April 21, 2013

Motherlode: Built-in car vacuum sparks visions of other innovations

By KJ DELL'ANTONIA

Until now, I'd only seen on-board car vacuums in two incarnations: a dog I once had, who would eat anything and was more than willing to stick her snout in places that I'd be afraid to put my hand; and a take-along Dustbuster that one neater-than-I-am friend keeps plugged in in her car -- effective, but a little inconvenient in the front seat.

Starting this summer, new Honda Odyssey Touring Elite buyers get a much sleeker version: a vacuum cleaner with a hose, canister and two attachments, built neatly into a compartment in the rear hatch. It's a fantastic idea (and one that's inspired me to drag the garage vacuum we already own out and put it somewhere where we can actually use it), although the sight of the cereal strewn all over that otherwise pristine interior also renews my appreciation for our no-eating-in-the-car rule (in effect since February 2012 and going strong).

But if we parents can have a built-in vacuum cleaner, what other innovations could carmakers create to woo us? My dream features for the ideal family ride for parents of children from tot to teen:

1. Built-in car seats. If carmakers can make a third row you can take in or out, they can make car seats designed for their cars that go in and out with ease (and buckle into other cars) and offer standard built-in boosters in the backseat of nearly every vehicle.

2. Limo glass. This, truly, is my dream. Yes, I want to interact with my children when they're in the back seat -- some of the time. But if I could have rolled up the partition on this morning's dispute over who lost the top to the coveted, irreplaceable erasable pen that my oldest daughter "needs" for school, I would have, gladly.

3. Usable reading lights. Bright lights shining down from the roof of the car are useless during a night drive. Small, flexible LED booklights by the cupholders, though, could be used for reading, homework and play. They'll put video screens back there -- why not enable and encourage something a little less passive?

4. Quit putting holes in the floor. There are so many, many cavities and crevices under the mats of my car. There are openings with small plastic grids over them. There are openings with flippable caps (well, there are openings that once had flippable caps). There are teeny, weeny slits too small to get your fingers into but just right for capturing a crayon. And one of those openings now houses the above-described top to the magnificent, precious erasable pen that my oldest daughter had forgotten she owned until she saw it in her younger brother's hands on the drive to school this morning.

5. A phone lock. When I get into the car, I should surrender my phone. I should not check emails at stoplights or glance down to see what the alert is that just flashed up onto the screen, and in a few years, when my first teenager is driving, that will be even more important. Right now, my car keys tell the car where to adjust my seat (and which radio station I like). They could also tell the car which phone's texting and alerts should be disabled. I'm weak, and I know it (and I'd rather my future teenage drivers not test their own willpower). That's an option I'd take.

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

 

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