Modern car technology shows an ability to annoy

Shannon Taylor and her 2013 Chevy Suburban have been together for only a month, but already the car is on her nerves. It interrupts conversations to announce traffic jams and nags her to fill up the gas tank. It has even sparked arguments with her husband over how much to rely on the rear-mounted cameras when backing up.

“It’s annoying,” the Hingham mom said.

In Whitman, Susan Hamn’s car, a 2011 Jeep Liberty, is also a noodge. It starts “beeping, beeping, beeping” if she turns the car off without instantly shutting off the headlights. “Give me a second!” she scolds it.


Somehow, the car has become its own backseat driver. In an attempt to increase safety, attract young and tech-obsessed buyers, and comply with government mandates, automakers have added an enormous number of collision-avoidance and infotainment features to new vehicles.

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But some of the new systems can be so intrusive that drivers are experiencing mild road rage toward their own cars.

“I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a machine,” said Anne-Marie Aigner, an Allston publicist with a 2012 Prius.

The trouble? Her car has difficulty understanding her requests for directions, trying to send her to Brooklyn, N.Y., for example, rather than her desired destination of Brookline. Aigner knows she should not yell at a navigation system, but she cannot help herself.

“I can’t believe I’m having conversations with my dashboard,” she groused.


On the plus side, early research shows that crash-avoidance systems — brakes that automatically stop a car and do not rely on the driver, electronic stability control, and adaptive headlights that turn with the steering wheel — hold a lot of promise for preventing collisions or reducing their severity, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit funded by insurers.

Shannon Taylor’s new Chevy Suburban frequently interrupts with traffic alerts and has led to arguments with her husband about how much she should rely on its backup camera.

Automakers are producing higher-quality vehicles than ever, according to a 2012 study by J.D. Powers and Associates. But as infotainment systems appear in a growing number of vehicles, there was one notable exception.

“Audio, entertainment, and navigation problems have increased by 8 percent from 2011,” the study reported. “This continues a recent trend, as problems in this category have increased by 45 percent since 2006 while other categories have improved by 24 percent, on average.”

Even Dan Gage, the publicist for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, recognizes that there are “some idiosyncracies with every car that people get frustrated with.” But all the guidance and warnings — along with other safety features — do seem to make a difference: fatalities and serious injuries resulting from accidents are down 25 percent since 2005, Gage said.

But as complex dashboard screens become another presence in the car, even some kids are getting irritated. North Attleboro grade schoolers Will and Ben DiBattista regularly shush their dad’s 2012 Range Rover’s navigation system. On the way to hockey practice, the system has the nasty habit of talking over the songs they play to get pumped up — like “Eye of the Tiger” — to announce that the car needs to make a right in a half a mile . . . 700 feet . . . 500 feet . . . and so on.


In August, Consumer Reports captured a glimpse of driver frustration in a piece called “Why the MyFord Touch control system stinks.”

‘I can’t believe I’m having conversations with my dashboard.’

“MyFord Touch leaves the interiors of fitted models almost completely absent any conventional knobs or buttons,” the piece read. “Instead, it offers a variety of different ways to enter commands: flush capacitive switches on the center stack, a big center touchscreen, steering-wheel controls, and voice commands. But none are well designed, and combined they make the cars feel really complicated — especially when trying to perform the most common audio and climate adjustments.”

In Hull, Jennifer Slater gets emotional talking about her 2009 GMC Envoy. She says the sensors “cried wolf” so often — with warnings about icy roads and swerving when she was not driving on icy roads or swerving — that she recently vowed not to go to the expense of taking her car into the shop every time an indicator light goes on.

“I’m not playing its game anymore,” she said about her car.

(To that, Gage, the auto trade spokesman, cautions that car owners should have their vehicles diagnosed when an indicator light appears. “That malfunction could be a relatively simple fault like a failing sensor or connection,” he e-mailed the Globe, “or it could be a much more serious problem that requires immediate attention.”)

Meanwhile, with studies showing consumers want lots of technology in their cars, automakers are loading up.

“In the ’50s and ’60s, car makers would brag about horsepower,” said Justin Berkowitz, East Coast bureau chief for Car and Driver magazine. “Today, it’s about the technology.”

Indeed, automakers’ websites boast not just of high-tech safety advances, but about features not previously associated with cars. Toyota’s Entune smart-phone enabled system, for example, allows a driver to tell her dashboard to check sports scores or stock prices.

But some drivers do not want to be in constant communication with their vehicles.

“Your car does a lot of things you didn’t ask it to do — and asks you to do a lot that you didn’t have to do before,” said Jim Motavalli, a Connecticut-based car expert, writer, and regular blogger on the Car Talk website.

For example, many cars make drivers look at or acknowledge a safety warning before starting a trip, he said, pointing to a discussion on the Club Lexus website.

“My wife drives a ’05 GX470,” one Lexus owner wrote. “Is there a way to disable the caution message (i.e. Caution: Drive safely and obey traffic rules . . . ) that appears on the navigation screen every time you start the SUV?”

But even as some people gossip about their cars as if they were co-workers, Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst and manager at market research firm IHS Automotive, said drivers should get a little perspective.

“You need to think about which is more annoying,” he said. “A light indictor that goes off when you may be driving a little erratically, or a $500 repair bill and a lawsuit” if you get in a fender bender?

Besides, the more your car does for you, the more you can hold it responsible when you mess up. When Mary Backlund, of Wrentham, backed her 2011 Toyota Sequoia into a tree, she blamed her car’s rear sensors. Or, as she told her husband: “It’s the car’s fault.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell