You probably spend a significant amount of time in your car, but how well do you really know it? Whatever make and model you drive, you can bet there’s a feature you’ve never discovered. Sometimes, that’s because it’s literally hidden (as in, you really have to search to find it), but in other cases, it’s something right in front of you.
From keeping you safe to helping you keep your car clean, these hidden features are worth shouting about.
Correction March 16, 2021: A previous version of this article referred to a BMW automobile as a “beamer,” however that nickname (and the alternate spelling “beemer”) should technically only be used to describe a BMW motorcycle. According to the company itself, the correct nickname for a BMW automobile is “bimmer.” We regret the error.
1. Color Coding Under The Hood
You don’t have to be a mechanic to know your way around a car engine. Many modern cars have color-coded engines to make it super simple to know what you should keep an eye on between services, such as the dipstick, oil cap, coolant, brake fluid and washer fluid. That way, you know you can pretty much leave all the black and gray stuff to the experts. Although the color-coded bits tend to be yellow or blue on many cars, some engines have red and green parts too.
2. Jeep’s Easter Eggs
Okay, this one is just for fun. Lots of car manufacturers hide “Easter Eggs” around their models — most of which serve no real purpose other than aesthetics. Vauxhall, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Chrysler are some of the manufacturers that have put hidden messages in their models, which they don’t advertise. Jeep is especially well known for slipping well-hidden etchings into its vehicles.
Car and Driver found 30 Easter Eggs in the Jeep Renegade, several of which pay tribute to the company’s original iconic model, the 1945 Willys Jeep. If you drive a Jeep, take a close look and see if you can find an outline of this classic ride hiding somewhere.
3. Volkswagen’s Beetle Flower Vase
Perhaps in a nod to the car’s “flower power” heyday, for many years the Volkswagen Beetle came from the factory with a tiny, partially hidden flower vase, known as a “blumenvasen,” attached to its dashboard. If you weren’t a flower fan, it was a handy place to store pens, toothpicks, lipstick or anything else that could fit in the small space.
“Though we’re sad that the little flower vase is no longer available for the Beetle, it doesn’t mean that the iconic model doesn’t still retain elements of its past. Though the flower vase made way, extra storage has been made available with the Kaferfach glovebox, another nod to the past,” wrote a Volkswagen dealership in Santa Monica when the vase was discontinued.
4. Honda’s Magic Seats
Lots of economy cars are small, but many models have hidden load space. For instance, the Honda Civic and Jazz boast a “Magic Seat” system, which lets you fold up the back seat bases to increase load space. This lets you transport anything from beach chairs to a large potted plant, as demonstrated on the Meridian Honda website. The 2018 Honda Fit, shown here, made it possible to sit in the back seat and have maximum legroom, thanks to the Magic Seats in front folding down.
5. BMW’s Brake Drying
Car designers are constantly trying to find new ways to improve a car’s performance and safety. To improve braking performance in wet weather, BMW came up with the Brake Drying system, which is activated by the windshield wiper‘s rain sensor. It moves the brake pads closer to the rotors to keep them dry and improve stopping power in wet weather conditions. You might not even realize your “bimmer” (yes, this is the correct nickname for a BMW automobile) has such a nifty feature included.
6. Nissan’s Easy-Fill Tire Alert
Having the correct tire pressure improves your vehicle’s performance but it can also save you money on gas. Yet many drivers probably don’t even realize that their car is fitted with a tire pressure monitoring system, which has actually been a legal requirement on all cars since 2008.
Every manufacturer has its own system and Nissan’s Easy-Fill Tire Alert is particularly cool. You simply start adding air and when the tire reaches the ideal pressure, the vehicle’s horn goes off. And if you over-inflate a tire, the hazard lights will flash three times to let you know you need to release some air.
7. Neck Warmers
Heated seats are a well-known feature of lots of modern cars, but some manufacturers take their commitment to driver and passenger comfort even further. Several BMW models, such as the 4 Series Convertible, offer neck warmers, which are available with different heat settings and integrated, independently-controlled air outputs. Mercedes-Benz also offers neck-warming via its Airscarf system, which the company says is “designed to extend the so-called ‘convertible season’ beyond the summer months.”
