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Digital dashboard annoyances & solutions

Bought my first new car in 17 years. The digital touchscreen dashboards require me to take my eyes off the road in order to do just about anything: radio, heat, A/C, fan. What actual mechanical buttons it does have do not provide enough tactile cues for me to operate them without looking to see that I have the right button. I have added stick-on dots to the buttons I need most which help me feel them more easily. I will never believe that a touchscreen is a safe design when driving a car. One car I tried had a never ending dial that just scrolled through the vent settings so, again, had to look. If it had a stop on the far left turn and a stop on the far right turn then I could memorize the 5 settings in between. The Subaru I have will not let me turn the radio off when in Reverse…what is the purpose of that?? I still haven’t figured out the A/C and it has been a year. The salesman told me they don’t make cars for my generation anymore. Well he didn’t make that sale either. Please bring back knobs and dials. Anyone else frustrated with touchscreens? Any other solutions? Thanks.

No solution except to keep looking. I have a 15 Subaru and it’s one of the last models without a touch screen. Don’t know what to do for my next car… just keep maintaining this one perhaps.

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I feel your pain I had a rental for a week with the touchscreen.I would never own one.

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I agree with you completely, the first vehicle I drove with a touchscreen was a Chevy Suburban in school bus service. I had to toggle through multiple screens to find the heater controls and then use various arrows to choose the setting I wanter to change be it mode, outlet point blower speed or temp control and then toggle up or down to adjust the setting.
I had to pull over and park to change anything and the next bid, I changed runs just to get away from that thing.

If buying new, sometimes the cheaper model have better controls.

Yes I kind of think I should look for an older car without a touchscreen before they are gone.

I replaced my 1995 Grand Cherokee (197, 500 miles) with a 2017 Subaru Outback. I also found the touchscreen dash to require me to take my eyes off the road longer than I felt comfortable.
I wear bifocal glasses and found my old prescription did not work well for the new Subaru. I couldn’t see the smaller print on the dash instruments or on the touchscreen.
I had a new prescription made (call them driving glasses) and I had the prescription bifocal adjusted to a 32 inch focal length instead of the normal 18 inches focal length for reading.
I told the ophthalmologist I wanted the prescription bifocal correction to 32 inches so I could quickly glance at the touchscreen a clearly see rather than look and move forward to adjust the focal distance toread the touchscreen controls. The new prescription works much better but I still feel a touchscreen requires longer to look at (example is to select a radio station; no tactile feedback). I also prefer the old analog controls.

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I have exactly the same issues as you, and the manual wasn’t a heck of a lot of help in figuring anything out. I have a basic model, so your controls may be a bit different than mine. I use the radio, CD ,etc. controls on the steering wheel rather than reaching over to the screen. It’s safer but annoying as you sometimes have to scroll through quite a few screens to get to the device you want. I’ve learned to live with the backup issue, but as you say, it is annoying. The AC took me quite awhile to figure out. The manual was a bit confusing. I had to fool around with it for awhile before I got it figured out. One of the problems is that the manual is very confusing as I’m sure you’ve already found out. There are some You Tube tutorials that you can check out (, If you don’t want to use any of the controls manually, you could use the “voice command systems.” Good luck with that.

Thanks for the youtube link… I’m of the belief that a person shouldn’t have to read a manual to drive a car but I guess those days are over too. And the manuals aren’t exactly award winning literature.

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You should always read the manual. That was as true in the 1950’s as it is today. You’d be surprised at how many questions we get on here that are answered in the manual, and which, had the owner read the manual, would have resulted in them taking steps to prevent the damage they’re now on here asking us about.

I’ll take a touch screen over the rotary dial interface any day of the week. I like physical buttons too, but will point out that a lot of cars had physical buttons which you had to look at in order to use properly. GM was especially notorious for having a jillion tiny buttons that all felt the same. Here’s a great example, from an Olds Trofeo:

Oh, yes, let’s make a bunch of tiny square buttons that all feel exactly the same when you’re fumbling with them.

There’s no such thing as a perfect physical UI for cars that makes it so you never have to glance at controls.

And, honestly, that’s OK. A quick half-second glance when you’re not in heavy traffic is not going to kill you. You do it to look at the speedometer too. The problem comes when you get target fixation and sit there staring at the radio for 5 seconds, completely forgetting to see what’s going on outside the windshield. That’s a driver issue more than an interface issue.

