’ll probably never use it the way it was intended. Like a helium escape valve on a diving watch that never goes deeper than the fish tank, there’s nothing inherently wrong with driving a Giulia Quadrifoglio solely for supermarket runs. Is it a waste of high performance technology? Perhaps. But if you can afford it, who’s to stop you? After all it’s still hard not to admire an impressive piece of machinery even if it’ll probably never be used to it’s full potential. On the flip side however, wearing something that’s made to resemble an impressive piece of machinery while being little more than a paperweight is quite something else. Like an air vent that feeds into nothing or worse still, a fake exhaust tip that isn’t even fitted to an actual part of the exhaust system.
One could forgive the less informed consumer for not knowing the actual purpose of such components and simply putting them on as an aesthetic facelift. But more and more these days we are seeing them appear straight out of the factory and being sold as a “Sports package”. Now this is not to say that I don’t understand why car manufacturers would do this, in fact it makes perfect sense from a marketing standpoint. Business is business and I really cannot fault them for simply doing what they need to survive. I do think it is regrettable that the very people who understand these things best are having to resort to such gimmicks in order to remain competitive.
Different model names for the same car
Now I’m sure most of you have probably seen identical looking cars sporting different model names on them and feeling a little confused about it. Well for those of you who didn’t know, they are in fact mostly the same car bar a few styling and feature differences. While not exactly armageddon, this naming trend by manufacturers can get a little confusing and annoying at times especially if a large portion of your daily conversations happen to focus around cars.
Now as with most things (not really), there is a perfectly good reason why this is done. With cars being exported all over the world and sold in many countries, the multitude of different language markets mean that certain model names can be less appealing or perhaps even offensive in certain languages. This is usually due to either pronunciation being an issue in certain regions or a likeness to a particular word in that language which happens to be less than appropriate. A perfectly fair reason from a marketing standpoint. What I cannot understand however is why do we not see this happen in pretty much any other global industry? How is it that only automakers so often seem to come up with names that aren’t appealing in other languages and have to worry enough about it to create a completely different name to suit that particular market?
Perhaps it really is that hard to come up with a name to suit all languages and cultures, and perhaps automobiles tend to be viewed as more significant purchases both cost and safety wise hence making their naming all the more crucial. Whatever the case, I’m not going to try to claim to be smarter than the people who come up with model names back at the factory, but I will say that I do find it annoying and I hope it really is something necessary and not simply because it just isn’t being thought through better.
That darn check-engine light (CEL)
The check-engine light, bane of car owners, creator of doubt. From the uninformed feeling worried that something serious has gone wrong to the learned enthusiast wondering which wire came loose this time, it’s amazing how wide an array of emotions this little light on your dashboard can trigger. Equally amusing is how this indicator light, arguably the vaguest ever invented, is still being used in the most modern of cars today. How can a single light that could mean almost anything from a loose airbag connector wire under your seat to a failing camshaft position sensor in your engine, that requires specialised equipment in order to know what’s causing it to appear, still be acceptable on new cars in this day and age?
Some manufacturers have attempted to provide more information with a proper LCD display showing the exact error message causing it, and despite these still being slightly vague, I do applaud them for trying.However, having just that single light as an indicator of something (whatever it may be) not working correctly somewhere on the car is still a pretty common practice today. A practice that will continue to strike either unnecessary or necessary (see the issue here?) panic in unsuspecting car owners and annoy the hell out of enthusiasts and perfectionists alike.
All those tyre sizes
Now this ties back to my first point, the lack of standards for common consumables. Tyres are not exempt, in fact a single model of tyre can come in over 100 different sizes and still not cover 100% of the market. This may sound like more than enough size offerings, but if you consider just a limited range of 16” to 22” tyres, that’s already 7 diameter sizes. With each diameter, you have different tyre widths ranging on average of 5-6 variants in 10mm increments which easily creates 35 or more different permutations. Add in the aspect ratio which you would on average have about 3 variants and you get over 100 size permutations. Certain manufacturers aren’t helping either by speccing their cars with less common sizes that are much harder to find aftermarket. Whether this is due to superior OEM price offerings for odd sizes or some other business decision, it certainly adds to the frustration.
Another downside of having this many size permutations is that tyre manufacturers are having to be more focused on the sizes they can manufacture for their different tyre offerings. For example, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find performance tyres under 17 inches as manufacturers seem to feel that the majority of performance focused cars these days tend to run upwards of 17 inches. This becomes a problem for those who wish to have sportier tyres on their smaller wheeled cars but end up mostly limited to non-performance and economy type tyres. Of course the tyre manufacturers have their business priorities and I can’t fault them for wanting to minimise their inventory holdings, but I’d argue that this would be much less of an issue if we simply had more consolidated sizing standards.
So that concludes this rant of some of my biggest pet peeves of the car industry. That being said, a lot of the points I have included do in fact add to the character of the automotive world and in some ways are a weird part of its charm. It’s back to that love-hate relationship again which despite it’s annoyances, is endearing enough that we enthusiasts are willing to put up with it. I’d love to hear what other things annoy you about the automotive world.