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lillycoyote's avatar

Is there a valid reason, in terms of technology or wiring, for it taking, like a hundred years, for them to start manufacturing cars where the default is that your headlights turn off when you turn off your ignition?

Asked by lillycoyote (24514 points ) October 27th, 2012

A hundred years of dead batteries and people being stranded before someone thought “Hey, people sometimes want their headlights on when their cars aren’t running, but maybe we could make that an option, rather than the default?”

I know that that early cars were, and could be crank started; the car I drove in high school, a Renault 10, could be crank started and that car was built in the early 70s, and manual transmissions enable push starting but those don’t seem like good enough reasons to me to make the default that your headlights stay on even after your turn off the car.

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21 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

Volvo and Saab have had it for years. When I had my ‘82 Volvo, I left my lights on all the time, because they’d go off when i turned off the car.

I think it’s not on American cars because of a lack of imagination.

lillycoyote's avatar

@zenvelo Or arrogance or stupidity. I’ve never been able to track down this information again, but I swear, I read an article once where American automobile manufacturers, who had been complaining that they couldn’t break into the Japanese market, finally figured out that they might sell more cars in Japan if they made them with the steering wheel on the right side. Which is how they drive in Japan. Duh! You morons! How many cars do you think the Japanese would have sold in the U.S. if they tried to sell cars to Americans with the steering wheel on the right side? Not too many, I don’t think.

I wish I could track the info down because I swear, I don’t think I am imagining it but it just seemed so damn stupid!

zenvelo's avatar

Let me clarify, when I had a Volvo, I never needed to turn my lights off, because they went off by themselves when I turned off the car.

By the way, General Motors used to own ACDelco, which makes batteries. (They spun it off in the 90’s). Might as well make it easier for people to need to buy batteries.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I drive a 94 Toyota Camry, and the lights go off when I turn off the car and open the driver’s door.

Bellatrix's avatar

I have a Mazda and my lights don’t go off. There is an alarm to alert me that they are still on.

lillycoyote's avatar

Still, even ‘82 and ‘98 aren’t exactly ancient history when it comes to automobile manufacturing and technology.

augustlan's avatar

I’ve had several cars (can’t name them all, though… my memory is shitty!) that had a thingy where the lights turned off on their own about 15 minutes after you turned the car off. Not quite immediate, but enough to save your battery. My current vehicle, a 2001? Chrysler Town and Country mini-van has this feature.

Edit: I don’t know why it took them so long, but at least they finally got around to it!

lillycoyote's avatar

@augustlan I really want to know the answer to this one! I have half a mind to have you move this one to general and then flag the whole lot of you as “not helpful.”

Just kidding, I adore you all and am grateful for you comments.

:-)

JLeslie's avatar

My Saab did it, as someone mentioned above, and it was great. A lot of my cars you can put the lights on automatic, I think some have been American, some Japanese, and some German, but honestly I am not sure. The thing is I never use the automatic setting, I don’t like it. But, I would like the lights to turn when I turn off the car. Although, I would want some sort of button to have the lights come on for 60 seconds maybe so I can see better in a dark parking area.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Many (all?) of my GM cars turned the lights off if they are left in the “Auto” position. I can’t recall when it started. I know my 1999 Buick and 2002 Olds did it. They also left the lights on for about 1 minute (settable) after I turned the car off when it was dark outside.

The only reason I can see for not doing it is additional cost and the potential for failure of another switching component.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t think cars could do this until they were run by computers. That transition probably started happening in the 90s. I would be very surprised to find a car today that didn’t automatically turn the lights off once it detected no activity in the car. My car is a 2006 Highlander Hybrid, and it turns the lights off about a few minutes after the car doors are shut and the engine is off.

Now, if you leave the interior light on in the on postion (not the auto position), it will not turn the lights off. It assumes you must be in the car and want the lights on. But I have a pretty good solution for that: my neighbor! Whenever the kids leave the lights on (oh no, we never do that, no no), he rings the bell to let us know. Not that it matters. It’s a hybrid car. It’s got batteries that would run the Titanic half way to the moon on impulse power.

lillycoyote's avatar

@wundayatta I don’t know, that just doesn’t seem right either, the computer thing. The dome light inside cars has been “set” to go off when you turn your ignition off for a very long time. That is the default for your interior lights: they go off when you turn your car off.

