Sasa Nikolic—Getty Images/iStockphoto
By Martha C. White
January 20, 2016

Features that were once cutting-edge in cars — think CD players — as well as instruments that have been standard in cars for decades like analog gas gauges and even ignition keys are rapidly going the way of the Model T.

New innovations in cameras and sensors, along with a growing reliance on in-vehicle digital technology, are reshaping the way drivers interact with their vehicles, making many traditional automobile features unnecessary. But could all of this technology one day make your wheels obsolete as fast as your 2010 smartphone?

The Wall Street Journal reported that one area automakers are targeting in particular for an overhaul is the instrument cluster: Analog gas gauges, tachometers and speedometers are driving off into the sunset, replaced by digital screens. Even spare tires are doing a disappearing act. Not long ago, AAA noted that more than a third of new cars now include “tire inflator” patch kits instead of a spare tire. Stick shifts are exceptionally rare sightings in new vehicles as well, as automatic transmissions overwhelm the market.

At the same time, compared to a decade ago, today’s new cars are far likelier to include improved safety and handling features that just weren’t possible years ago. According to Bloomberg, roughly nine out of 10 new cars today have backup cameras, compared to just over one in 10 back in 2005. Creature comforts are also getting an upgrade. While CD players have begun to be phased out as standard features, almost 90% of new cars have speech recognition.

Future advancements in automotive innovation might get even more radical. The Journal reported that Google’s experiments into self-driving cars could even nix the steering wheel one day. Rear-view mirrors could be replaced by video screens even sooner.

One down side to this rapidly advancing technology is that cars are becoming more like computers and cell phones, in a not-so-good way. That is, they’re prone to obsolescence after a relatively short period of time. Bloomberg said the average lease term has fallen to about three years, as drivers trade up more frequently to get the newest bells and whistles, even as all this technology boosts vehicle prices. New car prices hit a record $34,428 last month, up roughly $300 from a year ago, according to Kelley Blue Book.

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