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Cars today are basically computers on wheels. The majority sold in the UK are now automatics, and the rest have functions that control almost every aspect of the driving experience, from capping your speed to slamming on your brakes if you’re at risk of collision.
With up to 3,000 microchips in many cars, the industry has been hit hard by the global shortage of semi-conductors, causing major delays in production.
In fact, it’s very complicated to buy a new car now because of this shortage of computer chips and other components, with one Toyota dealer telling MoneyMagpie that we’d have to wait until next summer to drive away in one of their higher-spec models if bought today.
It’s an issue experienced by manufacturers across the world, as Steve Fowler, Editor-in-Chief of AutoExpress, told MoneyMagpie.
“Waiting lists for some models has been and still is (Range Rover, for example) up to a year, although generally we’re seeing big improvements already this year.
“I’ve been hit by the component shortage myself! I’m trying to buy a new car for the family – I ordered one last October and was quoted June this year (I gave up), and the latest car I ordered in January with a supposed February build and March delivery is now being built in April.”
He said that manufacturers have tried to address the issue by effectively dumbing down some models.
“Some of the car makers are having to adjust specifications to be able to build and deliver cars – and keep the cash coming in. So things like head-up displays, digital dashboards and the latest headlight systems have slipped off the options lists, while we’ve heard that some cars have been delivered with just the one key rather than the usual two.”
Finding a “dumb” car without the latest “smart” tech is getting increasingly difficult, though.
All new Ford Fiestas, for example, include Ford’s MyKey digital control settings as standard. This allows you to limit everything from your car’s top speed to the maximum decibels on the radio (the idea being that you can not only stop your would-be boy/girl racer from speeding but protect their eardrums too).
Fiestas also include other nannying elements such as ‘lane keeping aid’, which shriek at you if you switch lanes without indicating.
This not-so-basic “basic” model starts from £19,330.
If you want rear-parking sensors and keyless start, the price jumps up to £21,180.
It rises again to £22,680 if you want other techie add-ons, like rearview camera and digital ‘climate control’ (instead of old-fashioned thermostat knobs).
Of course, you could save £3,350 by saying no to frivolous extras, like keyless start and digital heat controls, and maybe even get your car sooner, as well.
It’s not just Fiestas that are overly techie now. Most low-and mid-range cars have more gadgets than is frankly necessary.
For instance, the Citroen C3, which is one of the cheapest basic cars on the market, boasts a new techie feature called “Coffee Break Alert”, which “triggers an alert as soon as it detects that the driver has not taken a break after two hours of driving at a speed above 40 mph”.
This function comes as standard in its basic model (£13,995), as does cruise control and speed limiter, DAB radio and Bluetooth etc.
Again, the heating system is controlled by manual knob adjustments on the basic C3 You, while all other models, which start from £16,295, use digital controls, meaning you’re paying an extra £2,300 to add tech you don’t really need.
The MG3 is another “cheap” car, if you’re happy to forgo annoying tech like digital temperature controls and keyless start. It has Remote Central Locking so you can unlock the car with a touch of the key fob, but a manual ignition key to actually start the car.
The basic £13,795 model comes with a lot of the useful tech you want though as standard, like a remote parking camera and parking sensors, hill launch assist (which stops you rolling backwards if you’re rubbish at finding your biting point), and sat-nav.
But what if you actively don’t want any of those? What if you just want a really basic car that just goes when you drive it and doesn’t cost a mortgage to mend?
According to AutoExpress, the Dacia Sandero is the best bet for people who don’t want gadgets. They say “as the entry-level Access trim with its rear manual, wind-up windows and lack of air-conditioning is no longer available to order, the Sandero range now starts from £12,995 in Essential spec. This gets you air-con and remote central locking, plus cruise control, DAB and Bluetooth connectivity, but no touchscreen.”
There’s a lot of advantages to opting for “dumber” features, aside from just the price and the shorter wait time.
For starters, smart cars are easier to steal.
Most cars are moving towards keyless starts now, which have a number of downsides. The most common is the risk of “relay theft”, when crooks use simple tech to copy the digital signal associated with your keyless fob to steal your car.
It’s a pretty easy and quick process using hardware that can be bought online. In short, two crooks can steal a car in less than a minute using a relay amplifier that picks up the signal transmitted by your key to open the doors and start the engine.
Another problem with keyless starts is that some car doors cannot be opened manually anymore, as DJ Scott Mills discovered recently when he missed a flight after getting locked inside his electric vehicle for five hours when his engine died en route to the airport.
It may sound funny, but there have been numerous stories of people nearly dying after getting stuck in cars that they cannot open.
In Canada, a man had to smash his way out of his burning Tesla last year due to the electronics cutting out.
As well as safety concerns, the rise of smart vehicles also raise a number of civil liberty issues, not least their potential for being hijacked remotely.
Many cars already include “kill switches”, which allow the engine to be turned off remotely.
Several governments around the world are currently discussing whether to make kill switches mandatory in all future vehicles – raising fears that such tech could be used to control people during, say, another lockdown.
Though open to abuse, there are, however, certain advantages to such breakthroughs. Police forces have successfully used kill switches to stop kidnappings, after cars have been stolen with children in the back.
Meanwhile, one UK company, Getcarfinancehere.com, is using similar technology to let people with bad credit lease vehicles and rebuild their credit score in the process.
It doesn’t use a kill switch per se, but rather a black box system that asks you to input a code sent to you at the start of each month after you pay your payment. If you don’t pay your bill and input the code, the car won’t start.
“This method of financing means that your creditors will be sure that a payment is made each month. Each successful payment you make will contribute towards improving your credit score.”
They have a number of very reasonable options, for people who might otherwise not be able to buy or lease a vehicle. We found a 2015 Citroen C4 Cactus on the site for just £125 a month.