Reader Question: How Old Do You Have To Go?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

JW asks: Aside from engine, mechanical regulation issues with computers, how old a car do you have to get to avoid all the current surveillance, privacy, autonomous BS?

My reply: Only a few high-end new cars (e.g., Teslas, some Mercedes/BMW and Cadillac models) currently have more than incidental self-drive capabilities. However, many new a  cars – and cars made within the past 3-5 years – have what I’ll style driver-preemption tech, usually marketed as driver “assists.”

This includes: Lane Keep Assist/Steering Assist, Blind Spot Assist, Park Assist and Automated Emergency Braking. These systems will countermand your driving inputs when they decide your driving isn’t “within parameters.” For example, Lane Keep Assist will attempt to force you back into your travel lane if you attempt to pass another car without signaling first; it registers your car’s treading over the painted line on the road as “wandering” and will try to “correct” you.

Automated Emergency Braking will apply the brakes automatically – sometimes, quite forcefully – when the system thinks you should slow down. Many of these systems – I have personal experience – are programmed for a hyper-cautious driving style. Thus, “cutting it too close” – for the system’s programming – as when threading through slower-moving traffic – may result in the car applying the brakes mid-maneuver, which may actually cause rather than prevent an accident.

Usually, these systems can be turned off. But increasingly, they are hard to avoid – in new cars – as probably two-thirds of them now come standard with most of this stuff.

To avoid all of this stuff, you’d probably need to go back at least five years for most cars and ten for any luxury-badged car.

Not so bad.

Also good, because you’ll avoid the latest mechanical complexity – things like direct-injected engines and transmissions with more than six speeds. Most of that only came online over the course of the past five or so years.

Here’s the bad:

Almost all cars built since the mid-late ’90s will have Event Data Recorders (aka “black boxes”) and some form of “telematics” – the capability to receive and send data wirelessly. Almost all cars built since about 1995 will also have OBD II – Onboard Diagnostics II – which includes a universal plug-in port under the dash that can be used to access the car’s data. (The OBD II port is where the insurance mafia wants you to plug in their real-time monitoring device, which transmits data from your car about your driving to them, wirelessly.)

To be entirely free of Big Brother’s hand on your steering wheel – and eye on your driving – you need to go back to the early ’90s and prior. These cars will have computer controls, but they don’t control your driving, per se – nor monitor it. Or at least, aren’t capable of transmitting data. It’s a closed system.

These cars will also not have any air bags.  Most won’t have traction control; once you’re clear of the ’90s, even ABS will recede in the rearview.


The best ones are those with a simple throttle-body injection system and a single overdrive gear in their transmission (e.g., a five-speed manual or a four-speed overdrive automatic). These vehicles are just modern enough… but not modern enough in the ways you and I would prefer to avoid!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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