12 Car Innovations You Take For Granted

The car has come a long way and along the way, it has been propelled by numerous car innovations.  The car itself was a major invention with at least 6 talented creators who can plausibly claim to have invented it.

While you might not think that driving has changed all that much, driving a car is actually nothing like it used to be.

Put some shades on my friend.  These car innovations are so brilliant you are going to need sunglasses to read them all.

Put some shades on my friend. These car innovations are so brilliant you are going to need sunglasses to read them all.

Car Innovations

Air Conditioning

Air conditioning was purportedly offered as early as 1933 by a limousine and luxury car company based in New York.  Generally, the Packard Motor Company is credited with being the first automobile manufacturer to offer AC for their cars in 1939. Cadillac and Buick offered air conditioning as an option on their 1953 models.

While there is debate about how much air conditioning impacts a vehicle’s fuel efficiency, it sure does feel nice when it’s hot outside.

Did you know? In early air conditioners the main evaporator and blower system took up half the truck space!

Electric Starting

Did you know that something you do every day, and which seems so simple, has a rich and complex history behind it?

Yes, just starting your car was one of many car innovations that changed the way we all drive (or at least start to drive).

Before the electric starting motor, cars needed to be started by hand.  This was accomplished by turning a crank to move the pistons in an automobile until enough momentum was created to keep the engine running on its own.

Needless to say, the crank was difficult to operate.  In addition to causing discomfort like back pain, the crank could actually kick back and hit the operator.  This actually happened to one of Henry Leland’s friends.  Since Henry was the head of Cadillac at the time, he began to make a serious push for the creation of the electric starter.

So, the next time you need to get in your car and go, just be thankful you don’t have to budget another couple minutes to crank your car up to get it started.  And if you do, it’s probably time to start looking for a new vehicle!

Hand Brakes

Once you start moving you need to have a way to stop.  This might seem obvious, but most early cars were simply trying to get moving period; they didn’t have the best braking systems in place.

The 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen was arguably the first car ever created and also the first to have brakes.

Since the creation of the Benz Patent Motorwagen, there have been many evolutions of car braking systems, from hand breaks to drum brakes and disc brakes and eventually power assist brakes, and anti-lock brakes.

Electronic Control Unit

Despite its unexciting name, the Electronic Control Unit is a car innovation that plays a significant role in a very  large number of vehicles on the road.  With the addition of computers in cars, computers can now control things like spark plugs, fuel injectors, and idle speed to produce the best performance possible.

Computers can even monitor vehicle health and alert the driver that it needs service.  A mechanic can read the diagnostic report from the computer, determine the problem, and then fix it.  Computers play a role in modern car braking systems as well, especially if one has anti-lock brakes.

Anti-Lock Brakes

This car innovation has important consequences for driver safety.  By installing automated systems that use techniques known as “cadence breaking” and “threshold breaking,” vehicles with this system are able to prevent wheel-locking which results in uncontrolled skidding.

Anti-lock braking systems utilize computers to read the wheel speed and control the brakes.  Because of the computer, anti-lock brakes are also able to improve vehicle control and can reduce stopping distances on dry and slippery surfaces.

Headrests

When you are waiting at a really long red light, or sitting in traffic on your commute home, sometimes you probably tilt your head back and sigh.  The thing you momentarily rest your head against is there for your comfort, but was a car innovation created for driver and passenger safety.

These initially started as an option on many cars during the 1960s and were made standard in 1969 for their safety benefits.  In case of an accident, headrests help reduce the potential for whiplash.

Hand-Operated Windshield Wipers

Did you know these were actually considered a distraction to drivers at one point?

Windshield wipers were invented by Mary Anderson, from Alabama.  She got the inspiration when she visited an icy New York City and observed that the trolley driver was driving with the window open because it was too difficult to keep the sleet off the front window.

Upon returning to Alabama, she hired a designer who helped her create the very first windshield wiper.  This car innovation consisted of a simple rubber blade placed on the outside of the windshield, controlled by a lever inside the vehicle.

In 1922, Cadillac became the first automotive company to adopt them as standard on all their vehicles.

Intermittent Windshield Wipers

Robert Kearns is usually credited with the invention of intermittent windshield wipers in 1963.

It is reported that on Kearns’s wedding night, he was hit in the left eye with a champagne cork and later in his life when he was driving through the rain the constant movement of the windshield wipers on his car bothered his already troubled vision.

Kearns’s wipers were able to operate at timed intervals instead of a constant speed which might be too fast for a light drizzle of rain.

Windshields

If you look at examples of the world’s very first vehicles, you’ll notice there is no windshield.  While it wasn’t too much of an issue in the early days of the automobile when drivers couldn’t really move all that fast the need for something protecting passengers from road debris grew rapidly.  We’ve all had those moments while driving where even a small rock or piece of road debris bounces off our windshield with such force that we gasp and then do a quick examination to see if there are any cracks.  Just imagine if that pebble had flown directly into your vehicle!

Early windshields were actually made of glass and when they shattered caused severe injuries to passengers.  Modern windshields are made of two sheets of glass with a plastic layer between them which for the most part prevents shards of glass from injuring drivers and keeps the windshield all in one piece.

Front Wheel Drive

By placing the weight of the engine and transmission directly over the front wheels, front wheel drive improves fuel economy, reduces vehicle weight and production cost, and for the most part, delivers better traction.

Collapsible Steering Columns

This is another car safety innovation.  Older vehicles were built with a steering column that was composed of one solid piece.  These caused significant injuries in car accidents, and so automobile engineers created collapsible steering columns.

If you are in an accident, a steering column that collapses on impact instead of being driven back into the driver helps greatly lessen the chance of serious injuries to the operator of a motor vehicle.

OnStar

Of all the car innovations on this list, OnStar might be the one you take least for granted.  OnStar was a big step forward in terms of utilizing technology to directly and noticeably improve driving safety.

Officially launched at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show, OnStar offers a formidable pack of safety features, including:

  • Hands free calling
  • Contacting emergency medical services in case of an accident
  • Monthly vehicle diagnostics via email
  • Roadside assistance

OnStar even comes with optional Stolen Vehicle Assistance services like Stolen Vehicle Tracking, Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, and Stolen Vehicle Remote Ignition Block.

Oh, Is That All?

Did we miss any other car innovations?