Off topic: Ford Fusion frustration

A radio that won't take orders, bad documentation in the owners manual, and a sub-optimal rearview mirror.

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Things aren't going well at Ford Motors.

The automaker just reported that September sales were down 34.6 percent compared with the same month a year ago. For the first half of 2008, Ford posted net losses of $8.6 billion.

Ford blames a weak economy and a tight lending market. But there may be another factor at work--unhappy customers.

In August, I rented a Ford Fusion from Hertz. When I saw a Microsoft logo under the dashboard, I suspected trouble ahead. Sure enough, it seems that poor design choices, so common in the computing world, have migrated to Ford cars.

When it comes to automobiles, I'm a newbie. While I can get from point A to point B, I wouldn't know a carburetor if it sat next to me on the subway. But how much do you need to know about cars to play the radio?

After listening to the radio a bit, something drove me to hit the phone button. Why? I don't know. There were two cell phones in the car, but the phone section of the radio wanted something from me that I didn't have. It was asking all sorts of questions that I didn't know the answer to. So, I gave up and turned the radio off.

But, it didn't go off.

I pushed more buttons, and more, and more. Nothing turned off the radio; in fact, nothing would get it to play AM or FM or satellite radio. I could put a CD in the dashboard, but couldn't get it to play. The radio insisted on answers to the phone questions and without them it wouldn't do anything else.

So, I called Hertz.

The person at Hertz had never dealt with a radio that refused to turn off before. He went to search for the user guide (car people call it an owners manual) and called back. We got nowhere. He suggested turning off the car (rebooting to a techie), but I was in the middle of a crowded highway on a long trip so that wasn't an option. Then the Hertz rep was nice enough to call a Ford dealer and call back.

The final answer? Push and hold the radio's phone button for about 5 or 10 seconds. That turns off the radio. Being a techie, I had tried pushing in the power button on the radio and holding it for 10 seconds, but didn't think to try it with other buttons too.

The nonfunctional radio was all the more annoying because I couldn't play my MP3 player through the car stereo.

The last car I rented, a Toyota, had an input jack in the dashboard. With the right wire, it was a simple thing to plug one end into the dashboard and the other end into the headphone jack on the MP3 player. I was a happy camper in Toyota-land.

The Ford Fusion user guide said the car could do the same thing and had a picture of where the input jack was. But the picture looked nothing like the dashboard. It didn't look anything like any part of the car. I searched every inch of the dashboard and the entire front half of the car. No stereo input jack.

The third strike was the rearview mirror. The interior of the car slopes up in the back. Thus, anyone looking in the rearview mirror can barely see an elephant standing behind the car.

Next time I rent a car, no Fords.

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