the mushroom-shaped shifter automatically returns to center
June 21, 2016 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Here's The Problem With Jeep's Recalled Gear Shifter (David Tracy, Jalopnik). See also Consumer Reports' YT video (published May 19, 2016), Fiat Chrysler Recalls Confusing Shifters.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (100 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
What the hell is their problem. It's like they redesigned shifters just for the sake of making them worse. You know, if you shuffle a perfectly random deck, it actually becomes less random.

Wheels are so last millenium: I think we need a redesign to energize the market. Our cars feature Brand New Square (tm) Wheels!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:01 PM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Bet the new shifter saved them $5/unit.
posted by zippy at 6:02 PM on June 21, 2016 [14 favorites]


I've never seen one of these but I have rented a couple of cars that had like weirdo faux-manual shifters but were basically automatics
posted by thelonius at 6:06 PM on June 21, 2016


That's not a confusing shifter, this is what a confusing shifter looks like if the one I drove was any guide. That Jeep one is really more of a confusing PRNDL.
posted by sfenders at 6:07 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Flashman at 6:10 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Damn you, Fiat Chrysler. We had a perfectly good Anton Yelchin.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:12 PM on June 21, 2016 [27 favorites]


At least the gear shift designer can rest easy, secure in the knowledge that s/he has killed at least one person who had a bright future...
posted by blue_beetle at 6:14 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Chrysler 200 has a dial the size of a hockey puck on the center console thing. You turn it to select a gear. It gets kinda dicey when you're backing into traffic and need to switch from R to D quickly and accurately!
posted by notyou at 6:17 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


If the vehicle was recalled, but he didn't return it, do his parents have a case against the manufacturer, or was the responsibility entirely on him?
posted by tzikeh at 6:18 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


What a thoroughly dumb idea for a gear selector. Everyone knows the future is tethering your iPhone via Bluetooth and pushing a button on its screen to select a new gear.
posted by indubitable at 6:19 PM on June 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


In light of recent events, I've seen a lot of analogies made between gun sales and car sales (ie. it's considered "commonsense" to sell almost any car to anybody with no restrictions or oversight).

To me, this misses the point entirely, because American car culture has been nothing short of an absolute bloodbath.

If any other aspect of our lives (apart from guns for some reason) were this deadly, it would be nothing short of a national crisis, and yet we somehow treat it as normal, and don't even question it (let alone discuss the related environmental, social, and health impacts of a dominant car-culture).

It's really perplexing.

Self-driving cars won't help the problem either -- full automation won't arrive all at once, and human-factors design decisions are going to become extremely critical during the interim steps. This incident only shows that the current generation of auto manufacturers aren't even remotely up to the task. Tesla's decision to jam most its control surfaces onto a giant touchscreen doesn't inspire confidence in the next generation either.

</angry-cyclist>
posted by schmod at 6:19 PM on June 21, 2016 [31 favorites]


I find it amazing that people still buy these things. I realised that Chrysler was incapable of producing anything worth spending money on decades ago.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:25 PM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


The Chrysler 200 has a dial the size of a hockey puck on the center console thing. You turn it to select a gear. It gets kinda dicey when you're backing into traffic and need to switch from R to D quickly and accurately!

That is outstandingly terrible. I mildly dislike regular automatics because I always need to look to shift between reverse and drive, while with a stick I can just do it by feel while keeping my eyes on the road, but that dial and the goofy shifter in the main link are just another level of wrong.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:27 PM on June 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


Oh, I get it. They tried to combine the functions of a PRNDL and a shifter in one lever, and it didn't work. Selecting a specific gear with the lever, telling the automatic transmission when to shift up and down by pulling back and pressing forward on the shifter is one mode of operation. Selecting PRND and "S" is the other. Cars would not have both until recently, so it became customary for whichever one was present to be in the same position conveniently under the driver's hand.

So, some clever designer decided to resolve the conflict by adding a pushbutton mode selector to the single lever. People often do not like modeful interfaces, but this one also suffers from being designed really badly for one of the two modes; the one everyone is forced to actually use if they want to get anywhere.

Seems to me the correct solution is to have two levers for the two functions. It's time for the PRNDL to go back to the steering column.
posted by sfenders at 6:34 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Put it in "H"!
posted by indubitable at 6:39 PM on June 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


It's time for the PRNDL to go back to the steering column.

A friend of mine had a very old car with pushbuttons on the dashboard for it
posted by thelonius at 6:46 PM on June 21, 2016


To me, this misses the point entirely, because American car culture has been nothing short of an absolute bloodbath.
</angry-cyclist>


Wow, that escalated quickly.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:48 PM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


It was probably a reasonably good design until Ted in engineering came up with that trick "returns to center position after use" function. That's where it became a litigation waiting to happen?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:49 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


To me, this misses the point entirely, because American car culture has been nothing short of an absolute bloodbath.


Wow, that escalated quickly.


