If you have automatic headlight setting, use it

Q: I have seen so many cars with their headlights off driving in the evening and cannot stop wondering about something. There is an auto setting for headlights, and it appears that should be the default so that we don’t have to worry about turning the lights on and off.

a close up of a car: Lighting controls in a car

© Dreamstime/TNS
Lighting controls in a car

Should we make it extra hard to switch to the off position? In addition, there is no warning sign on the dashboard when headlights are off in the evening. Is this something we should suggest to automakers?

— X.W., St. Charles, Ill.

A: Not all vehicles have automatic headlights, especially older vintages. But I agree that, if your car is so equipped, you should use the automatic setting. Although there are not reminder lights on the dash indicating that the headlights are off, that task often falls to oncoming motorists who flash theirs.

Q: I read your two columns about the traffic light in the car’s rear window. I added a toy traffic light in the rear window of my car, so it is most likely my vehicle that’s been seen because I drive in the Chicagoland area. I live in Schaumburg and I put my old toy Buddy L traffic light in my car rear window in1980s and have moved it when I replaced my cars.

I put this in my car even before cars had the rear third brake light. The yellow light comes on when I have my foot off any pedal. Red comes on when I brake, and green comes on when my foot is on the gas. I use microswitches on the pedals. I replaced the old Christmas lightbulbs with LEDs. Years ago, a cop did stop me, but he only wanted to know where he could get one, too. I am still looking for another toy traffic light so I can add one to my other car.

— L.A., Schaumburg, Ill.

A: Very clever. I presume you have checked out hobby shops, especially those specializing in electric trains and accessories. I did a bit of surfing and found one at Bed Bath and Beyond that you may be able to hack. The brand is Theo Klein and it even has walk/don’t walk lights.

Q: B.K. in Chicago noted how regenerative braking is almost one-foot driving. Your left foot is only for the clutch and parking brake. Using both feet in an automatic transmission vehicle lets you depress both pedals at the same time. This will guarantee much longer stopping distance in a panic situation.

What I hate is the flickering brake lights in heavy traffic. You have no idea what the car in front will really do. Or the bright brake lights on while accelerating. It appears that two-foot drivers justify their tailgating causing the rolling yo-yo traffic jams. As heavy as traffic in Japan can be, it is much less frustrating due to the uniform consistent behavior by the drivers.

— T.S., La Grange, Ill.

A: Two-foot drivers are sometimes lazy and prone to letting their left feet rest on the brake pedal. Not only does this send the wrong signal to following cars, it sends the wrong signal to the vehicle’s operating systems. The engine and transmission control modules rely on signals that the brakes are being applied to make important decisions. Additionally, premature brake wear is likely. The only time I use both feet is for trail braking on the racetrack.



Bob Weber is a writer and mechanic who became an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician in 1976. He maintains this status by seeking certification every five years. Weber’s work appears in professional trade magazines and other consumer publications. His writing also appears in automotive trade publications, Consumer Guide and Consumers Digest.

Send questions along with name and town to Motormouth, Rides, Chicago Tribune, 160 N. Stetson Ave., Fourth Floor, Chicago, IL 60601 or motormouth@[email protected].


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