Why would it take a computer control to turn off your headlights, when you turn off your ignition, but not take a computer control to turn off your interior dome light?

lillycoyote's avatar

And, @LuckyGuy, the possible failure of component doesn’t seem, to me at least, to be a very good explanation either. If that was the reason, the potential failure of a component, then cars wouldn’t have progressed from the Model T very much at all.

And yes, everyone, I know that most cars are made that way now, that the headlights go off, some since as early as the 80s, I understand, but most, I don’t think it has become the standard, until about 10 years ago, and in some cars, not even that long.

Henry Ford started mass producing cars in 1908.

I just want to know, I am just curious to know, considering how much trouble leaving one’s headlights on, and ending up with dead batteries and either need a push start or a jump start, has caused hundreds of millions of people over the decades, why it took so long, almost a 100 years of auto manufacturing, to produce cars that worked that way.

jerv's avatar

Most of my cars have been old-school in that they could have the lights on whether the engine was on or not. The only two exceptions were my ‘89 Golf, and my ‘94 Legacy, both of which would allow you to turn on the parking lights regardless, but the only way to turn on the headlights was to start the engine.

Note that the wiring isn’t really that tricky. There are many other circuits (like electric fuel pumps) that are only active when the engine is running as well, so it’s no real big deal to add the headlights to the “only when running” side of things. In fact, it’s pretty fucking trivial.

Thing is, you have to bear in mind that until pretty recently, many automakers had poor design, and worse QA. They were designed quickly to be build hastily and easily. Now, in order to have the headlights turn off when you turn the engine off, you either need to use a relay (added expense) or route the entire power required to run the headlights through the ignition switch (bad idea!) whereas leaving the ignition switch out of it entirely removes the need for a relay and the risk of electrical fire from running an assload of amps through a puny switch.

wundayatta's avatar

@lillycoyote My dome light doesn’t go off when the car is turned off. It goes off a minute later when, presumably, you have gotten out of the car. That does take a computer.

jerv's avatar

@wundayatta Computers are one way, and easy to program, but not strictly necessary. I used to think that computers were required for fuel injection until I got an ‘85 Golf with a rather intricate fuel distributor. A simple bimetallic relay like the one that is used in your blinkers could accomplish a time delay without computers. Of course, nowadays computers are cheap, so it’s more cost-effective to use an IC that cost mere pennies, but if you ever saw the three-stage blinkers on some old Fords, you would see that some pretty nifty and complex stuff can be done with nothing more than ingenuity.

wundayatta's avatar

I hear you, @jerv. It’s nice to know you can do things without a computer, but I’m pretty certain it’s the computer that does it in my car.

lillycoyote's avatar

@wundayatta It may be the computer that “does it” modern cars; I’m just not convinced that computer control in cars was necessary before your headlights went off when you turned your ignition off. I don’t know a lot about these things, that’s why I asked, but it doesn’t seem like such a complicated situation, your headlights go off when you turn your ignition off. Your dome light goes off, your radio goes off, your air conditioning goes off, possibly your power windows, I don’t know, the first car I had with power windows was also the first car I had where the headlights turned off when I turned off the ignition, but still, if everything else requiring power from your battery turns off when you turned off your ignition, why not the headlights?

wundayatta's avatar

They seem to have decided that people want the lights to stay on after the car turns off. People do stuff. Fuss around. I don’t know. They want to see using the cars lights as they go in the house or something. For whatever reason, people seem to not want the lights to go off when they turn off the car, but sometime thereafter. So it’s not so simple.

jerv's avatar

Well, I have ways of turning the lights on inside the car, and I generally exit my car in areas that are either well-lit enough to make the headlights useless and/or are places where you want the headlights off ASAP, like a drive-in theater, or shining into my downstairs neighbor’s living room. Then again, my experience is that the people who like this feature often have their high-beams on at dusk and are dangerously blind (and blinding) at night. That might explain why this feature first came out on Buicks; average owner age of 66.

In case you haven’t noticed, I am not a fan.

lillycoyote's avatar

LOL, @jerv, I have most certainly noticed that you are not a “fan” of all sorts of things, but that’s one of the things I love, and well, hate about you… you tell it like you see and I love and respect a straight talker. So be absolutely assured that there is a whole lot more love than hate going on, be sure of that. :-)

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