Getting Tech Savvy Behind The Wheel

“Back to the Future” movies may have been a little off when they predicted flying cars by 2015, but not by much. Every year, advances in technology are bringing us closer to that reality. Here are just a few of the upgrades car buyers will hear about when they step onto the dealer’s lot.

Rearview Cameras

In 2014 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) passed a law requiring rearview cameras in all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds by May 2018. According to NHTSA, “there are 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries per year caused by backover crashes.” NHTSA is also reporting that children under the age of 5 are victims of 31 percent of backover fatalities each year, and adults over 70 are victims of 26 percent of these accidents.

According to Car and Driver, more than half of all 2014 model-year cars are already equipped with this safety feature. Sales and leasing consultant at Honda of Gainesville, Kim Kidney, sat down and explained how the car maker has already complied with the law.

“In 2012, rearview cameras started becoming available in most models, standard,” Kidney said.

Although all of Honda’s cars now have cameras, the type of system differs between various makes and models. For example, most LX and Sport models will have a dynamic backup camera, which features guidelines on the screen that move as you turn your wheel to show the car’s projected path, but LX Civics won’t, Kidney said. The camera level will depend on the screen that the car comes with.

NHTSA projects that the addition of cameras will cost car manufacturers up to $45 in cars already equipped with video displays and up to $142 in cars without screens.

“All of Honda’s 2015 models and above have rearview cameras, and it hasn’t affected the pricing,” she said.

Kidney said she agrees that this is a very important safety feature that all cars should have because it allows you to see all of the action going on behind you as you back up.

“If you’re in a crowded parking lot like anywhere in Butler Plaza, it’s really important to be able to see grocery carts, pedestrians, other people backing up,” Kidney said. “Also, if you have a lot of stuff in your car, like if you’ve just gone on this huge shopping spree and you can’t see out the back windshield, the backup camera lets you do that.”

Once this new law is officially enacted and rearview cameras grace the back bumper of every car in America, the NHTSA projects that 58 to 69 lives will be saved each year.

Automatic Parking

According to CNN, Toyota unveiled the first self-parking car in Japan in September 2003. Lexus joined the self-parking car market in 2007 with the introduction of the feature in its LS 460 model. Since then, Ford, Lincoln, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Bosch, Jeep and Chrysler have added automatic parking to various vehicles in each of their respective line-ups.

In 2014, BMW revealed the i3, a car that finds parking spots on its own and picks its owner up when summoned with a vocal prompt on a smartwatch app, according to Newsweek. This year, Bosch announced that it plans to release a fully automated parking system that allows the driver to be outside of thee car and activate autonomous parking from a smartphone.

Ford Motor Company introduced Active Park Assist in its Lincoln models in 2009. The feature guides drivers in and out of parallel and perpendicular parking spaces with ease, said Cory Thornell, Parks of Gainesville: Ford, Lincoln & Hyundai consulting manager.

“This is an important feature for those that want the comfort and the ease of finding parallel or perpendicular parking spots as well as the function of park out assist, leaving that spot after you have found a spot,” he said. “If you find that it is something that you have slight difficulty with or you just like the technological advantage of having it, I can definitely see it being a very important feature.”

Sensors on the front and rear of the vehicle detect spaces that the vehicle knows it will fit into, Thornell said. If it doesn’t think it will fit via the Active Park Assist feature, it will not ask you to try to park in that spot.”

“When it has detected a spot that it will fit in, it’ll then let you know to put it into reverse,” he said. “At that point, you take your hands off the wheel, and you are responsible for the break and the gas. As you start to reverse with the gas pedal, the wheel actually starts turning by itself, parking you into that spot. It will let you know when it is done parking. At that time, you put it into the park position, and you can exit the vehicle.

Thornell said that he believes that the Ford system, which is also found in Lincoln cars, is very easy to use.

“A novice can use it on the first try and usually it’ll work out 100 percent perfectly,” he said. “It’s a little bit shocking when it first starts turning the wheel for you, but as you use it a couple times it becomes second-nature.”

4G LTE Connectivity

In 2015, General Motors began offering a high-speed 4G LTE wireless connection on a range of models, including five Chevrolets, four Buicks, two GMCs and one Cadillac, according to Autotrader.

The connection works through GM’s OnStar telematics system and allows passengers to connect smartphones, tablets or laptops to the Internet through a built-in wireless hot spot.

“More new cars and trucks are offering in-vehicle Wi-Fi hot spots to keep drivers and passengers connected, but the technology has been largely limited to luxury brands. GM is changing that with available 4G LTE connections for a wide range of models,” Autotrader reported.

In January 2015, Subaru announced a partnership with Sirius XM Connected Vehicle Services and AT&T “to add 4G LTE connectivity to the Starlink in-vehicle connectivity system that Subaru introduced” in 2014, Car and Driver reported. The car manufacturer will begin offering this feature in 2016.

UConnect

In 2003, Chrysler became the first North American automaker to offer Bluetooth in its line of vehicles. The UConnect system is now in its third generation and offers a wide range of features on top of its original Bluetooth capabilities.

Gainesville Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram sales representative Bob Hendrickson is the local expert on Chrysler technology and said that even in its most basic form, UConnect gives you all of your call controls, settings for the car, comfort settings, and more.

“Many people will choose the navigation option when they go to our larger 8.4 inch screen,” Hendrickson said. “So many people use their smartphones; smartphones are great but this is a lot safer. You don’t have to fumble around with the phone. You can more or less look straight ahead at the road and still see the directions.”

In some of its vehicles, Chrysler offers a digital screen in the dashboard next to the speedometer where directions are displayed so that drivers are not forced to turn their head and look away from the road when using the navigation system.

“You can give verbal commands for the navigation, so you’re not taking your eyes off the road,” Hendrickson said. “You can verbally tell it what station you like. You can even verbally control the climate settings. In some models, there’s dual temperature control, so you can set the driver’s temperature to 66 and the passenger to 73, for example.”

Chrysler also offers the UConnect Emergency Service and Remote Service Assistance options. The Emergency Service is activated by pressing a big red 911 button.

“No matter where you go in the country, you don’t need a cellphone in the car,” Hendrickson said. “There’s an embedded cellphone mechanism in the vehicle no matter where you are, as long as you have cellular coverage, which is just about anywhere these days. You press that button, and you will get a local 911.”

The Remote Service Assistance is a concierge system that will connect you to a live person to address various needs.

“If you needed service they’ll send out a tow truck for you,” Hendrickson said. “If you run out of fuel, they’ll send you five gallons of gas. When you have that service, you can also download an app for your phone, so you can pre-start your car as well.”

Emergency Service is always free; however, Remote Service Assistance is a subscription feature. UConnect is available in all Chrysler vehicles, but the particular make and model will determine the breadth of features it provides.

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