No need to pedal snark.
posted by TwoStride at 6:50 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lack of tactile feedback was also partially to blame for the crash of an Airbus airliner. Designers need to pay more attention to the cerebellum, the poor cerebrum gets overloaded.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:52 PM on June 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


Three on the Tree forever FTW.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:56 PM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


If the vehicle was recalled, but he didn't return it, do his parents have a case against the manufacturer, or was the responsibility entirely on him

It was a voluntary recall, though. I've gotten voluntary recall notices before, and ignored them, because voluntary sounds less dangerous than mandatory. I'm going to rethink that now, but I'm not going to blame a dead man for doing the same thing I've done.
posted by Ruki at 6:57 PM on June 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Wow, that escalated quickly.

No need to pedal snark.


I was driven to do it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:58 PM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Not that I'm saying you're placing the blame on him, to be clear.
posted by Ruki at 6:59 PM on June 21, 2016


I don't understand why these weird shifters are the feature car designers decided they needed to compete for distinction on. Pretty much my sole complaint about the Prius is that ridiculous fucking joystick right at hand/knee level. I know two people who have thrown theirs into Reverse at highway speeds, and I've nearly done it dozens of times, plus all the times I needed to reverse in a hurry and ended up in N instead.

They should be standardized onto the steering column.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:03 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It seems ominous that the gear shifter is actually named after an electrical circuit that produces unstable random output.
posted by miyabo at 7:07 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


full automation won't arrive all at once

It's not something that is happening in the future. The automatic transmission was probably the first big step towards self driving cars and cruise control, dynamic stability control, and all the other things we think of as safety or convenience features are really just steps towards full automation. Each one tends to decrease fatalities though.

Until then, the parts that can't be automated should be idiot proofed because some of the people that buy them will be idiots. Jeep's shifter is a long way from idiot proof.
posted by VTX at 7:10 PM on June 21, 2016


"If any other aspect of our lives (apart from guns for some reason) were this deadly, it would be nothing short of a national crisis, and yet we somehow treat it as normal, and don't even question it (let alone discuss the related environmental, social, and health impacts of a dominant car-culture)."

[/frightened pedestrian]
posted by sneebler at 7:10 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Selecting a specific gear with the lever, telling the automatic transmission when to shift up and down by pulling back and pressing forward on the shifter is one mode of operation. Selecting PRND and "S" is the other. Cars would not have both until recently

Not at all true, and there is already an existing and intuitive method for fufilling both functions - the usual PRNDL slide is there, but a left (or toward driver) movement puts the lever into a separate slot whereby forward and backwards selects gears. Moving back to the right goes back to 'D'. This has been on cars for easily 20 years. In fact there was a similar system on my 1986 Jaguar. It works perfectly fine (it is on my current car and my wife's and works fine). If you don't want the extra complexity, you never need to come out of the PRNDL slot.

Seems to me the correct solution is to have two levers for the two functions. It's time for the PRNDL to go back to the steering column.
Putting more clutter around the steering wheel has never made sense to me. You can't watch the lever and the selector graphic on the dash at the same time, so having the lever next to you (and so not blocking dash instruments/vents etc) and maintaining the dash-based indicator was a perfectly sensible solution.

I know two people who have thrown theirs into Reverse at highway speeds, and I've nearly done it dozens of times

This is not possible to do. You *can* move the lever into the reverse position, but it just beeps at you and refuses to comply if you are moving forward. It will not actually engage reverse unless you are stationary.
posted by Brockles at 7:12 PM on June 21, 2016 [20 favorites]


I kind of like the Prius mini-shifter, though why you push it forward to go backwards and pull it backwards to go forwards is a mystery.
posted by scruss at 7:15 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


That's the direction momentum will pull your hand when your accelerate in that direction.

Race car's that use a lever use back as the up-shift for that reason (among many others I'm sure). When you're driving hard, it feels much more natural.
posted by VTX at 7:24 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


You can't watch the lever and the selector graphic on the dash at the same time

If you mean operate the lever and watch the dash indicator at the same time, why not? None of the cars I can remember had selector graphics positioned quite that badly. If you mean watch the lever as you move it, why would you want to do that if it was just a simple lever? You didn't need to watch either one as I remember it, they were easy to operate by feel. Anyway yeah, there are lots of less-stupid ways to do things. I don't even mind paddle shifters really.
posted by sfenders at 7:24 PM on June 21, 2016


thelonius: "A friend of mine had a very old car with pushbuttons on the dashboard for it"

We had a station wagon with push button shifting like that when I was a kid. It was also a Chrysler product.
posted by octothorpe at 7:41 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Until then, the parts that can't be automated should be idiot proofed because some of the people that buy them will be idiots.

First step to making an idiot-proof car: Make sure it doesn't have any of the more obviously dangerous features, such as wheels and an engine.
posted by sfenders at 7:41 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


>It seems ominous that the gear shifter is actually named after an electrical circuit that produces unstable random output.