8. Subaru’s Traffic Light Watcher
For the more impatient drivers out there, waiting for a traffic signal to change can feel like forever. But Subaru came up with a neat solution. The automaker’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology uses a small beeping sound to tell the driver when traffic starts moving again. It also automatically adjusts your speed to maintain a pre-selected distance between you and the car in front, and detects objects in front of the vehicle that you are likely to hit — a feature that more and more modern carmakers are starting to integrate.
9. Drowsiness Detection
Even if you take regular breaks and have a steady supply of coffee on the go, you can still struggle to keep your eyes open during a long drive. That’s fine if you’re a passenger, but a drowsy driver is a very dangerous person. Several car companies, including Nissan, Honda, Mercedes, Toyota and Volvo, have developed their own drowsiness detection systems to detect the onset of sleep. For instance, the Mercedes Attention Assist system vibrates the steering wheel when it senses the driver is swerving and guides the vehicle back into its lane.
10. A Secret Vacuum
Normally, vacuuming a car isn’t the most enjoyable chore. The electric cord isn’t long enough, and the style of the vacuum itself might not work for all those nooks and crannies where dust and debris accumulate. And how do you get between the seats? Well, the Honda Odyssey has tried to solve the problem with a hidden, built-in vacuum with a long-range hose. To empty the HondaVac, as it’s called, you simply press the button on the face of the vacuum, pull out the canister, pop the tabs holding the lid and remove the filter.
11. Fuel-Saving Frames
The materials a car is made of make a huge difference when it comes to energy efficiency — which should be just as much of a concern these days as fuel efficiency. One of the best ways to make a vehicle more energy efficient is to make it lighter. Because aluminum can be forged to be just as strong as some steel, but at a much lower weight, it’s often chosen by automakers today.
Ford’s 2015 line of pickup trucks are a good example, as they were 700 pounds lighter than the previous year’s F-Series models. According to Ford, its lighter F-150s were up to 29% more fuel-efficient than the models they replaced, depending on the engine variation.
12. A Hands-Free Trunk
Trying to open your trunk when you have your hands full of groceries or sports equipment is the definition of a first-world problem. To reduce the risk of you dropping everything or resorting to an awkward display in the parking lot, some cars automatically open the trunk when you wave your hand under a sensor or when they detect your smart key in your pocket. For example, the Hyundai Hands-Free Smart Trunk opens as soon as it senses that the driver fob is approaching.
13. A Handy Fuel-Tank Location Reminder
Most drivers have looked at the little fuel pump icon on their car’s gas gauge hundreds of times without even noticing the arrow that sticks out of it. As soon as you know what this handy icon means, it makes the whole gas station experience a lot easier. The direction the arrow is pointing is the side of the car where the gas cap is located. If you’re someone who rents a lot of cars, this is a godsend.
14. Road Condition Indicators
Although cars have come with engine malfunction warning lights and open-door indicators for years, a warning for dangerous driving conditions is a relatively new addition. It’s an important one, because fog, rain and ice can make roads too treacherous to drive on. The road condition indicator — which shows up as a road with a snowflake on it — is controlled by a temperature sensor located near the front bumper and warns the driver that the temperature outside is low enough for roads to freeze.
15. Computer Driving Assistance
When you buy or rent a car, it’s definitely worth taking the time to learn about the Computer Driving Assistance features it comes with. While some of them are automatically activated, others require an action from the driver. For instance, downhill assist is an option to automatically prevent a car from accelerating during a descent. Other features include sensors to detect pedestrians and other obstacles, and parking assistance.
16. Hidden Storage
Lots of cars have storage areas that are so well hidden, you could never discover them unless you knew where to look. For instance, the Dodge Journey has a hidden compartment under the passenger seat, two pockets with removable bins under the floor behind the front row and a storage compartment running the full width of the rear cargo floor. And the Land Rover Discovery has a storage area for hiding valuables behind a climate control panel. Who would think to look there?
