By on June 22, 2018

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).

Mystery_CarI 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.

Not that I think about sequential lights often, but now you have food for thought, Best and Brightest.

[Image: Volvo, OP]

Send your queries to [email protected]m. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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38 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Tail Light Two-Fer!...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I’ve seen signals called “indicators” on British television, but never here in the states. The taillights and signals on my Charger are downright obnoxious at night, they light up everything behind me.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Well, aside from the excessive brightness that doesn’t actually make it easier to see what’s in front of you but instead just contributes to the lighting arms race (apparently no one in the auto industry has ever heard of the IRIS), I really really hate these current taillight designs.

    Can’t someone just put three round lights on each side; the lenses held down by screws that can be accessed from the outside with a Phillips screwdriver, and surrounded by metal, so if someone bumps the back corner of your car you don’t have to replace a $400 light assembly?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Agree with @turf3. The difficulty in changing tailights/headlights on some makes/models is beyond ridiculous. And placing tailights/indicators on bumpers is even more ridiculous, as it almost guarantees that eventually they will be broken by road debris or a ‘bump’ in a parking lot.

      As for DRLs at least in Canada there was no requirement for tailights to be illuminated when the front DRL’s were. At least once per evening/night on the 407, I see some doophus driving without turning on their full lighting system, using only their DRL’s and the back end of their vehicle is ‘dark’ (unlit). GM has had ‘automatic’ lights available on even their lower end models for decades. Why were other manufacturers slow to follow this example?

      And could someone please explain why the recommendation to make all turn signals amber is now almost totally disregarded?

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    The trend, that began some 3 decades ago, to put the front turn signal in the same housing as the headlight is just awful. That is from a functional standpoint. When the headlights are on you might as well take the bulb for the signal out, or cut the wire. The signal is not visible. Probably for many drivers it does not matter as they seldom use turn signals and so likely do not look at them.
    Considering the number of drivers that leave the signals on for miles or turn the opposite direction, it’s almost a rational thought to ignore them.
    The car companies are concerned with style/appearance and cutting cost so I don’t see this changing anytime soon. The cars where the DRL shuts off when the signal is on are much more visible, but that does not effect the nighttime problem.

    • 0 avatar

      @ pwrwrench: Unlike Sajeev, I too appreciate the DRL turning off when the turn signal is activated as it relates to when the headlights are on also. With many vehicles I have a tough time distinguishing the turn signal from the headlights. Either the amber is nearly pastel in appearance which does not provide enough contrast against the bright headlights or the size of the turn signal is small. With just DRL on it’s not nearly as difficult so I get Sajeev’s thoughts on that. But with the headlights on, reducing the amount of white light makes the often pale amber easier to see.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Just get rid of red turn signals. New Infiniti G37s (Q50?) and the 2010-ish Camry with red LED brake lights have turn signals that are impossible to see from the back when the brakes are on.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    It has been interesting to observe how the development of LED lighting has provided auto designers with such an expressive tool for their craft. The days a spending a buck to replace an 1157 or 1156 bulb are over, and I am not sure that is a good thing. –BTW, in my view, Toyota’s radical application of LED lighting on the hind ends of its Prius models is eye-rape.

  • avatar
    macnab

    The best signals ever were old VW Beetles that had the illuminated pointing stick that swung up from the B pillar. When I followed one I hoped he’d make a turn so I could see it.

    Squinting into a sea of red, too bright, disco lights isn’t enriching my life. I’d like to see a return to the 1940s when everything had 2 dim, square lights. You could add amber flashers and a center brake light if you must.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      Bring back the semaphore!

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I hope you don’t mean hand signals. Before the 1950s you had to stick your hand out the window to signal other drivers what you were GOING to do (since you needed both hands to turn the steering wheel). Now we have turn signals people don’t use, or turn on WHILE they’re turning, and the only hand signals to other drivers I’ve seen have been the one finger variety.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Early on, some cars had semaphore flags on the driver’s side that they could press a lever to show others what their intended maneuver would be–allowing them to use both hands on the wheel to make that turn.

  • avatar
    Mickiemac1

    The RX rear turn signals are much better than the Audi although the 2018 Audi Q5 has dynamic rear signals that do not have a supplemental light like the A4. The Q5 also has separate amber front turn signals above the LED DRL’s on Premium Plus & Prestige but I can’t recall if they’re sequential. A beef of mine is so many cars have huge taillight housings but have just one dinky bulb (or just a few LED’s) for brake/turn/running lights.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    It wasn’t that long ago that nearly every European car had side marker turn signals ensuring no ambiguity on whether the turn signal was on. Unless you live in LA where all turn signal stalks are ripped off the cars to ensure that no one uses them

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Two things I look for in an automobile.

