Question Of The Day: Why Are Automakers Still Allowed to Use Combination Turn Signal Brake Lights?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
question of the day why are automakers still allowed to use combination turn signal

In the past, I’ve written these “Question of the Day” columns with an open-ended question in mind; a question that invites serious participation from you, the highly educated TTAC reader. Well, today, I’m going to try a different approach: I’m just going to tell you what I think, and hope you’ll agree with me. The topic is combination turn signal-brake lights, which are the stupidest thing that currently exists in the auto industry.

Yes, folks, that’s right: stupider, even, than the Jeep Compass.

For those of you who aren’t exactly sure what I’m talking about, allow me to explain myself. I’ll use the Chrysler 300 as an example, although it certainly isn’t the only offender.

Here’s what happens: you get behind a Chrysler 300, and it’s slowing down, so the brake lights come on. Suddenly, the driver – who is undoubtedly trying to locate the Uber rider who hailed him – puts on the turn signal to make a sharp right turn. And what happens? The right brake light goes away entirely.

The reason for this is that the Chrysler 300 still uses rear lamps that combine the brake light and the turn signal. So if you’re in a 300 and you have your foot on the brake and your right turn signal on, you only have one working brake light – on the left side – plus the third brake light in the center. On the right, your brake light is blinking. I have no idea if this is a cost-cutting measure or a retro styling cue, but by God it sure reminds me of cars from the 1970s.

This especially came to my attention the other day because we got this big snowstorm here in Philadelphia, and I got up behind a guy in a late-1990s Buick Century who had his hazard lights on. Now, I’m not totally opposed to hazard lights in a severe snowstorm, because they create an extra layer of visibility for other drivers. But there was a problem with this particular hazard light decision. And that problem was? You guessed it: his brake lights were also his turn signals!!!

So this guy is driving down the street in a major snowstorm with his turn signals blinking and absolutely no brake lights at all! And the worst part is, he has done this as a safety precaution! He truly believes he is creating more visibility for himself and his Buick Century. When in reality, nobody behind him has any idea whether he’s accelerating, or slamming on his brakes, or merely confused about which direction he wants to turn.

The interesting thing about all this is that these brake light-turn signal combinations aren’t outlawed. If you’re an automaker, not only does it not matter if your turn signal is orange or red, but it doesn’t even matter if your turn signal reduces the amount of brake light power on the back of your car by one-third. Mind you, this regulatory decision comes to you from a federal government who dictates that a Lotus Elise must have an emergency inside trunk latch, even though its cargo area can barely fit a power drill.

Now, I get why this brake-light-turn-signal combo platter went on in the 1960s and 1970s. It made cars simpler, it made them cheaper, and it made them easier to engineer and build. Plus, back in the 1970s, nobody cared about safety. Back in the 1970s, if you ran out of cereal, you’d just reach into your wall and eat some asbestos. That’s how things were back then.

But in modern times – in a world where every car has a backup camera, and side airbags, and front airbags, and knee airbags, and stability control, and traction control, and a system that will unlock your doors using a signal from space – I must ask how the hell it’s possible that we’re allowing brake-light-turn-signal combinations to run rampant on our society.

And so, today’s question is this: how the hell are these brake-light-turn-signal combinations still legal? Why doesn’t somebody do anything about it? For the love of God, can’t we put a stop to it? And, most importantly: what does asbestos taste like?

Join the conversation
2 of 227 comments
  • Dynasty Dynasty on Mar 08, 2015

    Lot's of passion for brake lights and turn signals here. I can honestly say red, amber, brake light/turn signal lamp combo.. whatever, I've never had a hard time telling if someone was intending to turn, stop, or not. Assuming everything was working as designed and the driver had their signal activated.

  • Thetallguy Thetallguy on Mar 11, 2015

    My Park Avenue's lights turn on automatically whenever I start the car at dusk or later and it also has rain sensing wipers. Do the brake lights work independently of the 4 way flashers? I have no idea. Yesterday, I too almost rammed a car that only had one working 3rd brake light bulb! Check your brake lights people!

  • Alan Hmm, I see a bit of politicking here. What qualifications do you need to run GM or Ford? I'd bet GM or Ford isn't run by experienced people. Anyone at that level in an organisation doesn't need to be a safety whip, you need to have the ability to organise those around you to deliver the required results.
  • Alan That's about $74k AUD, seems like a good price for the vehicle of this calibre. I think the Ranger Raptor will start around the $78k mark here. A friend of mine just bought a W580 Amarok for $97k. Nissan have the Navara Warrior which is cheaper, I think it starts in the high $50s. The cheapest is a Chinese iteration of one of these off road tuned vehicles starting in the $40s ($29k USD). But all of the above vehicles are not equal. I would think the Raptor is by far your best bet for an off roader.
  • JMII I've used a foam cannon before but have never been impressed with it. Suds alone are not going to magically remove dirt. A pressure washer with plain water works best, it blasts dirt off. I guess the advantage of the cannon is getting soap everywhere so you can use your wash mitt to do the actual cleaning part.
  • SCE to AUX "Toyota anticipates it will reach EV sales of 1.5 million in 2026"I anticipate that they will not.Tesla's 4 assembly plants combined for 1.3 million sales in 2022, and nobody out-batterys Tesla.
  • Theflyersfan Toyota Corolla Cross Recalled for [s]Potential Issue With Front Passenger Airbag.[/s] Being Another Gray/Silver-ish CUV Appliance Clogging the Nation’s Interstates.  And I can see the perfectly coiffed salesman with the slightly too bright bleached teeth welcoming Ed and Marge from Podunk, OH and showing them the white RAV4, and the slightly off-white Corolla Cross, to the gray Venza, to the gray/blue Highlander, to the steel gray/silver mix Grand Highlander, with the deep blue Supra hiding in shame in the corner and telling them that they are all within a few thousand dollars and a few inches of each other and no he doesn't know why they all look alike, and then Marge throwing her arms up in a fit of despair and disgust and demanding they forget it and go look at that cute Buick Envision they saw on the television. But not until after their special lunch at The Olive Garden down the road in Lima.