The factors that go into buying a car can vary from person to person. One driver may not care about how a car looks or its specific model. They just want something comfortable, affordable and able to get where they want to go. Another driver may be more interested in the fuel efficiency of the automobile and the way it handles the road. One car owner wants something that looks amazingly flashy and can be shown off well while another may settle for a cheap junker. Location is another factor as those living in cities will have different needs than people who live in more distant areas. That’s not to mention if one is going for a sports car, SUV or jeep as each has differing facets and factors to consider.
The features of a car are always seen as a key factor in your purchasing. It’s easy to forget how things taken for granted today (stereos, good ventilation, and even seatbelts) were all once considered “optional extras.” As cars have evolved, so have the features to enhance their viability for owners. This means that over the years, there have been a lot of car features that owners can find laughable. A few were brief touches that didn’t last long and are amazing were ever considered. Others are still used today but can still be seen as way over the top and downright ridiculous. The addition of special features popularized by numerous car TV shows just adds to the fun. Here are 25 of the strangest car features that many find easy to laugh at today to show not every “special accessory” works out for car buffs.
25 Water Balloon Bumpers
There’s also an expected trial and error when designing car features. Back in the 1960s, the technology to avoid collisions didn’t exist and fenders and bumpers weren’t as well built. John Rich came up with what he called “hydraulic bumpers” for taxicabs. In essence, they were basically balloons that, when burst in a crash, fired out water. It sounds incredibly dumb yet amazingly, it was actually used by cabs in New York, Portland, and San Francisco. Statistics showed that accidents and repair costs did lower when the bumpers were used. Sadly, the cost of their creation was deemed too much for mass production. The repair for one set would be $1100 which was a very steep price back then. It may not have been elegant but it actually did better than one would suspect.
24 Horse Head
At the turn of the 20th century, automobiles were still referred to as “horseless carriages.” They were also considered a fad for the rich set, not something that would become an essential part of everyday life. Uriah Smith was a renowned preacher who also fancied himself an engineer. He believed what was preventing cars from being accepted was how horses were naturally terrified of the machines. So he came up with the “solution” of a carriage with a huge fake horse head that would fool the horses into thinking it was one of them. To say this didn’t out very well would be a severe understatement. It barely got off the drawing board and showcases just how bizarre the early days of the auto industry were.
23 Headlight Hair
Maybe it’s the popularity of Pixar’s Cars movies. Maybe it’s some throwback to those 1960s cartoon shows. But more and more car owners are trying to make their cars look like actual living beings. A common bit has been adding eyelashes to headlights to make them look like actual eyes. A few drivers also put huge mustaches or beards on the bumpers and rims to make them look like mouths. There are even cases of folks decorating their headlights to look like actual eyes. It helps them stand out pretty well but it also makes them look rather ridiculous. Frankly, cars as living beings is a pretty creepy idea and the attempts to make that happen say a bit too much about their owners.
22 Mini-Bar in Glovebox
The issues with this addition should be rather obvious. It’s one thing to have a light drink at a bar, wait around a bit and then drive home. It’s another to have an entire mini-bar right in your glove compartment. This was actually created in 1957 for the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. It even had the clever touch of magnets in the shot glasses to keep them stationary. It's almost forgiven given the attitude to such indulgences was a lot different in the ‘50s. However, the modern Jaguar company offer their own mini-bar in a glovebox. Just try to defend this when you’re pulled over by the cops. Such a set-up belongs in a limo rather than a driver’s seat.
21 Roof Tent
This is a recent fad among some truck owners which looks a bit weird. Sometimes, it can make sense if a driver has been on the road a while and just wants to pull over for some sleep. In that case, putting up a tent in the back of the truck to stretch out in is logical. However, many jeeps and trucks are coming out with huge tents that fit on the roof of the vehicle. They can range in size from a simple one-person tent to a massive space that requires an entire platform to support. A few (such as the Tepui models) are even able to cover half of the vehicle itself. Sure, it can be a boon for campers but making your truck part of the entire setup is a bit of overkill.
20 Pedestrian Airbags
Airbags have been one of the greatest safety features ever created. Countless lives have been saved by the inflatable cushions going off to protect drivers and passengers in collisions. They’re now pretty standard in all cars to showcase a vital move to prevent roadside tragedies. Now, Volvo has been working on the idea of airbags meant for pedestrians. The idea is that if a car hits a pedestrian, a special cushion bursts from the outer windows to keep the person from flying over the car and soften the impact. It’s still in the working stages as some collisions result in the pedestrian flying away from the car rather than onto it. This makes this an easy way for a car to pop a balloon at the wrong moment and make a situation worse.
19 Rear Jump Seats
Some jump seats can make a bit of sense. A great example would be SUVs with a rear jump seat section allowing more room for kids to sit. Having that same feature in a standard sports car doesn’t work out as well. But the Audi A8 offers a rear jump seat that turns the car into the space of a small limo. That can make sense if you’re a passenger and want to stretch out. Yet it looks downright odd and a rather confusing addition. Again, jump seats are fine for an SUV or family car but tossing them into a sports one doesn’t work as well.
