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Our newfangled car is trying to kill me

Call me paranoid, but keep the Jaws of Life on standby

By Ron Judd Executive Editor

Our car is trying to kill me. 

One thing you need to know about this: It’s not trying to run me down. I occasionally drive it. This, the car clearly does not like.

Another thing: It really belongs to my wife, and they may be in cahoots. I can’t prove complicity here, but  … can one ever be sure? I mean, there are the usual household issues with garbage-takeout, mugs left on end tables and the like. 

The car is a new model. I shan’t disparage the reputation of the manufacturer, which rhymes with “Monday.” Nor the particular model, a name chosen inexplicably of a city in Arizona that lies southeast of Phoenix and due north of Nogales.

The car is branded as “The modern adventure SUV.” I call it “Certain Eventual Death in the Driveway.”

The car has heated and ventilated front seats (alas no reverse-fan feature here for long drives after stops at Taco Bell, if you know what I mean); “paddle shifters,” (useful should one’s paddles need shifting), rain-sensing wipers; and a range of outside sensors that alert the driver to nearby problematic objects, such as curbs, bollards and, one might imagine, the occasional carjacker or doorbelling missionary.

The car also is equipped with a range of Nanny Safety Features, each identified by an acronym no sentient being has ever been able to memorize for purposes of turning on/off while driving.

These systems include: Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA); Parking Collision-Avoidance Assist-Reverse (PCA-R); a Highway Driving Assistant (HDA); Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (RCCA); a Lane Keeping Assistant (LKA): Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist (BCA); and, duh, the Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert (Ultrasonic ROA). Note: On a stack of Bibles, I am making none of these up.

More critically, for me, is an additional “feature”: An “8-way power driver seat” equipped with a road grader motor capable of contorting the seat into size configurations from plus-sized offensive lineman to an undernourished tree frog.

For me, clearly the car’s Non-Preferred Driver (NPD), it recently worked like this:

NPD opens front door, sees seat configured in mouse-like spouse configuration, with approximately one-half-inch space between the bottom and back of the seat and the Inexplicably Heated Corinthian-Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel.

NPD, remembering the four weeks he spent trying to digest the car manual, presses the door-mounted “Number 2” button, which saved his own manspreading seat configuration into the car’s brain. NPD smugly watches seat lower and glide backward approximately a foot and a half.

NPD enters the vehicle, affixes seatbelt, steps on brake, pushes “start” button, hears car emanate a throaty whine as it comes to life. A computer welcome screen, apparently sensing a large foreign object — possibly a threat — politely asks: “PLEASE SELECT USER.” 

User selects previously entered profile, “RON.” 

Instantly, it begins. The car, clearly filled with rage, begins moving the seat up and forward at alarming speed. User Ron gasps, begins randomly seeking “ABORT” buttons that do not exist on the screen, considers screaming and then realizes no one would hear, pounds on the steering wheel. 


The seat continues to press forward, causing User Ron to swiftly calculate remaining femur-to-dashboard firewall ratios, then contemplate the family insurance annual out-of-pocket maximum and its relation to matching, irreparably crushed lower limbs. 

The seat pushes on, undaunted, indefatigable, obviously vengeful. 

This entire thing lasts only a few seconds — just long enough for recent life to flash by:

The weeding User Ron keeps talking about, but never does. The failure to EVER get the right type of yogurt at the drive-home grocery store stop. Approximately 1.5 million noted, but never completed, home improvement projects. The recent insistence on streaming “Black Mirror” instead of some ’90s romcom movie. 

Guilty, guilty, guilty, your honor. 

And then, in an instant, and perhaps 1 millimeter short of excruciating asphyxiation, the motor stops.

User Ron, pinned to the steering wheel like a glob of wet dough being forcefed through a pasta press, eventually extricates right arm far enough to reach for car computer screen, begins tapping indiscriminately. Nothing. 

Sucking it all in as far as possible, he manages to open the door with his left hand and attempts to squeeze out. No dice. Sweat begins to pour as he ponders the anguish likely to ensue in a few hours when the friendly neighbor, a fireman, calls in the Jaws of Life to extricate User Ron from the Arizona-Town Rolling Sarcophagus that became his final place of unrest. 

And then, a miracle: User Ron spies the user switches on the door panel and manages to reach out with a left pinky and hit “User 2” again. The motors engage, retracting the seat and returning it to its usual and accustomed position (UAAP). User Ron, recalling kayak roll training, literally flops out onto the ground like a beached elephant seal and engages in hands-on-knees life reevaluation (HOKLR: part of our car’s Inconvenience Package). 

You could laugh about it and consider it a fluke. I did. Until it happened again, this time with a witness.

A week later, preparing to hit the road for a long, long, long-overdue brief vacation, we both got in the car, me in driver’s seat. The screen lit up. “Select User,” it said. Our eyes met as I selected User Ron. The seat began driving forward in full crush mode. 

I stared across the car at my spouse, who was watching in seeming amazement. Or was it? 

Time will tell. But next time I go out for yogurt (Two Good, 2%), I’m reaching for my wallet, fob — and the one option our new car did not offer: steel pry bar.

The feeling that the car knows something you do not is not a good one.

Beginning July 7, Ron Judd’s column appears on Fridays;; @roncjudd.

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