Except that it's not. You're maybe thinking of an astable circuit.
posted by kcds at 7:43 PM on June 21, 2016


Push button transmissions were Chrysler (and Imperial, Dodge, Fargo and DeSoto) and Edsel (in the steering wheel no less). The feature was bizarrely polarizing and when shift patterns standardized in '65 Chrysler dropped it to preserve market options (Edsel of course was already defunct).
posted by Mitheral at 7:49 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


As much as I'd love to bag on Chrysler for building garbage like they always do, I don't think they're the only ones using this kind of shifter. I know of at least one Cadillac and an upcoming Buick that will have these as well.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:52 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bad UX kills
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:52 PM on June 21, 2016 [19 favorites]


Oh and Chrysler's were mechanical, the Edsel push buttons were electric. Also I forgot that Packard (electric) and Mercury (mechanical) also had electric push button autos for a while.
posted by Mitheral at 7:54 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not at all true, and there is already an existing and intuitive method for fufilling both functions - the usual PRNDL slide is there, but a left (or toward driver) movement puts the lever into a separate slot whereby forward and backwards selects gears.

I have an Acura with a similar setup, with the the added "feature" of paddle shifters on the steering wheel that are engaged in manual mode. Something the salesman was very excited to show me, as if there would ever be a reason to drive a four door sedan as if it were a race car. I think there is a real problem with cars in general where manufacturers try to show how clever they are by adding features of dubious utility and great potential to distract the driver. It's bad enough when it is the radio and navigation (as in the first generation BMW iDrive, which I recall was pretty roundly criticized). There really are too many transmission configurations in modern cars. I currently have a Chevy Impala that was given to me while my Honda truck waits for parts, and the gear indicator and way the shifter works are different enough from what I am used to that i have come close to leaving the car in something other than park several times. As much criticisms as medicine gets for making mistakes, many more mistakes have been avoided by standardizing basic things such as what color tubing indicates what medical gas. It seems reasonable to expect something similar from automakers.
posted by TedW at 8:03 PM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


If the vehicle was recalled, but he didn't return it, do his parents have a case against the manufacturer, or was the responsibility entirely on him

The fix for the recalled shifter isn't available yet, Chrysler estimates that the fix will be available by 4th quarter 2016.
posted by jamaro at 8:03 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


OK, serious this time, it's baffling to me that the people in charge of design felt like they had to go screwing around with the automatic transmission UX. A stick moves fore and aft through a notched groove that stops it at each selection. The user must move the stick to one side or another to proceed with selecting another position. Each position is clearly labled next to the stick. It was so in a '70s Mercedes 300D that I've driven. It has been so in several cars that I've rented recently (except a Ford Focus, making me dig through the digital dash display to figure out what gear I'm in, wtf is that garbage?). It's a solved problem. Stop fucking with it.

(manual transmissions seem to have been spared these aggravating "innovations", thankfully)
posted by indubitable at 8:05 PM on June 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


(manual transmissions seem to have been spared these aggravating "innovations", thankfully)

Of the very few cars that are still sold in the US with manual transmissions, the only change seems to be that more of them are 6-speeds, so reverse is often not where it was on a 4- or 5-speed. I had one where reverse was over on the left and forward, and currently I have a vehicle with reverse on the far right and back. It's not nearly the aggravation of the bad design shown in the links above, but it is a bit surprising that things haven't become totally standardized, like how the arrangement of pedals is.

One place I worked had a clapped out old van with a stick shift on the steering column with a worn out linkage. That was a bear to shift, because you might have shifted to first, and you might have shifted to third, no way to know until you let out the clutch.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:14 PM on June 21, 2016


sfenders: "First step to making an idiot-proof car: Make sure it doesn't have any of the more obviously dangerous features, such as wheels and an engine."

"So this guy down at the used car lot tried to sell me four wheels and a trunk..."
posted by notsnot at 8:14 PM on June 21, 2016


The Chrysler 200 has a dial the size of a hockey puck on the center console thing. You turn it to select a gear. It gets kinda dicey when you're backing into traffic and need to switch from R to D quickly and accurately!

I just had one of these as a rental while my car was in the shop. DID NOT LIKE the shift-dial nonsense, though I'd adjusted to at least use it without extra hesitation every time by the end of the week. (My partner, on the other hand, thought it was great...)

I think it's a fundamental flaw for a car not to indicate what gear it's in while off. That isn't the only problem with the recalled shifter, nor is the recalled shifter isn't the only one that has that particular flaw, but it seems like that alone must increase rollaway risk. Especially combined with keyless systems, where the driver can remove the keys from the car no matter what gear it's in or whether it's running or not, with no more than beeping in response...
posted by polymath at 8:16 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Consumer Reports is a national treasure. Yes, their website is horrible, but... they put a no-kidding nerd in cool kids clothes to tell you how the car will make you dead.

As a MoPar guy... who drives a Subaru after owning MoPar because I have places to be reliably in Heavy Weather...

And I am conflicted, as the Fuji Heavy Industries that builds Outbacks in Indiana is also the Fuji Heavy Industries who built Nakajima fighters and bombers. Subaru is literally Nakajima.

On the other hand, Fiat owns Jeep.

You would think this is ludicrous, but it's the reason outlaw bikers ride Harlies - Yes, you've heard the term "rice burner" in regards to Japanese bikes. "Pasta burners" are also a thing, you cannot join the gang with a Ducati or Moto Guzzi. Kraut Bikes are similarly bad mojo - no BMW or KTM.

