Looking Forward by Ted Bellamy

Last weekend, I rented a Toyota Prius.
We flew to Oakland for a weekend in the Napa Valley. (Boy has THAT place changed since 1962!) As you might imagine, there are a lot of Priuses sitting in the parking lot at Oakland Airport. It’s near Berkeley, San Francisco, Marin County – all places where I’m sure the Prius sells very well. The rental car people were happy to upgrade us.
The clerk said, “So, you’ve driven a hybrid before?” and I said, “Yeah,” because I did once. It wasn’t a Prius, but….
Because I’ve been paying attention to news reports, I knew that all I had to do to start the car was get in (with the key in my pocket) and press the start button. Which I did, and the car came to life. That is to say, the dashboard lit up, the radio went on, and an orange light directly in front of me said “Ready.” One disquieting thing about a hybrid (if you’ll forgive the pun) is that it makes no noise when it’s idling.
At this point, I realized needed to drop back for a moment. There was a bunch of lighted symbols on the dashboard I didn’t understand, the gearshift was a spring-loaded thing that kept bouncing back to the same position in the middle no matter where I put it, and the top of the shift lever had a little incomprehensible diagram with the letters “R, N, D, B” and a black dot, plus arrows.

Uh-oh. Better take a look at the owner’s manual. After a moment or two, we found that manual, in the glove compartment. (At least that’s what we used to call it. I have no idea what to call it now.)

The owner’s manual for the 2010 Prius is 607 pages long. As I mentioned, I was only there for the weekend.

607 pages. Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” only has 544 pages, and that’s the longest book anyone I know has read in the last year or two. And it’s probably a lot more interesting than the Prius owner’s manual. I don’t know. I still haven’t read either one

Worse yet, the instructions for actually driving the car start on page 150. The index, located a dozen pages in from the back of the book, does not contain a reference to “instrument panel” or “dashboard” or “controls” or “gear shift” or “operation” or any other thing I could think of to call it.

But I did stumble on an interesting section, helpfully highlighted in purple ink – Section 5-1, Essential Information “If You Think Something is Wrong.”

This section begins on page 493. It refers to a number of warning lights on the dashboard – but without symbols. If you want to find out what’s wrong, you have to find the symbol in a table (after you locate the table on page 612), then cross-reference back to that helpful purple section. That’s when you find out whether the problem is life-threatening or not.

You get the idea. I’m not surprised that people have gotten into crashes in these cars. Regardless of whether the throttle sticks, or the floor mats get in the way, or electronics are flawed, or the driver is an idiot, there is no way any human being can deal with this much complexity at 50 miles per hour. Not without hours and hours of instruction.

When children grow up watching their parents drive Priuses, I’ll agree that this human/automobile interface is valid. But with those of us who are used to PRND21 (and you all know what that means, don’t you?), instant on-the-job training while piloting a two ton steel missile is just a bad idea.

I did like driving the car, though. Of course, I’m special. Until I need Section 5-1.
Remind me – what page does that start on?


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