I think I've found it - "So I Jumped Into the Alien Vehicle. A Turnabout Suspension of Disbelief"
An essay by Donald L. Franson from 1961 in which he says:
The minute I saw that alien auto or helicopter, I knew the hero was
going to jump into it, fiddle with the controls for a moment or two
until he got the hang of them, and then shoot skyward just in time to
elude the hordes of local avengers, who rush to their own machines but
have trouble getting them out of the parking lot.
Now the part I object to is not the hero's daring in taking this
action — this is logical in his harrowing situation, and in the
tradition of cliff-hanging. No, it's the ten-second, self-help driving
course that gets me.
....and then he launches into a short-short story about an alien trying (and failing) to make a getaway in a human automobile...
Back in Aldebaran, I was always taught in the science fiction
magazines to try everything, so I grabbed the big wheel which was so
obviously a valve, and turned it courageously all the way to the
right; then still hopefully, all the way to the left. Nothing. There
was a lever below the valve which I was able to bend into various
positions, but with no results.