18 Illuminated Tires
It’s easy to believe that lighting up the underside of cars is a modern approach. The Fast and Furious movies have showcased cars boasting a variety of fancy lighting systems in their undercarriage and rims. But like so many ideas, this is a lot older than it seems. Back in the 1960s, Goodyear boasted the idea of illuminated tires. They were made of semi-translucent synthetic rubber and light-up bulbs inside the tires. That made any car stand out on the road and easy to spot at night. The idea was quickly discontinued due to the safety considerations of the lights so close to the engine. But given how popular lighting up cars has become, perhaps this is a concept ready for a comeback.
17 “The Gentleman Function"
This may sound elitist but it’s also a tad difficult to talk about in a family setting. The BMW iDrive controller gives this option for the driver to adjust the passenger seat without standing up. This gives them instant legroom at a moment’s notice. The manufacturers state this is a good way for the driver to instantly open up room for someone sitting behind the passenger seat when the passenger is refusing. The name makes it sound a bit more sinister than it actually is although the implications are pretty obvious. Maybe a different name would make this accessory go down easier with female drivers.
16 Swivel Seats
On the one hand, you can understand what Chevrolet was going for with this design. Sometimes, it can be a bit of a headache pulling yourself in and out of your car, especially in bad weather. Thus, the swivel seat is a smart move. All you have to do is give a turn and you can put your feet down and step right out. There is the issue in how it’d be a bit too easy for the seat to get a bit out of control during driving which could be an issue. It didn’t last too long with passengers complaining about it being too much of a hassle. It’s a good case of what sounded like a smart addition turning into a mess.
There’s a tendency of European cars to have features that Americans can find…eccentric. In 2010, the Mini-Cooper was being boasted as the best model of the car often mocked for its small size. What they ended up with was even more laughable. First, the top can only be lowered when the car is going less than 20 miles an hour. But that’s topped by a meter that tells the driver how much time the top has been down. Yes, Mini thought it was worth spending a few extra grand building this device just in case the driver lost track of how much time they were exposed to open air. Deciding to put this in over, say, a few more horsepower is a reason it’s so easy to mock the Mini.
14 Speed Chime
There’s been a few versions of this over the years. The first was created by Nissan in 1989. The idea is simple but effective as a special chime goes off if you hit 55 miles an hour. It’s meant to be a warning to slow down which is smart. The worst part is that the chime kept going off even after the speed was dropped and became incredibly annoying. Recently, the Toyota AE86 offered their own chime which is highly popular in Japan as it ties into the hit racing magna Initial D. Given the chime goes off at 64 mph, that is far more aggravating for American drivers. Nothing can make a long road trip worse than an annoying beep that won’t shut up.
13 Levitating Gear Knob
Let’s be honest: A lot of car features have little to no real purpose but simply look cool. The Jaguar XL levitating gear knob is one of those. Instead of a classic gear stick, when the car starts up, this small knob pops out from the dashboard. You then give it a spin to lock onto the drive you want before you hit the gas. In practice, it can be tricky as the knob moves back down once a drive is locked in and won’t work if the battery is dead. It’s also a jump going from moving a stick to finding the right knob setting, followed by hitting a command button. While it does offer a unique spin on a design, it’s not an essential accessory.
12 Honda Shower
The appeal of jeeps is being able to take them to places where they get muddy and dirty. They’re also popular for beachgoers so you’ll have riders or even kids covered with sand and the occasional seaweed. Honda was the first to push the shower concept although their initial attempt wasn’t that good. It was a water jug with hose and a 12-volt battery (which was naturally a danger around water). It also offered no real privacy for full body washes so was just good for washing the feet and the occasional muddy hood. The fact the water was always cold didn’t help. Recent SUVs offer a solar shower which is a bit better yet still lacks the whole privacy thing. It often seems easier to just stop by someplace to shower off rather than lug this apparatus on your hood all the time.
11 Top Speed Key
When you buy a top-end sports car, one expects to be able to access all its speed right off. However, Bugatti decides to do something a bit different. The Chiron boasted having a top speed of 261 mph. But drivers soon found that the highest they could access was actually 236 mph. If they wanted to go the full speed limit, they would have to unlock it. As in literally putting a key into a slot to reach that limit. Not only that, the car was designed to prevent drivers from going that fast is the car computer judged the road unsafe for those speeds. It’s a commendable safety feature yet also baffling to deny drivers the opportunity to cut loose on their own automobile.
10 Wrist-Twist Steering System
The line of “reinvent the wheel” has existed as long as the automobile industry. Leave it to Chevrolet to take that saying literally. In 1965, the company boasted a new steering system that did away with the traditional wheel. Instead, special locks went around the wrists with manual buttons and gauges the driver could twist. The idea was to leave more leg room and special promotional films boasted of how “it makes driving easier for women.” That rather backward approach may have contributed to the public never accepting this concept. There were also issues in actual testing and how it was too far a departure from the wheel. Only a few prototype models were made as it’s hard to beat the classic steering wheel.
