Why Car Sensors Make Me Jumpy

When I bought my car, it was with the intention of finding a new vehicle that wouldn’t be any trouble for my last couple of years of working and commuting.

My previous car was 7 years old, with just over 100,000 km on the odometer and starting to get to that point where it might need significant maintenance or even replacement. The problem is that with car issues, you’re never really sure when or where that will happen, often with little or no advance notice.

I didn’t want to be “that guy” stuck on the side of the highway, blocking traffic during rush hour traffic, annoying people and being on the receiving end of people showing me their middle fingers. For my own peace of mind, a newer car was the solution.

However, as much as I love the smooth ride and the peace of mind from knowing that the car is not likely to need fixing anytime soon, my car’s dashboard has seen the sight of my own middle finger (but not when I’m driving, of course).

The reason: the sensitive car sensors.

In the short time I have had the car, I have had the experience of several dashboard warning lights coming on, beeping loudly, to announce “issues”.

When a warning light comes on and beeps, I get an instant surge of adrenaline in my stomach and an “Oh crap!” refrain plays in my head. Until I can get the car to a safe stop, my mind starts to race: “What is it? Is it minor/major? Is it dangerous? Will I have to take time off work? How much will this cost me?”

I’m not a car mechanic nor a computer programmer, so the fear of the unknown can get pretty overwhelming.

To reclaim control, I routinely pull into the nearest parking lot and haul the car’s user manual out of the glove compartment to look up the interpretation. I have sometimes even resorted to Google when the book didn’t answer my question. And when that didn’t work, I have resorted to calling the dealer, sometimes resulting in a precautionary visit to check it out.

But this is the seriousness of my warnings so far:

One warning light was to tell me the radar wasn’t working properly, which actually turned out to mean that the windshield was dirty. The radar couldn’t see through the grimy window of the car, travelling in Ottawa in February, when road salt and winter dirt are at their peak.

Another loud warning came from a symbol to tell me that scheduled maintenance was coming up.

The tire pressure symbol that came on at a time when I was very busy. I bought a tire pressure monitor and noted a minute difference in pressure in one tire. A visit to the dealer dismissed it as a false alarm. Fortunately, that light hasn’t come back since.

For someone who has been prone to anxiety, these warnings have not been fully appreciated. They have made me jumpy. And this isn’t the first time.

With the car before, one warning was to tell me the gas cap wasn’t on properly, when in fact it was. It was just that the sensor had issues when outdoor temperatures were in the -20s or lower. I’m sorry, but that’s a typical winter day here.

Another occasion that had me running to the mechanic was the check engine light that came on and off at random intervals. The interpretation I was given from a diagnostics test was that it needed a software update because one line of code was out of date.

The bright side to car sensors is that friends and family have shared with me stories of legitimate warnings about actual problems, and their thankfulness for the advance warning from a sensor. I am grateful for them that they were able to deal with an issue when it was small and manageable, and therefore helpful for them to maintain their road safety.

I am sure one day I will be in the same position and greatly relieved that a sensor was there to warn me ahead of time of a more serious issue, something that older cars haven’t traditionally been able to do.

As much as I appreciate the peace of mind that a sensor can bring, I challenge car manufacturers to make the next generation of sensors and warning symbols a little smarter. Can we distinguish warnings as high priority/low priority? Can we turn off the scary beep for a low priority issue? Can we give a little more information on the panel? Can the car tell me clearly what is wrong rather than having me jump out of my skin and worrying about it?

It’s not in my nature to become Penny from “The Big Bang Theory” and drive around with a flashing check engine light. I take the warnings very seriously (as Sheldon did) and inevitably, I will look into it. I just wish the warnings didn’t scare the crap out of me every time.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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