Mechanically Speaking: Cupholder conundrum leaves something to be desired

"Unfortunately many automakers choice of cupholder locations leave something to be desired."

European cars not long ago were devoid of cupholders. Driving a car requires two hands on the wheel and complete concentration! Imagine how that statement would sound in German. I guess even the Germans succumbed to peer pressure. Unfortunately many automakers choice of cupholder locations leave something to be desired.

Yes, some of them do an excellent job of holding the various sizes and shapes of our lattes, soft drinks, energy drinks and water. On top of that they are right where we need them. When we reach they are right in our hands. Minimized the distraction.

Right at hand is most often in the centre console area. That centre console, unfortunately, has also become an electronics centre of sorts. In some vehicles the location of the cupholder is such that it is like putting your coffee cup on your laptop keyboard. Many of you may have spilled something on your keyboard and witnessed the results.

In many vehicles the centre console area is home for power window switches, seat heater switches and inevitably the shift lever for the transmission.

If you are driving some upscale vehicle with a big infotainment screen, it might even be the location of a mouse like input device that if you are smarter than me, you know how to operate it.

Having controls in the middle of the driver and passenger makes sense in many ways, particularly when you are an engineer trying to save money. Only one set of window switches for the front passengers. Only one set of controls for both passenger and driver.

It is not only what is visible in the electronics console, cupholder location that is going to give you grief after a couple Monsters or sugary lattes have spilled on it. It is also what lurks beneath. How about a few computer modules and electronic solenoids?

Yes, many vehicles are now hiding a few very important (expensive) pieces of electronics under this area.  You may have the air bag control module, a few stability control system sensors and/or modules. The aforementioned shift lever and its associated electronics may also be there.

These components are much more robust than your basic laptop and therefore you may get away with a few spills. I have seen the results of repeated spills.

I have replaced a few expensive modules in my time that succumbed to the various liquids they ingested. In most cases the repair costs were high. I would suggest that the Europeans had it right. I think we would all drive a little better with two hands on the steering wheel and no cup holders.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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