Piston Slap: A Tail Light Two-Fer!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap a tail light two fer

We have a two-fer for tail light design this time…well, except one is about signal lights.

But I stand by my alliteration as they both exist on a car’s tail.

Steve writes:

On the way home the other night, I passed some vehicle with a very interesting taillight configuration. It looked like two wide, stylized “E”s facing each other, all in LED strips (see below).

I think it was a large silver sedan, the effect was very cool..

Not a classic car, but something new and sort of jellybean-ish. You may know what the vehicle was…any guesses?

Sajeev answers:

You probably saw the Volvo S90 (photo on top), certainly a unique car worthy of a Vellum Venom design critique.

Volvo’s signature rear lighting treatment made its mark on many an eyeball. Kudos to its design team for cutting a unique profile while remaining aesthetically pleasing!

TTAC commentator Halftruth writes:

Is it me or are directional lights not as easy to see as they once were? With all of the stylized/angled/transformer styling out there now, a simple flat and easy to see side marker is no more.

I have found myself more than once having to double check other cars when at a four way stop.

Sajeev answers:

While I agree, I have yet to do a double take. My issue is the distraction level while performing their job, which is a twofold beef:

On the front: the sheer volume of vehicles with LED-infused DRLs that shut off when the signal light is activated. I should be concentrating on every participant of a four-way intersection, not thinking “WTF does that new car have a bad ground?” Distraction level, increased!

On the tail: Audi’s “ dynamic turn signal” system incorporates a solid flash with sequential indicator. Two indicators doing different things wash each other out, making for unnecessary distraction. More to the point, the solid flashing light seems unnecessary, but I reckon there’s a legal/regulatory reason it made production for the USA (North America?).

Maybe we’re on to something: DOT regulations! Are regulations screwing us over again, just like decades of old school four-eye DOT headlights vs. H4+H1 E-code units?

Because, compared to the U.S. model‘s conventional signal light, look at this very-much-not-American video for the 2016 Lexus RX: the slick rear signal setup has a very clear amber rear turn signal. Even better, the front indicator doesn’t kill the DRL.

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4 of 38 comments
  • Ermel Ermel on Jun 23, 2018

    The Volkswagens with the round white LED taillights (Golf Plus, Jetta V, Passat V) can often be seen with non-working LEDs (or even flickering ones) in their taillights these days. Another reason to not want a new car for me. Sequential (or, as Audi calls them here, "animated") turn signals are the worst. Sure, they do stand out, but for me they do so in an obnoxious, "look-at-me!" way, much like loud exhausts or so. The whole idea of LED turn signals was to eliminate the fade-in, fade-out operation of incandescents, so that a couple tenths of a second can be shaved off reaction time -- and now they make the LEDs "fade". In my opinion they should be forbidden. DRLs or headlights switching off for front turn signals are sometimes necessary, but only because they're too close to each other. There should be a minimum distance requirement, like there is for fog taillights and brake lights (in Europe at least). Other peeves: dual fog taillights, and foglights that double as cornering headlights. One thing however is good about all this confusion: classic and/or foreign cars with red turn signals, yellow headlights, or other illegalities don't stand out to the police anymore -- you can get away with almost everything these days. :-)

    • Vulpine Vulpine on Jun 24, 2018

      All of those 'peeves' can be advantageous to the owner simply because they are "look at me" features (and other things.) If these things pull the eye, that means it's that much harder for an approaching driver to say, "I didn't see the signal," which is a very common excuse. In fact, I had to do a court disposition for a Las Vegas (NV) lawsuit where a school bus turned into a car that was attempting to pass the bus. I witnessed the crash but by the time it got to court I was over 2000 miles away. That's right, the car that got hit said, "I didn't see the turn signal." With the DRLs, turning the one off on the side where the blinker is operating makes obvious sense--not just because they are too close together but also because even when they are several inches apart, the DRL tends to draw the eye more than the signal, so again we get, "I didn't see the signal!" I will admit, one of the best applications of this I've see actually had the amber LEDs in the same housing as the white DRLs so that when the signal turned on, it was almost like the DRL went from white to blinking amber--extremely effective. And the fog lamps as cornering lamps is a good idea, whether you like it or not. Properly installed, those fog lamps are meant primarily to help the driver see road markings on either side of the car, not serve as driving lamps. What with the poor illumination of the road by many modern headlamp systems, people need to use them to see more of the road closer to the car where animals and obstacles may be completely hidden by the dark. At least part of the headlamp problem stems from being mounted much higher than they used to be, at hood level rather than down at bumper level. Fog lamps mounted below the bumper give good coverage directly in front of the car. Now, combine the wide angle of the fog lamps with their rather common use as driving lamps and using them in their current manner helps to guide the driver's eye in the direction of the turn AND illuminate an area where an obstacle or pedestrian could be hidden. In other words, "form follows function" is very valid. And yes, police will pull you over if they see something overtly illegal. Red is not to be seen from the front of the vehicle under any circumstance and yellow headlamps are NOT illegal to the best of my knowledge (I'm willing to be educated otherwise if you provide a link.) Remember, for all those years where sealed-beam headlamps were mandatory, their light was more yellow than white for decades. And yellow is, I believe, mandatory in France because it's far less blinding to oncoming drivers than pure white and these more common blue-white lamps seen in the US. As I understand, they're also more effective in fog as they don't blind the driver due to reflection, either.

  • Goatshadow Goatshadow on Jun 23, 2018

    GMs and Fords are the only brands where I regularly see a brand new vehicle with a taillight burned out. Maybe LEDs will diminish this phenomenon, but we aren't there yet. And the DRL turning off when the turn signal comes on looks totally idiotic. Turn the same LEDs amber and flash them.

    • Vulpine Vulpine on Jun 24, 2018

      "And the DRL turning off when the turn signal comes on looks totally idiotic. Turn the same LEDs amber and flash them." --- That's not as easy as you think, plus it makes the assembly even more expensive. On the other hand, having a row of amber on the same strip as the row of white is cheaper and just as effective.