A few cars had designs of small desk tables that could unfold for the passenger side of a car. That’s all well and good if the other person wants to do some work or read. It’s another thing to offer not just the passenger but the driver a full-scale work station. Bentley is now offering models of the Mulsanne with fold-out workstations in the car seats. They contain keyboard, iPad and 12-inch screens. Other models have a special version that can be used by the driver just in case you feel like checking the Internet while you’re cruising on a highway. This is taking the “work on the go” approach to the extreme.
8 Umbrellas in Doors
It’s hard to get more British than this. Owners of Rolls-Royces in England know it’s often tricky handling those stylish cars in the infamously poor British weather shifts. As umbrellas are practically a fashion accessory of their own in England, it should be no shock Rolls decided to combine the two. Their latest models boast not one but two umbrellas built right into the doors which can pop out at a moment’s notice to use. These aren’t standard umbrellas either as each one is at least $750 a pop. It showcases how the British love to put a little more class in their cars.
7 The Lightning Rod
It’s still hard for car buffs to accept that Oldsmobile is gone. For decades, the manufacturer was one of the most popular and powerful brands in the U.S. and nearly any of its models were considered must-haves. The 1983 Hurst Lightning Rod was supposed to lead the company into the new decade with pride. Instead, it was a major loss due to the ridiculously complex triple-gear shift. Too many drivers found the shifts far more complex than needed to make a drive a messy affair. Oldsmobile only made a limited number of these vehicles as even drivers used to today’s complex mechanics would have trouble handling this shift design.
6 Bolt-in Bed Seats
In 1964, Johnson pushed what became known as the “Chicken Tax.” It wasn’t just poultry but a 25% tariff on various international goods, most notably foreign-built cars. This was a blatant attempt by the U.S. to promote domestic cars over international brands. Some companies retaliated by creating plants in the U.S. but Subaru couldn’t afford that. They thus planted some bed seats into the cargo bed and passed it off as a “passenger car.” While it was a smart way to avoid the tariffs, it put the passengers in danger. The fact the only “protection” amounted to a ski rack didn’t help. You still see of these around which showcases how the “Chicken Tax” actually hurt auto manufacturers more than helped them.
5 Built-in LP Player
Listening to music in cars has long been a must for drivers. From cassette players to CDs to iPods, there have been great ways to hear some tunes while on the road. In 1956, with rock and roll taking off, Chrysler decided to latch onto the trend by offering a built-in LP player. It’s historic for one of the first of its kind but the limitations were obvious. LPs have a tendency to skip at a bump and given that both roads and cars weren’t as smooth back then, that meant a lot of scratched records. There was also the fact it only produced CBS records due to rights issues. It didn’t last long as it would take the advent of 8-Tracks and cassettes for albums in cars to really succeed.
4 Heat Sensor
A major benefit of today’s technology is that it’s a lot easier for a driver to call out for help. Either through a phone call or an app, a stranded driver can summon aid even on the loneliest of highways. Volvo seemed to think there was another major danger that required some serious safeguarding. The Personal Car Communicator came with the S80 Sedan and offered the then-novel idea of an alarm if someone got too close. That makes sense but Volvo also had the feature of a sensor warning the driver if someone was in the backseat hiding. Obviously, if an intruder was that close to detect, it would be a little late for a warning which sort of defeats the purpose of this device.
3 Ice Maker
One of the bigger flops in Toyota’s history was “The Van.” Introduced in 1984, this bulky vehicle looked more like the transport for a TV super-team than a family ride. The design was bulky and the engine could only get about 90 horsepower. Why was Toyota convinced this was going to be a hit? Because it had an icemaker. Yep, the company believed a built-in ice machine would make up for the incredibly slow speeds and an engine mounted under the passenger compartment. They finally replaced it with the Previa in 1990 to show one tiny addition doesn’t justify the rest of the Van being bad.
2 Perfume Sprayer
Air fresheners are always a great accessory to have in a car. For just a few dollars, a driver can purchase a small freshener to get some of that smell out of their car. Some car companies offer something a lot more upscale. Mercedes-Benz has been introducing special fresheners in their cars which spray out what amounts to a special perfume for the car from the glove compartment. They come in a variety of scents and the company presses some “manly” themes like Fireside, Sports and Downtown Moods. It can help a car smell sweeter yet seems a lot more expensive than just buying a freshener from the gas station.
1 Self-locking Seat Belts
This is a showcase for how forgetful and/or lazy some drivers can be. Putting on a seatbelt should be a natural action for any driver. However, more than a few accidents prove how easy it is for people to forget it. In 1986, the Transportation Department told auto manufacturers that they needed cars to have either airbags or better seatbelts. Several manufacturers went for a special self-locking seat belt that automatically clicked around them when the door closed. Complaints soon grew of how it was hard to adjust these belts and it was an expensive touch. Also, they proved to be too easy to break and even cause damage to a car. Thus, car companies opted for airbags instead, making this a brief safety fad.
Sources: roadkill.com, Wikipedia.org, popularmechanics.com