Motorists Waste Thousands on in-Car Tech – Because They Don’t Know What Their Dashboard Symbols Mean

Motorists are paying thousands of pounds for high-tech car features they don’t even realise that they have.

Expensive gadgets and key safety systems are going unused across Britain’s roads because drivers don’t know what the symbols on the buttons mean.

Even mainstream cars like the Ford Focus are now available with head-up displays and partial self-driving modes, but many owners haven’t got a clue how to operate them, or that they are even there.

As in-car technology evolves faster than the typical driver’s understanding, and the number of features increases, the problem appears to be getting worse.

That’s the finding from a survey of drivers who were quizzed on the meanings of a range of increasingly common display symbols. invited more than 1,000 motorists to identify six common dashboard symbols and found that in one case a majority of drivers do not know what it signifies.

And in all of the other examples a significant minority of drivers misidentified the symbols. Some of the mystery symbols related to safety features such as speed limiters and lane-keeping assistants, which can help prevent speeding and collisions.

Based on the costs of high tech features for one of Britain’s most popular car models it’s not unusual for owners to be missing out on the benefits of features for which they have paid more than £1,300.

Speed Limiter
Speed Limiter

Even where a feature comes as ‘standard’ the buyer has still paid for the feature because the cost is simply built in to the purchase price instead of being offered as an extra.​ Most confusing to motorists seems to be the speed limiter, which is mistaken by most people for cruise control.

Speed limiter – typical price around £250

In this case 547 people (44%) misidentified the speed limiter symbol as cruise control, a further 147 drivers believed it to be a ‘speed limit warning’ while 55 people said they thought it was about resetting the trip computer. Only 492 people – just 40% - correctly identified the feature.

Head up display – typical price around £400

For the head up display symbol the most common response from drivers was to identify it correctly but almost a quarter suggested it represents a ‘digital owners manual’. And 137 motorists believed it to indicate ‘icy conditions’, with a further 55 thinking it is an instruction to ‘head to the nearest filling station’.

Lane assist – typical price around £350

Most drivers were confident to correctly identify the symbol for lane-keeping assistance but even here there were many who had no idea. Almost a quarter suggested it related to keeping a set distance from the vehicle in front. Twenty nine people thought it indicates rear fog lights and 13 suggested it was a blind spot warning.

Lane Assist
Lane Assist

Parking assistance – typical price around £200

This was the symbol most people got right, with 92% of drivers correctly identifying it as parking assistance. However, even here there were some howlers with 39 motorists saying it related to the steering lock and 20 thinking it is about adjusting the position of the steering wheel for maximum driving comfort.

Stop-start system – typically standard

Surprisingly, given that it is one of the longest-established features in the modern car, the stop-start system indicator flummoxed a majority of drivers. Although the most common response was correct a sizeable 33% of drivers identified it as a symbol for ‘air recirculation’ while 274 people – 23% - think it represents ‘automatic mode’.

Heated steering wheel – typical price around £150

The second least confusing of all the symbols is that for the heated steering wheel, with 90% of drivers recognising it. The remaining ten per cent of motorists were divided over whether this symbol indicates steering wheel height adjustment, windscreen ventilation or head-up display.

Austin Collins, Managing Director of, said: “Although we can laugh at some of the mistakes drivers make in the struggle to keep pace with in-car technology it’s unfortunate that so many people are clearly missing out on some of the features and benefits of their cars.

“One clue to why this might be comes from another part of our survey, which revealed that only half of us bother to look through the manual before starting to use our new cars. The most typical approach is to look up individual sections only when suspected problems arise. Our advice is to always read the manual. Cars are evolving all the time and not only is it important to understand a car to drive it safely, it makes no sense to miss out on some of the benefits for which you have paid.”

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