Brit bikes? Norton or Triumph or Vincent or Royal Enfield? OK. Some bristle a bit at Royal Enfield's made-in-India label, until you remind them of which side India fought on in WWII.

It's stupid and ludicrous, but people actually feel this way.

My dad, who has owned both a Fiat 1500 from the '60s and a Jeep Cherokee from the early 00's, laughed bitterly at the news Fiat merged with Chrysler. "They will build a car that will kill you by putting it into Park" were his actual words.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:22 PM on June 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


yeah I recently got stuck driving an automatic after four years worth of driving manual; it was a Chrysler minivan and the shifter design is unbelievably awful - I am very careful with vehicles and still had trouble telling when it was parked, even though always set the e-brake as a habit.

the entire car was just a litany of badness. the driver is utterly disconnected from the actual act of driving. mushy brakes, touchy throttle, idle set so high that the car will aggressively roll forward unless you constantly stand on the brakes, just everything awful about American cars summed up in one package.

got our 5-speed back from the shop yesterday and took it for a drive just to celebrate not having to deal with that awful rental. I don't know what I'll do if we can't continue find manual transmission cars, because I don't want to switch back ever.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:31 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Well it's not like that is a new failure mode. Ford had a serious problem with their mechanical column shift Econolines either popping out of park or not going into park properly for years. And it was the kind of thing that could kill professional drivers; a UPS or DHL driver was killed in my neighbourhood when his truck ran over him.
posted by Mitheral at 8:32 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:36 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dip Flash, our '05 Subaru Outback 5-speed has the standard reverse at down-right and our '15 BRZ 6-speed has it up-left (same place as first but there's a shift collar you lift). I haven't had problems with either so far, and I'm relatively new to driving stick.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:36 PM on June 21, 2016


the entire car was just a litany of badness. the driver is utterly disconnected from the actual act of driving. mushy brakes, touchy throttle, idle set so high that the car will aggressively roll forward unless you constantly stand on the brakes, just everything awful about American cars summed up in one package.

Yep. I hate rentals for that very reason. Once we get back to Boston I know the wife's BMW is waiting at the parking lot and my GT86 is in the garage. Even though both cars are throttle-by-wire and the BMW's auto is a bit of a slush box they GIVE FEEDBACK. Like my '86 will 100% tell me if I'm doing something dumb because I can feel it heading towards its limit.
posted by Talez at 8:38 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Lack of tactile feedback was also partially to blame for the crash of an Airbus airliner.

The SAAB JAS 39 fighter aircraft designers thought that using a joystick with no or very limited tactile feedback was a great idea. Didn't work that well when combined with a very sensitive but slow control system (lots of swedish swearing in those clips, people on the ground got injured but nobody died).

They experimented with using the same control system in SAAB cars, but that was later abandoned when someone pointed out that requiring a driver to keep the same hand on the steering device at all time wasn't quite the step forward they first thought.
posted by effbot at 9:01 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I realised that Chrysler was incapable of producing anything worth spending money on decades ago.
As far as Jeep is concerned, it was 1998 (ZJ, aka Grand Cherokee, discontinued) or 2001 (XJ, aka Cherokee, discontinued), to be precise.

I don't know much about Wranglers, but I suspect the YJ (discontinued 1995) or the TJ (discontinued 2006) was the last good one.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:10 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


They experimented with using the same control system in SAAB cars, but that was later abandoned when someone pointed out that requiring a driver to keep the same hand on the steering device at all time wasn't quite the step forward they first thought.

The SAAB 900 and 9000 had incredible ergonomics with a lot of cues taken from cockpit design for the Viggen (and early work on the Gripen). I'm not sure how much of that survived post-GM, except in the marketing.

The kind of HOTAS controls you're describing (sidestick and throttle, no or very little stick deflection) was used on the F-16 too.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:15 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's like they redesigned shifters just for the sake of making them worse.

Perhaps they hired a web developer or an app programmer?
posted by srboisvert at 9:16 PM on June 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


Can Chrysler make the brake pedal a little wider next? Yeah, go ahead and make it extend over under my left foot so I can't stop stepping on the edge of it out of habit instead of the clutch coming to a stop in a auto-transmission rental car. Then make the steering wheel really close to my face. k thanks.
posted by ctmf at 9:22 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


As a ux designer I was curious if they do usability on car design. According to the NY Times article on this, they typically do. That article also said this:

“We can look at that as a failure of process, a failure to anticipate how consumers would react,” he said. “I don’t know what their process was internally, but clearly it did not catch this particular risk.”

It is a failure of process, yes. But I mean. There is no need to anticipate how people will react to things. You can put it in front of them and find out. You can make all the stupid design decisions you want but you must test it. There was no need to go to all the trouble of shipping an unusable design, then having to go through all this hassle with recalls and regulation agencies, and then culminating in a tragedy. None of this had to happen. It's mind-boggling.
posted by bleep at 10:02 PM on June 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


I wonder if this designer was championed by somebody who overruled what the user testing said because they had a feeling. Wouldn't be the first time...

