'Touch Screens in Cars Solve a Problem We Didn't Have'

'the oversized touch screen in my Subaru Outback. All my car’s
important functions, which once were controlled by perfectly
serviceable buttons, have now been relegated to a matrix of little
boxes on a glowing screen. And of course the screen does not even
really comply with my commands. Instead, it randomly changes its
brightness and then disconnects my phone at the exact moment when I
actually need to look at the navigation map.

'To do something as simple as change the direction of the
air-conditioning from blasting in my face to blasting at my feet or to
listen to a podcast, I need to hunt for a tiny, sensitive square, wait
for a second screen to load, and then find the appropriate icon on
that new screen. This generally takes me about 10 seconds of
inattention to the road because despite having owned this car for two
years, I have zero intuitive sense of where these small shapes and
pictures are.

‘This presents me with a decision, one that must be made while
driving: I can jab blindly at the screen while swerving on the road; I
can try to make Siri play the podcast or adjust the air, an option
that has not once worked; or I can drive in silence with the
air-conditioning blasting in my face. I almost always choose the
option of least resistance, which means that I am essentially driving
a car with no adjustable climate control and no radio.’

'The question of whether touch screens are good or bad was actually
broached way back in 1986, when Buick put something called the Graphic
Control Center in its Riviera line. What’s particularly striking about
the Graphic Control Center, a nine-inch touch screen in the center
of the dashboard, was that it wasn’t all that functionally different
from today’s versions.

'You could turn the fan up and down, you could set your car’s
temperature and you could change the radio station. There was a
five-band sound equalizer that you could use to turn up the bass in
your speakers. (The funniest, and perhaps most useful, feature was the
“Reminder” function, which was like a to-do list for the
driver. Here’s a video showing all the functions.

‘But by 1990, Buick had abandoned the Graphic Control Center after
drivers complained that every small adjustment to the car’s
temperature or radio caused them to take their eyes off the road while
they prodded a touch screen.’


The best part is when they stopped offering it because it was unsafe according to customer complaints. The 90s were great!

It reminds me of an issue where the Tesla was probssibly illegal in Germany according to one judge, because adjusting the windshield wiper speed required using the touch screen, and there’s a law against looking at screens while driving in Germany.


But that’s a big part of what sells cars today. I only have one car new enough to have a touchscreen, and if I recall correctly (my wife drives it mainly), the only functions controlled by the touch screen are the radio, phone pairing, stuff like that. All of the “functional stuff” (climate control, wipers, etc) still have manual controls.

I can see the touch screens being a blessing and a curse.

When mine went blank due to a power supply, I knew exactly where to touch the screen for the function needed. Half a million miles will do that. I used to program the reminder for things like happy birthday or anniversary. Then one year I programmed it to say welcome to Florida just as we crossed the line. Never thought it was a distraction.

I’m thinking touch screens and other complicated controls (rotary knobs, touch pads, nav systems, infotainment equipment, etc.) are a part of the driver distractions contributing to the recent increase in fatality rates. But I’d put cell phones way at the top of that list.


Agree that is what I like about my old truck I can do all that I need to lights wipers etc without having to take my eyes from the road. :smiley:

I road test 5 to 10 cars each day, before I move the shift lever from park, I set the temperature to 72 degrees and push “Auto”. The air is discharged in the direction it is needed, no need to micro-manage the A/C system.

Can’t you wait until the vehicle has stopped to change modes on the entertainment system?

My current and previous cars are/were base trim level to minimize the irrelevant (to driving) crap.
My next car I might have no choice to avoid a big distracting screen.
Hopefully I can make it dark at night.

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My experience is that they have a way to turn the screen completely off. Some are more cumbersome to do so than others. Also some stay in the last configuration when the car is turned off and then back on while others turn the screen back on every time the car is started. Finally, some allow you to do some basic radio functions with the screen off but others turn the screen back on if you adjust any knob or button.

I, too, am thankful to have my HVAC and some radio controls with physical knobs and tactile buttons.

I suspect the touch screens are a cheaper way to access all the wonderful functions of the computers that now operate the systems of our cars. Us Luddites wish for the simple controls that did OK, but we do seem to like talking on the phone while driving, having customized climate control, adaptive cruise control and anti-collision warnings. If the car companies offered a model with none of that, what percentage of buyers would specify it?

My 2017 Accord EX-L has entertainment access through the touch screen as well as all the system settings. The system info is only available if I’m stopped. I can change to preset channels on entertainment and control volume on the steering wheel. I also access information like trip odometer, oil life remaining, and trip odometer from a button on the steering wheel. Lights, wipers, and side camera are accessed using sticks on the steering wheel. Works for me.

I’ve owned my Tucson for 4 years and would you believe I’ve never linked it to my smart phone?
When I get in the car I put the phone on silent.


When I finally got a new Smartphone (Galaxy S21) last year, the infotainment system of my 2011 Outback was unable to connect with it–unlike my older phones. At first, I missed that convenience, but I quickly learned to adapt and I simply ignore the phone while I am driving.

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Keep in mind that this will make it harder to call 911 in a hurry if you need to do that. I’ve had to do that several times over the years.

We don’t have our phones linked to our vehicles either. My phone can be used to call 911 just fine.

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I’m not looking forward to the day where my manual controls are gone. I have a temperature knob, a fan speed knob, and a airflow direction knob. All of them are physically linked controls. When I slide the fresh air intake open and closed, I’m actually moving the baffle.

I can do it all without taking my eyes off the road, because I shouldn’t have to pull over to change the fan speed or the temperature.

2010 Honda Fit


No need to stop the vehicle to change the climate control fan speed or temperature, push a button on the steering wheel and tell the vehicle to change the temperature;

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I don’t like the auto climate control systems as well as the manual, personally. Auto tends to change the fan speed, direction, and temp for you. I like to set it to vent in the summer, high fan speed and COLD. I don’t want it to change until I’m ready to change it. And I like it cold because I work in the heat. As cold as I can get it! May be just what I’m used to. I don’t have a ton of experience with auto systems. But I have noticed the fan direction changes and temp changes before I’m ready for it, even when set to the coldest temp option.

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It depends on the auto system. My ES300 had a perfect system, pretty much never touched it summer or winter, 100F or 30F. My MKZ requires more adjusting of the temp.

One thing I notice with auto systems is that folks start monkeying with the fan speed, etc, which throws most out of ‘auto’ into ‘manual’. I solve lots of problems by pushing the ‘auto’ button and then just adjusting the temp.


I’m probably guilty of that, I’ll admit. But I don’t want the fan speed dropping if I want it to keep getting colder. Seems kind of counterintuitive for it to drop.