Useful but Little-Known Car Features You Should Know About

2020 Ford F-450

The Ford Motor Company

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2020 Ford F-450
The Ford Motor Company

Hidden Helpers

People buy cars for things such as fuel economy, safety, and reliability. They also, of course, want all the amazing new technology and features, many already becoming standard on some models. From driver-assist features to infotainment centers, there are plenty to choose from — but there are also some unsung, underrated, and in some cases, straight-up unknown features that have always been there. Here’s a look at the hidden gems in your car that you probably look right past every day. 

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Car Fuel Indicator Light

Gas Cap Locator

Mind-blowing to all who learn about it for the first time is the gas cap locator. That’s the little arrow next to your fuel warning light that points to one side of the car or the other. Whichever direction it’s pointing is the side of the car with the gas tank. It’s a crucial feature for avoiding embarrassing K-turns in gas stations when driving an unfamiliar car. 

Related: How Gas Stations Have Totally Transformed Over the Past Century

Emergency Car Trunk Release

Emergency Trunk Lever

About 20 people die inside car trunks every year, and sometimes many more. Most die from heat, most of them are kids, and almost all die in cars made before 2002. That year, the government mandated that all cars must come standard with an emergency release lever inside the trunk. No child has died while accidentally locked inside of a trunk made after 2002, according to an ABC-TV report in 2017. 

Related: The Biggest Health Hazards Facing Your Kids Today

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Car Interior Storage

Hidden Storage

Modern automakers do their best to make every cubic foot count when designing cars, trucks, and SUVs, and there’s a good chance you have some sneaky storage hidden away just waiting to be stuffed. The Honda Ridgeline, for example, has a hidden trunk tucked away under its bed. The Chevy Traverse has a button that lifts the touchscreen to reveal a cubby underneath. The Volvo XC40 has clever storage hidden throughout. 

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Snowflake car warning light
Snowflake car warning light by Danny Nicholson (CC BY-ND)

Road Condition Indicator

Everyone knows the check-engine light and the light that tells you you’re about to run out of gas — they’re the last things any driver wants to see come to life on their dashboard. A snowflake, on the other hand, doesn’t look ominous at all. Pay attention to it — it’s not a decoration. That’s the road condition indicator, and it lets you know if ice or frost is hiding between your tires and the road. 

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Stability Control Warning

Electronic Stability Control Warning

Watch out if you see an image of a car with two squiggly lines pop up on your dashboard while driving. That means your stability-control system has kicked in because sensors picked up potentially dangerous conditions on the roadway. Your stability control system did its job, but if the indicator lights up over and over, you’ve hit an unforgiving stretch of road — slow down. 

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Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Tire Pressure Monitoring System

If you see an icon light up on your dashboard that looks like an exclamation point inside a flower vase with a ridged bottom, that’s your tire-pressure monitoring system. (Sometimes the message is presented more clearly, depending on the car.) If it comes on, don’t panic. Your tires just need some air until they’re inflated back to the PSI level indicated in your manual. Do it soon, however, as driving on inflated tires reduces fuel economy, degrades performance and handling, and hastens tread wear. 

Related: What's the Best Place to Get New Tires?

hand grip in the car
Kadek Bonit Permadi/istockphoto

Grab Handles

It’s a common misconception that those little handles above car doors are meant for you to grab onto when a heavy-footed driver corners hot around a tight turn. There’s even an expletive-laden nickname for them that translates (in G-rated language) to “oh no! handles.” As simple as it sounds, the actual purpose of grab handles is for passengers to use to help themselves out of the vehicle — once it’s stopped, of course. And no, they’re not for hanging dry cleaning.   

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Car Garment Hooks

Garment Hooks

Next to your grab handles are usually another set of smaller plastic hooks — those are the ones for hanging dry cleaning. They’re called garment hooks, and they’re meant to hang suit jackets and other pieces of clothing that are likely to get wrinkled and rumpled if worn while driving. 

Related: How to Go as Long as Possible Before Doing Laundry

Car Paint touch up
Elena Gurova/istockphoto

Paint Code Stickers

If you ever need to touch up your own paint, you’ll have to know your paint code to avoid making the problem worse. Automakers hide paint code stickers in all kinds of places. Ford sticks them on the driver’s side door jamb, in the glove box, or on the B pillar, between the front and rear doors. With GM, it’s either in the glove compartment or underneath the spare tire cover in the trunk. 

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car key

Key Fobs

That little hunk of metal and plastic where your car key lives does more than just lock your doors and set the alarm. Automakers are cramming more and more functionality into fobs with every model year. You might have a mechanical key hidden inside and not even know it if you’ve never done anything but buzz in and out. It might also be able to fold in your side mirrors automatically, roll down all your windows at the same time, engage a vehicle-summon feature, or do several other cool tricks.

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