Solve the problems that need to be solved, like how to make sure a bike isn't in my blind spot. Don't change a lifetime's worth of gearshift use because you think it looks cool.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:05 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Doing usability and ignoring it is worse than not doing it.
posted by bleep at 10:07 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh and when I said "culminating in a tragedy" I should have said "culminating in tragedy". We don't know how many of these unnecessary deaths have occurred.
posted by bleep at 10:10 PM on June 21, 2016


You can put it in front of them and find out.

This is definitely true, though the live test of millions of people using your product will produce a level of data and feedback that you just can't get otherwise. Not to forgive anything here, necessarily, but it's possible that they did test it to a level they were comfortable with and didn't find any issue. Only once you have millions of users will the 0.0001% case become evident; the 100 people you tested it with didn't encounter it.

Of course you try to create your usability studies to account for this, to sniff out all the possible angles. (For something as critical as the shifter I'd probably outfit existing cars with the new shifter and have people use it for a few months? But of course hindsight, 20/20.)

And, too, there's something to be said for designing very conservatively when it comes to anything like a car that come with inherent life-or-death risks.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:45 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I kind of like the Prius mini-shifter, though why you push it forward to go backwards and pull it backwards to go forwards is a mystery.

Same. Yeah, it returns to the same position when releases, but it a key feature that the recalled Chrysler shifter did not: every change involves moving the lever in a distinct direction. With the Chrysler shifter, did you move the lever far enough to put it in the gear you wanted, or did you move it too far or not far enough? You can’t tell by feel. To mis‐shift in a Prius, you’d have to move the lever in the wrong direction.

Toyota also puts the current gear on the digital dash display, where it’s very easy to read. I’m not sure where Chysler puts that display—besides the lit handle of the lever, which is out‐of‐the way and hard to see in sunlight.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 11:17 PM on June 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


Toyota also puts the current gear on the digital dash display, where it’s very easy to read. I’m not sure where Chysler puts that display—besides the lit handle of the lever, which is out‐of‐the way and hard to see in sunlight.

You can see it in the instruction video linked in the Jalopnik article.
Not only is there a gear indicator in the dash display (near the speedo), it also changes some text as you select through gears.
It actually looks distractingly attention-getting.
posted by madajb at 11:28 PM on June 21, 2016


Park on the Prius is a separate button altogether also. So there's a very clear division between modes. Intention is always clear.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:53 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


And here I thought the problem of tactile feedback for an automatic + manual shifter was a solved problem.
posted by Aleyn at 12:22 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Park on the Prius is a separate button altogether also. So there's a very clear division between modes. Intention is always clear.

That button is rarely used because turning the car off also puts the transmission in park, which encourages bad habits, but is probably for the best. Someone was asking “how do you tell what gear a car with a monostable shifter is in if the key isn’t in the ignition?” The answer is: it should always be in “P”. The exception would be if the electrical system failed while the car was on. Even cars decades old won’t let you remove the key unless the transmission is in “P”.

Most of the “suicidal” shift options, like trying to put the car into reverse at motorway speeds, end with the car beeping and going to neutral instead.

Shifting to reverse while coasting forward at something under maybe 10 km∕h (I’m not sure what the exact threshold is) results in the mode shifting, but with no immediate change to momentum. You can continue to brake to a stop. That’s another bad habit encouraged in the Prius.

Shifts to “P” at low speeds are also allowed, but this time results in an abrupt halt (no doubt harmful to the parking prawl). I could see this being useful in a panic situation, if the brakes fail at low speed or the floor mat interferes with the pedal—that sort of thing.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 12:42 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


If the car has to display verbal instructions in the dash display on how exactly to shift into drive or park, I'd take that as a sign that something about shifting is not clear or intuitive. I've noticed more and more cars and other devices where they obviously identified a usability or understanding problem, and put a band-aid on it by adding verbal instructions.
posted by thefool at 3:25 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I drive a manual, and, from reading this, it seems automatic is much more common in the USA. When and why did this happen? Most people in the UK and around Europe drive manuals, and although there is the obvious problem with reverse being in different places, usually their is a graphic on the top of the gearstick that tells you where it is. On mine it is left/top but you have to push the stick down to get there.
posted by marienbad at 3:54 AM on June 22, 2016


I've read this thread three times now and I'm still baffled--Anton Yelchin just died in one of the most unnecessary and useless ways conceivable and the only comment here mentioning it, the comment letting me know it even happened, I read and parsed as an angry joke?

Fuck these guys.

And a god damn
.
as well
posted by hototogisu at 3:59 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Okay, I'm sorry but I've got to address the "everything Chrysler ever made is crap" stuff.

I drive a 2003 PT Cruiser; I live in dread of the day she dies. True, she has her oddities --- all power window buttons in a single cluster in the center of the dash? Check! --- but the gearshift isn't one of them. Admittedly, my baby is a DAIMLER-Chrysler, not FIAT-Chrysler.

Sorry, just felt the need to offer a tiny word of defense.
posted by easily confused at 4:19 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I drive a manual, and, from reading this, it seems automatic is much more common in the USA. When and why did this happen?

Automatics have been the default here since the fifties. By now they've dwindled down to only 4% of cars sold. I have a manual Honda Fit and it was hard to even find one to buy.
posted by octothorpe at 4:24 AM on June 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Manual transmissions practically vanishing from dealer inventory didn't happen until after 2000 sometime, was my impression
posted by thelonius at 4:28 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I bought a manual Chevy Tracker in 1999 and had a similarly hard time finding anything but automatics then too. The only model the dealer had as one with totally stripped down with manual windows and doors and no extras because "people who want manuals are too cheap to buy extras", as the salesman told me. I told he that I wasn't cheap, I just wanted to shift and he just ignored me. I bought it because it was the only manual Tracker in the metro area and I couldn't wait to special order one from the factory.
posted by octothorpe at 4:35 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am mildly amused that a number of people complaining here about bad redesign of things that have been more or less standardized are using UX in place of what has been the standard acronym for user interface for decades. I'm sure they have some reason that isn't just being confusing to readers...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:52 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


When and why did this happen?

This ongoing experiment in marketing began in the latter half of the 20th century. It aims to test the limits of social control through mass media by attempting to convince people of absurd things, such as that automatic transmissions, front wheel drive, and extra-large wheel rims are desirable things to look for in a car.
posted by sfenders at 5:03 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


UI (User Interface) is one aspect in the larger concept of UX (User eXperience).
posted by gilrain at 5:15 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


If this is the closest the Blue is getting to an Anton Yelchin obit thread, I'll just add

.

It was such a sad way for him to die.
posted by Kitteh at 5:19 AM on June 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


Use the emergency/hand/parking brake to keep your vehicle stationary when parked.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:15 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Automatic transmissions were marketed as luxury items in the 1950s and later, with silly names like "Hydro-matic", "Torqueflite", "Cruise-o-matic". This was in a context where for GM and Chrysler you had a clear brand hierarchy (Chevy -> Pontiac -> Buick -> Oldsmobile -> Cadillac) and where land yachts were seen as the pinnacle of luxury, so having the driving experience of good steering feedback and a manual transmission wasn't prioritized at all.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:32 AM on June 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


To me, that illuminated "visual feedback" on the gearshift itself is a massive warning that nobody thought critically about the design as a whole. That's some Grade-A stereotype-engineer "because we can" design wankery right there. Who is that light for? Do you regularly look at your right thigh while driving? That's a horrible behavior to encourage. Worse, most of the time your hand is on the gearshift, blocking the indicator! Nothing about that design ought to count as primary, secondary, or any other level of visual feedback.
posted by range at 6:36 AM on June 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've been reading The Design of Everyday Things out of curiosity, and it clearly states that buttons and nobs with no mental model are dangerous. Park vs. Shift are very different - they should have different actions required to activate them.
posted by rebent at 6:40 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


If any other aspect of our lives (apart from guns for some reason) were this deadly, it would be nothing short of a national crisis, and yet we somehow treat it as normal, and don't even question it (let alone discuss the related environmental, social, and health impacts of a dominant car-culture).

That's because if we didn't have cars, we'd have a lot harder time getting to work, because a very large chunk of America isn't designed for people without cars to travel easily to anywhere they want to go. That's literally something we can't afford to question. I didn't drive for a lot of years and the world is literally bigger for me now that I can get myself places without help. I suspect revamping our entire world to avoid having to drive is one of those problems that's just too huge for anyone to spend trillions on solving just so people don't die.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:56 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


yes.... but if we didn't have cars, we wouldn't have designed such sprawl. We can design a future without sprawl as well. It might be a bit uncomfortable - we might need houses that are half as big, or smaller. We might need to live closer to our neighbors, and share personal space on public transportation, etc.

Are we willing to do that, to avoid killing ourselves?
posted by rebent at 7:17 AM on June 22, 2016


UI (User Interface) is one aspect in the larger concept of UX (User eXperience).

Ah. A gearshift lever is an experience. Got it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:19 AM on June 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Do you regularly look at your right thigh while driving?

Do people actually manipulate the gear selector while driving? I confess that I never have; it's always reverse-drive-park, and the vehicle is stopped when any change is made. This includes driving through some pretty steep mountain roads.
posted by indubitable at 7:20 AM on June 22, 2016


Kinda surprised nobody mentioned Mercedes Benz's shifter that led to a woman driving on the tracks and hit by a train.
posted by Monochrome at 7:37 AM on June 22, 2016


Do people actually manipulate the gear selector while driving?

Yes. I drive in the hills every day, and regularly take my car down a couple different streets in 2nd gear (PRND21 shifter). I can do it entirely by feel, not just the position of the lever, by also by the presence or absence of needing to press the button.
posted by clorox at 7:50 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ah. A gearshift lever is an experience. Got it.

I'm not sure the timeline, but in the last years the field that encompasses user interface design, interaction design, and human computer interaction has come to be known as user experience design. These days UI tends to refer to the visual field only — if someone told me they designed UI for cars I would think they were referring to the graphics on a dashboard's digital display. If they said UX, they could be involved with the design of any and all of the ways that a person interacts with a car.

This is comes out of the tech world, though, and I'm not sure how car designers talk about this kind of stuff. But that's where the UX talk in this thread comes from.
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:03 AM on June 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think the modern every-brand-for-itself trend in needless gear-selector re-design is really dumb (that CR video functions as a good overview of the madness) but I guess the question really should be: how many incidents and accidents are associated with the newfangled electronic ones versus the chunky, traditional, mechanical ones?

Because it's perfectly true, American car culture has been nothing short of an absolute bloodbath since the beginning. "Parking" a car without actually securing is not and has never been an unusual issue. The electronic selectors at least offer designers the possibility of inexpensive automatic lockouts that weren't realistic a generation ago.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:06 AM on June 22, 2016


Race car's that use a lever use back as the up-shift for that reason (among many others I'm sure). When you're driving hard, it feels much more natural.

No kidding. I was on track with a rental a few weeks ago and showing a couple of drivers some racing line stuff. So not very hard driving in race car terms, but ... brisk(?) for a rental car, shall we say? I'd been talking all the way up the straight (and waving my arms around to show how the car moves under load etc, thus taking my hand off the gear lever) and when I went for the last upshift we had a... rather abrupt slowing experience for a second when I shifted the wrong way. Followed by a barrage of swearing (from me) and giggling from the drivers. Back should be up, forward should be down. It makes no sense any other way.
posted by Brockles at 8:21 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]




If you mean watch the lever as you move it, why would you want to do that if it was just a simple lever?

That was my point. You don't need to watch the lever at all, and can't watch a display AND a lever anyway, so having the selector display in front of you removes any requirement at all for the lever to also be in front of you. So get it out of the way.

As mentioned by someone else, in an auto, most drivers touch it once when they are ready to move off and once when they park (twice if reversing is involved). It is not a common enough requirement to need it when moving to have it up near the wheel and in the way.
posted by Brockles at 8:24 AM on June 22, 2016


Although Brockles has Spoken on why racing car gear shifts do that backwards-to-go-forwards thing, a Prius is very far from a racing car, it sets up an incompatible response between the gear shift and the accelerator (where forward→faster) and is the opposite of fail safe. Yeah, I'm kind of missing stick shift, but my calves and arches aren't missing it at all in Toronto's stop-start traffic. If only the Prius's cruise control worked at 15 km/h, it would be the perfect car for this city ...
posted by scruss at 9:59 AM on June 22, 2016


an incompatible response between the gear shift and the accelerator

There's also another pedal, which you press forward on when you want to slow down, and it's the one you're using when you need to rapidly shift down several gears, which might occasionally happen even if you're not actually in a race car. And then, cruising along on the highway, downshift is what one often needs to do in order to go faster.

Minor ergonomic advantages aside, I don't know why it feels so much more natural to shift down by pressing forward, maybe it's from the manual transmission shift pattern where 1st is in that direction.
posted by sfenders at 10:44 AM on June 22, 2016


I've always hated the electronic shifter that's in the 14 and 15 grand cherokees (and several other dodge/chrysler products, pretty sure it's in the charger and 300). It really is a pain to get it in the right gear, although most of the problems I ever ran into was when trying to put the thing into reverse, as opposed to not getting it into the park. If you turn the car off when it's not in park, I'm pretty sure it does pop up a warning on the dash about the vehicle not being in park, but if you don't turn the car off, then it's going to be far less noticeable. I think the car in this case was found off? If so, it should have produced a warning. And the recall fix isn't going to be much from what I understand, more of a make the warnings more obvious thing.

I've always felt that this particular shifter was particularly bad in what is ostensibly an off-road capable vehicle (ok yeah, I realize that a very large percentage of people who own a GC will never take it off-road, but the reality is it's still a very capable off-road vehicle). Being able to shift between gears easily is something that you're going to want when driving off-road, especially in steep terrain. I don't own a 14 or 15 GC, so I've never taken one off-road myself, so I don't know if they're just expecting people to use the paddle sifters when off-road, of if there's something else for limiting gear travel easily (on my 13, it's pretty easy by moving the gear shift left or right to change what the highest gear the transmission will select is). Since I'll probably replace my 13 relatively soon, I'm happy they've gone away from this stupid electronic shifter they used in the 14 and 15. Although I think the shifter in the 13 is still better than what they have in the 16.

On other shifters: Lincoln I'm pretty sure has a model where they've gone back to the push buttons on the dash. More and more seem to be going to the dial shifter, and while I didn't like it at first, it's grown on me somewhat. I don't think I'd want it for an off-road vehicle, but for a standard car, I could probably live with it. My biggest gripe with them is that I tend to rest my elbow on the center console and my hand on top of the shift lever, so when they get rid of the shift lever, I find it harder to find a comfortable spot to put my hands.
posted by piper28 at 10:55 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


We own a 2015 Jeep GC with that sort of shifter. I've had no trouble figuring out how to put it in P for park. An indicator in the dash along side other instrumentation is clearly visible. Also, the indicator on the shifter knob is easy to see. Learning the proper operation of the transmission was easy, but I understood at once what the issues were. In addition to being able to read the letters that indicated the mode, I needed to understand how to use the shift-paddles, and then to handle the steering wheel in such a way that I didn't engage them accidentally. The paddles on the steering wheel let you select any of eight gears without taking your hands off the wheel. Of course if you must select low-lock, then you have to stop and put the transmission into neutral while you engage this feature.

The only issue I have so far is that the shifter knob needs a very subtle touch to move from Park to Reverse, and from Drive to Reverse. So far I am unable to do this without actually looking at the selector options, and I often pass the Reverse position, going directly into Neutral or Park. I can imagine a harried driver taking his foot off the brake and tapping the accelerator while in the wrong gear, or taking his foot off the brake thinking he's in Park when he's actually in Neutral--oops, there goes the garage door (or worse). I hope Jeep drivers use proper caution.

BTW, while Fiat is refiggering this item, can someone get them to move the rear washer/wiper controls someplace else? I have to sit upside down on the front seat with my head on the accelerator when I want to engage the rear window's washer/wiper feature. This makes my passengers nervous....

Also BTW, I owned two Fiats back in the day. One was a 1500, which I eventually traded in for a new 124 Spyder in 1973. Both cars were fun fun fun, and required surprisingly low maintenance.
posted by mule98J at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2016


as if there would ever be a reason to drive a four door sedan as if it were a race car

Not but it is handy when trying to merge on a cloverleaf interchange so you can make the car hold 3rd gear around the turn. That way you don't have to wait for the transmission to downshift when you have to floor it to merge.
posted by VTX at 5:04 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Our Volt is sweetly, earnestly, and not entirely successfully dedicated to simulating the familiar PRNDL setup even though almost none of these settings apply for the Volt engine. D actually has four subsettings (depending on how you want the gas and electric to interplay); L just changes how much regenerative braking you get when lifting off the gas pedal; there's a bonus button on the steering-wheel for extra regenerative braking; no one seems quite clear whether N is truly disengaging everything or just simulating neutral; and likewise I remain unsure whether R is actually a gear, or just tells the electric motors to spin the other way when stepping on the gas. But you can plop your in-laws in and they'll happily putter away as if it was just another Cruze or Civic. The interface is kind of a retro frankenstein, but it does make it very safe and familiar to operate.
posted by chortly at 6:12 PM on June 22, 2016


I-Write-Essays: "What the hell is their problem. It's like they redesigned shifters just for the sake of making them worse. You know, if you shuffle a perfectly random deck, it actually becomes less random.

Wheels are so last millenium: I think we need a redesign to energize the market. Our cars feature Brand New Square (tm) Wheels!
"

SQUAGEL
posted by symbioid at 8:54 PM on June 22, 2016


The years when I was driving a Citroën DS21 as my everyday driver were blissfully free of having deranged drivers park my car for me in urban parking garages largely because the peculiar ergonomics of Citroën controls.

The parking attendants would insist that no, I could most certainly not park it myself, so I'd hand them the key and wait. It would take a while for the guy to find where the key went on the dash...then a while for him to realize that you don't turn it to start the car...then a while of looking around aimlessly in search of some sort of way to activate the starter...then a moment when he'd give up and ask—

"There's a start position on the gearshift."

Then there's the search for the gearshift...and oh, is it this weird little lever behind the steering wheel, on top of where the "lopsided" one-spoke steering wheel comes out...wait, where's the clutch?

"There's no clutch."

After a while, they figure out that you pull the lever for the Citromatic left, then towards you, then left to engage the starter. Success! The engine pressurized the hydraulic system and the car rose off the ground, seemingly, which always unsettles the unfamiliar. More time passed before they could figure out the rather simple U-shaped four-speed pattern, and they were off...sort of...until that inevitable moment when they realized that they can't find the brake pedal and tromped down on the little rubber mushroom brake control that Citroën service manuals actually call "le champignon" as hard as they could in a panic...which is not a good thing to do in a braking system that uses 1500 PSI hydraulic fluid in a system linked to the suspension, where the brake "pedal" is a rubber button that is force sensitive rather than using pedal travel.

The Goddess would screech to a halt, not diving forward, of course, because Citroëns do nothing so vulgar on hard breaking, then would adjust herself to a dignified posture with a few hisses and clicks.

At this point, I was usually offered the option to park the "fucking" thing myself, which I did with enthusiasm.

Of course, you didn't hear about Citroën drivers having crazy accidents because of the UX, because by the time you have opted to seek out and own a rare [in the US] and distinct car, it's pretty much part of your character to also take the time to master the controls, whereas, in some common or garden nothingmobile in the US, no one bothers. It's a shame, really, because Citroën ergonomics are freaking fantastic, and every shift of the hydropneumatic automatically clutched transmission made me want to wave my hand in a glorious flourish like glamorous drag queen.
posted by sonascope at 10:48 AM on June 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


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