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Some auto features go way of dinosaur

By Joshua Nichols, Staff writer
Published On: Jul 24 2013 10:54:37 AM CDT
road trip, traveling in car, driving

iStockPhoto/lisegagne

If you want to confuse a teenager today, really take them out of their element, you could do worse than to plop him or her in a 1970 Chevelle or a vintage Lincoln Town Car.

Looking around at the ashtrays, crank windows and manual locks, sitting in what could have been their grandfather's car, they might as well be in another world.

Car design changes quickly, and features that were once standard in just about every car on the road have mostly gone the way of the dinosaur.

Who knows what the future and further advances in auto technology may bring? Perhaps one day the features you take for granted as standards for today's cars may become just as obsolete as these five rarely seen features …

car ashtray with cigar

Ashtrays

The move to ashtray-free cars began at Chrysler, whose 1995 Cirrus and Dodge Stratus sedans were the first to be sold without ashtrays as standard equipment.

Today, you're much more likely to find a power outlet for a cell phone or MP3 player where the push-in lighter once was, and ashtrays have mostly been replaced by cup holders and storage compartments.

Not only is it a question of an anti-smoking movement, but also of space. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 19.3 percent of adult Americans smoked in 2010 -- roughly 45.3 million people. According to Apple, more than 300 million people have bought iPods. When you add in other MP3 players, iPhones and various other smartphones, it's clear the smokers are simply outnumbered.

But they aren't totally extinct. For $15 to $100, car buyers can get a smokers group option that includes ashtrays and cigarette lighters. Plus, some luxury automakers such as Rolls Royce still include ashtrays for their humidor-owning customers.

vintage car interior with bench seats

Bench seats

If you're in the market for a pickup truck, you'll easily be able to find one with front bench seats. But if you want a car with that once-common feature, good luck.

While big cars were once renowned for their ability carry six people -- more if you didn't mind a little squishing -- the number of cars with front bench seats that can accommodate three riders has declined over the years.

A few years back, Toyota dropped the bench seat from its Avalon because 92 percent of buyers were choosing the models with bucket seats.

These days, only a handful of American-branded autos in the full-size class offer the option of six-passenger seating, including the Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS and Chevrolet Impala. However, bench seats remain standard equipment on the Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car.

2009 Nissan Versa car window crank

Window cranks

If you want to confuse a child, put him in a car with a crank window. Most kids these days have never seen anything but power windows and wouldn't know what to do with a crank handle.

In 2006, Honda became the first of the large automakers to banish the crank window, moving entirely to power windows as standard equipment.

While some automakers held onto the crank windows as either options or standard features in low-end budget models, even those models have turned to power windows over the past few years.

Two such car models include the Chevrolet Cobalt LS and the Toyota Corolla. The Cobalt, which General Motors halted production on after the 2010 model year, featured only crank windows, while power windows went from being only an option to a standard feature on the Corolla in 2010.

And India's Tata Nano, proclaimed by its makers as the world's cheapest car, hit the market in 2009 with a price tag of just over $2,000 -- and crank windows.

car cassette player tape deck

Cassette decks

You could argue that the CD player could just as likely belong on this list. With the popularity of MP3 players and satellite radio, CDs are fading and cassette decks are all put a distant memory.

Some automakers, such as Lexus, still offer vehicles with cassette decks, but more and more are focusing on new technology. According to the market research firm iSuppli, USB ports were available on 25 percent of all 2009 vehicles, up from 12 percent in 2008, and iPod interfaces were offered on a full third of all 2009 models.

Apple, meanwhile, claims that around 80 percent of cars have iPod compatibility, although the company includes even simple line-in jacks that work with everything from iPods to old Walkman cassette players.

manual pull-up car door lock

Manual locks

Today's drivers have become so reliant on power everything that a Florida woman called 911 in 2009 because she was stuck inside her powerless car unable to figure out how to unlock the doors.

The fact is the days of the old manual "pull-up" locks are just about gone. In a time where many people don't even use a key to enter or start their cars, the manual lock is just about extinct.

Again, like the crank windows, the manual lock seems to have found a final holdout in economy models, as some automakers seek to limit auto features to only the most essential items in their cheapest models. If you're buying Kia Rio, for instance, you will only get power locks as a standard feature in the more expensive SX version.

But even those numbers are waning. Cars that used to feature manual locks as a standard feature, including the Toyota Corolla and lower-priced models of the Nissan Versa and Hyundai Accent, have all shifted to standard power locks.

Yes, today's driver has likely forgotten entirely, if they ever knew, what it was like to have to stretch across into the backseat to unlock the rear passenger side door.

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