I will point out that many cars which feature touch screen controls also are able to respond to verbal commands. heh. Check your manual. :wink:

I can recall that my father had a very hard time adapting to modern column-mounted controls for the lights and the wipers. He said that he preferred separate knobs on the dashboard. I pointed out to him that the dashboard knobs for each of his cars had been in separate locations, that those old-style controls were not standardized to any extent, and that they were frequently a long reach from the steering wheel, thus causing almost all drivers to have to take their eyes off the road in order to determine which of the identical-looking knobs were the right ones for the desired task.

He acknowledged the reality of what I pointed-out, but said that he still preferred the old-style controls. Part of the problem for my father–and possibly for the OP–is that many people have difficulty adapting to change, and this problem tends to become worse as one ages.


Just so you know… I spent 40 years in a profession that evaluated a person’s physical interaction with his/her environment in order to determine issues of dysfunction, whether created by the person or by the environment, following up with creating/finding solutions or adapting the environment so that the person could function to his/her highest level of independence. I am quite familiar with using mechanical vs digital in any environment and yes, change is hard but only when it is not easily useful in the setting. The environmental setting of traveling X mph, surrounded by other random vehicles going Y mph, requires visual attention to that environment with quick, logical, and easily accessible controls. Digital controls almost always require visual distraction, mechanical controls not so much. The tactile and proprioceptive input alone from mechanical controls can cue a person’s brain to stop at the desired setting without looking at a screen. Digital cannot. That’s my story… :).

PS…I did read the manual, over and over and …


So which digital touch screen controls are vital to the operation of the vehicle?

If there’s traffic and you need to be paying close attention, you do not need to play with the radio or change the air conditioner setting. Those things are for when the driving situation is more relaxed.

As far as I’m aware, all modern cars have direct controls for vital functions like lights, horn, brake, gas, etc.

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I am like your father I don’t adapt well to new ideas on my old truck’s I can reach & adjust any control without taking my eyes of the road. I do remember one time many years ago I was driving a car & could not find the dimmer switch on a car with column mounted controls, it was a borrowed car with no manual in it for me to check one place I stopped at a 14 year old kid showed me where it was.You know the old saying about teaching a old dog new trick’s it can be done but in my case but it is hard.

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Now that is an excellent question!

I would say Subaru’s weird default of not being able to turn off a loud radio by hitting the knob (left in position after rocking out to an old favorite as I pull into the garage) is a poor design since backing out of my driveway into traffic requires concentration… the radio computer boot up always lags behind my ability to start the car and start backing out.

It also points to the ability to turn off-on any interior feature that may provide a sensory distraction whether auditory or tactile (heat/AC, ventilation blowing on the face, lack of defrost.) in a situation requiring concentration.

Basically I think the rush to digital needs to be tempered with knowledge about how people’s minds and bodies work in stress situations.

In a few years manuals may no longer be needed. I just purchased a TV. When I turned it on it asked for my wifi password and then proceeded to connect itself to the internet and set itself up. The remote uses voice recognition so there are, more or less, no manual controls necessary. The Subaru has voice controls, and I’m sure more upscale cars have a more intuitive system. With AI moving along as rapidly as it is, I’m sure that in a very few years just about every car will have all its functions controllable by a simple voice recognition system.

What a horrible thought. I’ve never seen a voice recognition system that operated reliably. Is it even possible? With other people talking in the background and the radio blaring?


Yes, I’m sure you are right. Too bad. The great digital divide - coming soon to a highway near you.

That’s why the first voice command will be to your passengers “…shut up!!!” and then you proceed to command your car with instructions.

It already works quite well. When I use google on my iphone or ipad I use the voice recognition to input my queries, and it is amazing how accurate it is. I rarely have to repeat or rephrase. VR apps have improved an incredible amount in just a few years. The Dragon VR software that I bought probably no more than 2 or 3 years ago for my laptop is no where near as accurate as the stuff today, and it was sort of an ordeal to “teach” the Dragon your voice while with Google and other apps there’s no training required. It really is quite amazing.

I was in your camp until about 3 or 4 years ago. Google’s voice recognition is pretty excellent. It understands me probably 95% of the time, which is more than I can say for a lot of people. :wink: