A Scary Experience in a Brand-New Car

2013 Subaru Legacy

I had a terrifying experience in a brand-new car last night.

The story begins with yesterday’s blog about the demise of auto parts stores. The universe played a very cruel joke on me by causing my car to overheat last night and become undriveable at a seriously inopportune time. Think rainstorm, far from home, dead phone battery, groceries in the car… you get the idea.

I hope the problem is as simple as low coolant level or a faulty thermostat. Lucky for me there’s an auto parts store within a mile of my home, which will make for a very convenient morning walk. If parts stores are indeed on the decline, I’m happy that the one near me still has its doors open.

Without a car but still needing to go for a drive, I managed to talk my way into a 2013 Subaru Legacy for the evening. And that was enough to scare me into holding on to my car or buying used when the time for replacement comes.

The Legacy had everything. Backup camera, lane-departure warning system, adaptive cruise control and, I’m pretty sure if I pushed the right button, an espresso maker.

I’m used to tooling around in a car with a 5-speed manual transmission. The Subie came equipped with a CVT automatic, which is the complete opposite of my car. If that wasn’t unnerving enough, the car’s owner decided to show me how the adaptive cruise control works. What wasn’t planned was the approaching ambulance and highway traffic abruptly pulling to the right. Instinct, of course, demanded that I plant my right foot on the brake pedal. My friend, though, kept saying, “Don’t touch the brakes.”

You can imagine how unnatural it feels to be in a line of slowing traffic going from 60 miles per hour with the cruise on and not stepping on the brake pedal.

“Don’t step on the brake,” she said.

“I have to!”

The car in front was slowing way down.

“Don’t do it!”


The car stopped on the side of the highway, and the ambulance safely passed.

“Isn’t that cool?!” she exclaimed.

“I don’t know,” I said as I dropped my head. “I stepped on the brake.”

I could feel the car slowing down before I took over, but all I could think about was that Volvo at a press event that slammed into the back of a truck when it was supposed to stop on its own. Trusting a car to stop seems like a lot to ask when I know my right leg is perfectly reliable at performing the task.

Technology is cool in new cars, no doubt, but I wonder if some is just overkill. At this point, I’d just be happy with a cooling system that works.

Will you opt for adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warnings for your next car?


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Used Subaru Legacy


  1. On the plus side, though, some of these systems offer collision avoidance radar, which brakes the car if there is an obstruction ahead. Ever caught yourself misjudging following distance and then having to brake really hard? CA systems catch your mistake and start braking sooner. This type of system really works well and is a great safety feature.

  2. I was involved in testing ACC for my company when it was first developed about 8 years ago. I truly hated the system and vowed never to buy one. Of course, we were tuning and developing control software for the system, so it didn’t work as well as a production system, but I found the way it worked to be very unnatural feeling and the biggest danger seemed to be a tendency for drivers to loose attention on the road situation. Also, here in Michigan bad drivers are the norm, with most drivers exceeding the speed limit, so a steady stream of people passing and then cutting in too close in front of the ACC car caused regular (and somewhat rough) slow downs that made the trip uncomfortable. All in all, it’s an expensive option that solves a relatively minor inconvenience into a major one.

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