17. Conversation Mirror
In minivans and SUVs, a standard rearview mirror just doesn’t provide a good enough view of what’s going on in the backseat. The answer is a small, convex overhead “conversation mirror,” which is often designed to be pulled down from a compartment in the headliner. It helps drivers keep an eye on all their passengers without taking their eyes off the road ahead for more than a couple of seconds. The Kia Sedona, Hyundai Palisade and Toyota Highlander are several examples of family vehicles with this feature included.
18. Adaptable Ambient Interior Lighting
Many cars offer ambient interior lighting as a standard or optional feature. Depending on the model, this lights up the center console of the vehicle, as well as its door handles, cup holders, dash and footwells. Many high-end car makers even let customers choose the lighting color. While ambient lighting doesn’t improve vehicle safety, research has shown that it may increase a driver’s perception of safety.
One study, published in the journal Lighting Research and Technology in 2010, found that ambient lighting intensifies space perception, enhances the perceived quality of materials and design, helps drivers find controls and with their orientation in the car, and makes them feel safer while driving.
19. Hidden Umbrella
The trunk is the obvious place to store an umbrella — out of sight and out of the way. But when it starts raining, you want it to be within reach before you get out of the car. A couple of car manufacturers have given their drivers a neat solution to the umbrella storage problem. Both Škoda and Rolls Royce have a space in the door panel to ensure this rainy day essential is right at your disposal.
20. Enhanced Soundproofing
Bose doesn’t just make cutting-edge headphones. The tech giant also helps reduce noise in cars, thanks to its QuietComfort Road Noise Control (RNC). The movements and vibrations that create noise in a car are monitored by accelerometers mounted onto the vehicle, and the Bose RNC technology uses that information to send an acoustic cancellation signal into the cabin via the vehicle’s sound system. The bottom line? Less noise and a much more peaceful, enjoyable ride.
21. Dipping Rearview Mirror
If you didn’t know it was possible to tilt your car’s rearview mirror to reduce headlight glare, you’re not the only one. You simply use the tab below the mirror to move between “day” and “night” settings. This feature increases safety by stopping the driver from being dazzled by rear traffic. Some manufacturers, like Seat, make cars with auto-dimming rearview mirrors as standard.
22. Electronic Stability Control
You’ve probably seen the little icon of a skidding car somewhere in your vehicle but you might not have known what it signifies. Since 2011, all cars sold in the U.S. have been equipped with stability control, but many drivers are unaware when this feature is activated. When the electronic stability control on a car is activated, you’ll see the little skidding car somewhere on the dashboard. This feature engages the car’s brakes (on one or more wheels) to control a turn, and is an important safety system during sharp turns or when traction is lost in wet weather conditions.
23. Lane-Centering Sensors
To make highway travel safer — and more tolerable — many car manufacturers are adding self-driving features to their models. For instance, lane-departure warning (LDW) and lane-keep assistance systems (LKAS) rely on a camera mounted behind the windshield to read the lane lines ahead and ensure a vehicle stays in its lane while driving. LDW systems signal to the driver via an audible warning or vibration when they have to take corrective action. LKAS systems correct the driver’s steering to automatically keep the car in its lane.
These systems often have to be turned on via dashboard buttons, so be sure to read your manual to see if yours has them.
24. Takeout Hooks
Some of the best hidden features in cars are the simplest ones. Who doesn’t need a hook — or five? Look around the interior of your car, and you might just spot some handy places to hang your shopping or takeout bag. In SUVs, hooks are often found in the cargo area, but they can also be found near the headrests and above rear doors.
25. A Sophisticated Braking System
You’ve probably heard of the anti-lock braking system (ABS) that’s been standard for years, but most car owners don’t know how it works. Basically, when the system is activated, wheel speed sensors determine if one or more wheels might be about to lock up during braking. If they identify a lock-up, a series of hydraulic valves are activated to limit the braking on that wheel. ABS is triggered only in slippery conditions or when the driver slams on the brakes to prevent skidding and maintain steering control. In the U.S., ABS has been a requirement on all new cars built since Sept. 1, 2013.