By Mark Kozemko ’79, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director
Original published in the April 30, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage. https://www.thevalleyadvantage.com/community-columns/from-headlights-to-taillights-bells-and-whistles/article_d79d0f20-6e24-5669-be24-be5127360161.html
Did you ever get into a vehicle to test drive it and wonder, “Why does this vehicle have so many gadgets? What do they all do? Will I ever use them all?”
I know it sounds funny, but many new car buyers don’t even use some of the standard options, never mind all the extra “bells and whistles.” This month I’m fielding questions about what some of these extra options — or gadgets as I call them — are and how they work.
Before I get into the questions, I want to point out that the reason new vehicles come with an abundance of these options is mainly due to consumer demand. When manufacturers receive a high number of requests from their modern, tech-savvy customers for a specific option, they respond, as long as the request is within reason.
Our first question is, “What is adaptive cruise control and how does it work?”
Adaptive cruise control allows a driver to not only set a speed to travel but also set a specific distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them. This option doesn’t come in all vehicles yet, but as we all know, when it works in certain vehicles, it won’t be long until most manufactures will offer it as standard equipment.
Once the driver inputs the cruise control settings mentioned above, other than steering, the vehicle is basically in control. When cruising, if the vehicle in front of you slows, your vehicle will reduce speed to maintain a safe distance. When the vehicle in front either moves out of the way or speeds up, your vehicle will accelerate to return to your preset speed. This is accomplished by a combination of sensors and cameras. This option is often paired up with additional options like lane-keeping assistance, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking.
I can tell you from experience, driving a vehicle equipped with adaptive cruise control is awesome. If you have an extended commute, you may want to check out vehicles with this option.
The second question is, “What are active headlamps?”
This active headlamp option, which was designed to give the driver better visibility when traveling on winding roads, gives your headlights the ability to move to the right or left from the straight-ahead position. The headlight movement is accomplished using motors controlled by sensors in the steering system. The sensors send a signal to a control unit telling it what direction the driver is steering, and, in turn, activates the motors to move the light assemblies in that direction.
At this time, this option is only available on select models and is not very useful unless your commute involves very winding roads.
The third and final question this month is, “Is the Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ option worth getting for my Ford truck?”
Per Ford.com, a driver enters a few measurements into the Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ system, then a camera tracks the trailer position while you’re backing up your truck and guiding the trailer. You rotate the knob left or right in the direction you want the trailer to go while the system controls the steering wheel.
It all depends on your comfort level when backing up your trailer. If you are new at trailer backing, then this option is definitely for you. If you’ve had your trailer for a while and used it several times, I don’t believe an option like this is worth it.
I have a great deal of experience towing. I’ve towed everything from a 53-foot trailer to a short 15-foot water buffalo when I was in the Navy. It was always more difficult for me to back up the shorter pieces of equipment than the larger ones. I still do my fair share of towing cars, boats and Jet Ski trailers. I think I would find myself fighting with a truck that is trying to do something for me that I am very comfortable doing myself.
Keep in mind that all of these options or gadgets, as I call them, come with a price tag. Always weigh the pros and cons of any option to determine if it is worth it to you when buying a vehicle. Don’t be afraid to ask the “What is this? What does it do? Will I use it?” questions you have. Make sure you get the answers and try out every option and gadget before you take any money out of your pocket.