Weird Car Features Most People Don’t Know About

You might be missing out on safety lights, extra storage and more.

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Weird car features - gas tank indicator
Photo: Shutterstock

Car Features You’ve Probably Never Noticed

Gas tank locator

How many times have you pulled into a gas station in a rental car and been hit by the sudden realization that you have no idea which side the gas tank is on? Guessing wrong is more than annoying—you either have to execute a fancy manoeuvre or try to pull the hose all the way around to the other side of the car. Even if you’ve logged many years behind the wheel, driving cars that were yours, borrowed, or rented, as well as (the worst) rented moving trucks, you may be blown away to learn that there’s a tiny arrow next to most gas gauges that shows which side it’s on. This car feature has been standard on new cars for more than a decade, according to Country Living.

Find out why all car gas tanks aren’t on the same side.

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Road condition indicators
Photo: Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock

Road condition indicators

Nearly every new car has a temperature sensor that will indicate the exterior ambient temperature—it’s great fun in winter as you drive to Florida and watch the outside temperature climb, letting you know that you can shed your winter coat at the next fuel stop. These temperature sensors will also, in many cases, activate a road temperature warning as the temperatures drop. Often indicated by a snowflake light on the dashboard, some systems will even give a brief audible warning or show a message letting you know that the roads might be icy.

Check out the winter driving mistakes that could put you in danger.

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Stability control
Photo: BallBall14/Shutterstock

Stability control

Losing control of your vehicle when driving is one of the scariest moments you can have behind the wheel. Fortunately, all new cars sold in North America since the 2012 model year have been fitted with electronic stability control, a system that constantly monitors all four wheels. If a car is beginning to slide out of control, typically the wheels on one end of the car will be spinning faster than the others (since they’ve lost traction). Electronic stability control will apply the brakes to one side of the car—or even one corner—to help correct the slide.

You can temporarily deactivate stability control on some vehicles—look for a button marked “ESC” or labeled with a pictogram of a sliding car—if necessary to help get a car out of slippery mud or snow. Deactivating ESC is also helpful if you’re towing a boat out of the water on a slippery boat ramp. But normally, it’s best to let the electronic stability control keep you and your family safe.

Can you decode what your car features are trying to tell you? Take our car dashboard lights quiz to find out.

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Car features - heads-up display
metamorworks /

Heads-up display

We’ve all seen drivers fiddling with their phones while driving, so it’s no surprise that distracted driving is a top contributor to accidents. You can’t take your eyes off the road for a minute, especially with drivers like that terrorizing our highways. That’s why many newer cars are being offered with a heads-up (sometimes called head-up) display. This feature, originally found on fighter jets, displays critical driving information right in front of the driver by projecting it as if it’s floating in front of you on the road. Typically featured on this heads-up display will be critical info like driving speed and navigation, while some cars will also show the speed limit of the road you’re on or even the current song that’s playing. Keep your eyes on the road, and keep your speed down!

Check out more car hacks that make driving so much better.

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Car features - ADAS
metamorworks /

Advanced driver assistance systems

With everything going on in a modern car, it’s no wonder we need a little bit of help. A number of new car features, known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS for short), will use a variety of tools to help make driving safer and more relaxing. Some of these features will use radar and laser systems to actually scan the road ahead and behind, warning of hazards.

One of these is known as forward collision warning, which will look ahead for cars that are rapidly slowing. If the car doesn’t sense you moving your foot to the brake pedal, it will flash a warning on the dashboard. Some cars will take it a step further, and actively apply the brakes for you to help avoid a collision.

This is the best time to buy a new car.

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Car features - blind spot monitoring on side mirror
Yauhen_D /

Blind-spot monitoring

Changing lanes on a busy highway can be nerve-wracking. No matter how well you adjust your mirrors to eliminate any blind spot, there’s always the possibility that some other driver may decide to enter the lane you were planning on merging into. Blind-spot monitoring systems can help this situation. These systems use radar and other sensors to determine if there is an obstacle to the left or right, immediately behind your vehicle, and flashing a warning light to alert you. Most of these car features, if such an obstacle is in these areas, will sound an audible warning should you turn on your turn signal—alerting you that a lane change is inadvisable.

Find out if your car is ready for a road trip.

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SUV back seat
PixieMe /

Back-seat reminders

We’ve all heard the horrific stories of parents accidentally leaving their babies in the back seat of their car for hours on end. Automakers have caught on to this, and have developed car features aimed at eliminating these tragedies. If the car detects that a rear door had been opened either right before or right after starting the car, these systems will sound a chime and/or flash an alert on the dashboard once if the car stops and the driver puts the vehicle in park and turns off the engine.

Protect your ride with these car anti-theft devices.

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Drowsy driving
New Africa /

Drowsiness detector

According to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, drowsiness is a factor in roughly 20 percent of vehicle collisions. So far automotive engineers have failed to give us either the in-dash coffee brewers or in-car cold shower we might need to keep driving well past the limits of our natural attention levels. Those engineers have, however, developed various driver drowsiness detection car features that will alert the driver if the system believes they’re driving while too tired. Most of these systems will monitor the steering input and compare your steering motions to how often various lane-keeping systems have to intervene in keeping you on the straight and narrow. If the car determines that you might be exhausted, chimes may sound and alerts will display on the dashboard to suggest taking a break from the road. Appropriately, many of these systems will display a coffee cup pictogram on the dash.

Make sure you never do this while driving.

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Adaptive cruise control
Photo: Mila Demidova/Shutterstock

Adaptive cruise control

Traditional cruise control was great for driving on an open highway because you could set a speed and let your right foot relax for a while. When you encounter another car on the road, however, invariably they’re going just a hair slower causing you to cancel the cruise control, adjust your speed to match or accelerate to pass.

Modern adaptive cruise control takes advantage of the myriad sensors on many new cars, scanning the road ahead to adapt your car’s speed to that of the car ahead. With a control on the steering wheel, you select a target speed, and the car will maintain it—or slow down to stay a safe distance from the car in front. Many such systems will work well even in stop-and-go traffic, slowing you down to a complete stop if the traffic ahead warrants.

Find out why you should never follow a friend when you’re driving.

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Car features - Tire pressure monitoring system
Fast_Cyclone /

Tire pressure monitoring systems

The tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) alerts the driver with a warning light (typically a pictogram of an exclamation point within the outline of a tire) that lets the driver know that a tire has lost pressure. Some more modern systems will actually display the actual pressure number on the dashboard, while older systems will still require you to check each tire’s pressure manually.

Here’s how to check tire pressure like the pros.

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Conversation mirror in car
Photo: supergenijalac/Shutterstock

Conversation mirror

Many minivans and crossover vehicles, built with families in mind, will offer a small convex mirror very near the interior rear-view mirror. This secondary mirror allows the driver or front-seat passenger to get a better view of rear seat occupants—a nice feature to monitor small children without the driver needing to see what’s going on with the kids.

Honda’s Odyssey minivan offers a new optional upgrade to the conversation mirror: the CabinWatch system uses cameras in the rear seat area to display, at the touch of a button, exactly what’s going on in the rear seat.

Now that you’re familiar with these weird car features, check out 20 clever car gadgets that can make driving safer.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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