My new car - well, it was new to me just before Easter this year and so it still counts as new even though it is more than a year old - has three things I have never had in any previous car: built-in sat-nav (I've never had any sort of sat-nav before), a beeper that sounds as I get close to anything when reversing (do they call that parking assistance?) and a rear-pointing camera that shows a picture on the screen when I engage reverse gear. And, rather to my surprise, I have found all three gizmos useful at one time or another.
But then, this week, I saw an ad for a car that few would consider a luxury or top of the range model, and that car had a self-parking system. The ad also said, I am reasonably certain, that the car would also find a parking place - but I might have imagined that bit. I don't consider myself any less than average - all right, above average - when it comes to parking, but I would love to give that gizmo a try.
I have quite often been heard to say that the more gizmos there are in a car, the more there is to go wrong, but I was thinking about the changes there have been in cars over the 50+ years since I learned to drive. Back then, people sitting in the back seats were quite often asked by the driver to wipe the rear window, there being no such thing as a heated rear screen. There were no such things as self-cancelling direction indicators. Most cars had a clunking great switch just under the centre of the windscreen; the driver rotated this switch according to which indicator arm was to be turned out. Then flashing indicators were invented and cars had one at each corner. Later, a timer was inserted so that the indicators were cancelled after about 30 seconds.
Cars back in those days came equipped with just one mirror - the internal one. Many drivers - myself included - bought wing mirrors at car accessory shops and carefully drilled holes in the front wings. After that, one really needed an assistant so that the mirrors could be correctly aligned before being screwed tightly into place. The next refinement was mirrors on the two front doors, with little knobs protruding into the car to realign the mirrors. Now, there is a multidirectional button to do the job electronically.
And thinking of electronics, we used to have to wind a window down with a crank handle.
There's that, too. Cars came equipped with crank handles that would be inserted into slots under the radiator grills to turn the crankshaft if by some chance the self-starter failed or the battery was flat. And, of course, we had to pull out the choke before trying to start the car when cold - and remember to push it in as the engine warmed up!
Now we have windscreen wipers that come on when it rains, lights that come on when it gets dark, cruise control, electronic parking brakes that come on when the engine is turned off and release themselves when the accelerator is pressed . . .
Things have certainly changed - and yes, there is more to go wrong. But would I go back to those cars of the late 1950s and early 60s? No thank you!