All Options Are Not Equal

No Filter

Apple pie is a classic American dessert, available in many different forms and from many different suppliers. Your Aunt Mildred may whip up your favorite, but McDonalds will happily place an apple pie on your plastic tray. Even though they aren’t anything alike, you can’t argue that both don’t fit the definition.

It’s not much different in the automotive world. Features such as heated seats and automatic climate control once were reserved only for luxury and premium cars. Now it’s rather difficult to find an automobile that doesn’t offer these comfort-enhancing options. For about $28,000, you can get a new Kia Optima with leather seats that are heated front and rear—plus ventilated up front. You can equip an Optima with power seats, including driver’s side memory, rear parking camera, panoramic sunroof, power folding side mirrors, and a premium audio system and still get change back from your $30,000. But like apple pie, all extras are not created equal.

When you cycle through a multitude of cars on a regular basis, you learn a lot about the details—especially when you’re a detail freak like me. It’s even easier to experience these details in the temperate climate of Michigan. Hot, humid summers are countered with brisk winter mornings that can hover around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Our wicked arctic weather is a perfect test for butt warmers. The good ones quickly make you feel all warm and lovely, no matter what the weather. The bad ones make you feel like you just wet your pants. That’s not a warm and lovely experience.

It’s the same with automatic climate control—except the wetting yourself bit. In cars that get it right, just set the desired temperature and keep the system in auto mode. No matter what the conditions are outside, you’re left comfortable, with no fogging issues. In cars that get it wrong, you’ll find that the automatic climate control only works properly if you use the manual mode.

And the frustrations don’t end there. Winter tires are popular with some of my fellow Michiganders, though they can affect a car’s tire pressure monitor system (TPMS). If you live in a place where you get snow like we get snow and you don’t run winter tires, you’re not a good driver.

On cars that get it right, after you bolt on your winter wheels, you simply press a few buttons, and the car’s TPMS automatically learns the second set of wheels. It’s the same, simple process come spring. It’s easy, convenient, and smartly engineered, just as it should be. On other cars, your only option is to visit the dealer for the reset procedure twice a year. Stupid. The German brands tend to have excellent systems in this regard and the Japanese tend to have the worst. The American car companies are hit or miss. This surely has to do with each country’s winter tire culture—or lack thereof.

Whether it’s heated seats that make you reach for the adult diapers or a TPMS warning light that permanently burns your retinas, these quirks and differences are pretty much unknown to the average consumer during the car buying process. Most buyers just want to tick the boxes for as many options as they can afford. They don’t understand that it takes companies’ time and energy (read: money) to make features work to perfection. Buyers look at the price and the features and have trouble saying “no” to the cheapest car with the most extras. A Mercedes E350 sedan is about the same size as a Kia Optima and it pushes $65,000 when equipped with the same features noted above.

I’m not implying that Mercedes is good and Kia isn’t. There are many instances where a cheaper car has better functioning features—Aston Martin and the late Maybach, for example, often fall short. It’s important to take your time in the buying process and do research. Read road tests, dig through forums, and spend time on the test drive. Ask lots of questions at the dealership and fact check the answers you get. An educated buyer is a skilled buyer. If we stop buying the cars that don’t get the details right, maybe those issues will be fixed on future models. I wonder if that would work with The Golden Arches and their apple pies.