      1. Amber rear turn signals
      2. Fuel door on the driver’s side of the vehicle.

      Not having either is not a deal breaker but it can tip the scales if trying to pic between several different vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @PD: Neither one of those is a deal killer for me. Overall vehicle appearance, drivability and comfort are most important, though economy is also a consideration. I have to trust a vehicle to be able to get out of its own way on acceleration, maneuver tightly enough that I don’t have to make a multi-point maneuver to turn around and actually goes where I aim it are critical. Yes, stopping is critical too but I make far fewer “panic stops” than many I know and simply don’t use maximum braking all that often. Of course, the Renegade is now notorious for its ability to do “Stoppies.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCEthdH7iYw

      • 0 avatar
        zipper69

        Our 2018 Forester has the filler on the passenger side. When I moaned about this to the sales guy he told me it was a deliberate choice so that in the event you run out of gas on the highway you stand on the passenger (safer) side to fill ‘er up.
        Seeing the speeds on most freeways even at night or with poor weather conditions I can see the advantage.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          @Zipper – bullspit

          I’ve been driving for 25 years and have run out of fuel zero times (come close a few times – like crossing Kansas in a 1997 Escort with too tiny a tank.)

          My wife’s Terrain has the fuel door on the passenger side and I can never get the correct distance from the pump. Either too far or too close. Plus I’m the driver, I don’t want to walk all the way around the damn car just to fill it up.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            I will return that bullspit to you, PD. I’ve been driving for 45 years and have run out of gas ONCE but never, ever, have I parked a passenger-fill vehicle too close to the pump nor too far away to comfortably reach the filler tube with the nozzle. I’ve even managed to approach the pump on the passenger side and reach the driver-side fill while still leaving enough room for the passenger to make a litterbox run. What’s worse is that I have terrible depth perception (can not get licensed to fly and turned down for jobs requiring fine depth vision) and still have never had the problems you complain about.

            Why is that?

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            I meant for my personal comfort, not that I couldn’t reach the dang thing. o_O

            I’d honestly endorse the fuel filler being standardized to one side of the car or the other (pick one I don’t care) just so we could all stop driving in circles when the gas station is busy.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Obviously the best place would be right at the middle of the rear window, right? But… that would then make the hatchback/liftback design unfeasible.

            Personally, I need the walk around… I’ve gained 20 pounds over the last 20 years because I’m no longer in the general labor force.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    While I understand why some people feel these are ‘distracting’, their real effect is to grab attention; to let following people know something is happening. They are also intended to make cars much more visible when illuminated, something today’s monochromatic paint jobs need, especially in lighting conditions where those monochromatic bodies disappear into background shades. Dawn, dusk and foul weather (even just general cloudy weather) can literally make most cars vanish under surprisingly common circumstances. It’s why I’ve taken to running my headlamps on my non-DRL-equipped pickup truck despite its bright, white paint because people just don’t seem able to see it and will pull out in front of me when I’m dangerously close to them otherwise.

    Add to this that the shapes and styles of the lighting help to create some semblance of uniqueness to otherwise bland body styles. They, to some extent, suggest legacy body shapes or traditional brand styling, such as Cadillac’s very rigid vertical bar tail lamps emulating their nonexistent tail fins from previous generations. The Volvo lights above somewhat suggest Volvo’s coupes from the ’60s.

    Can they be blinding? Yes. But going through the old Glitter Gulch in Las Vegas you were once so blinded by all the neon that even the brightest incandescent lighting on cars was washed out at night. City lighting today in almost all cities is almost as bad, which is one reason why rear-end collisions are more common than ever before. So safety is their primary purpose in first getting another driver’s attention and making clear the signaling driver’s intentions (when they bother to use their signals.)

  • avatar
    rpm1200

    I hate the 3rd generation Kia Sportage tail lights that appear to be normal but do not contain turn signals. The turn signals are in the bumper.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Hate that one too. My sister-in-law has a Sportage. My BIL and I were following her and he had pulled right up on her bumper at an intersection.

      I commented: “She doesn’t have her turn signals on.”

      She inched forward and we saw them in the bumper.

      BIL: “Christ that’s stupid.”

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    I doubt that the Audi’s sequential AND static turn signals are due to DOT regulations. Look at recent Mustangs – all they have is the sequential turn signals.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      They are.

      DOT requires the turn signal to be a certain size. The sequential signal on the Audi’s don’t meet the size criteria, while they do on the Mustang.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      no, they are. IIRC this dates back to the ’66 Thunderbird; in order to get their sequential turn signals to be FMVSS legal the rule was that either one or each segment (can’t remember which) had to meet the minimum size regulation for a turn signal indicator. So if the sequencing mechanism failed- which the early ones often did- you’d still have a functioning, compliant blinker.

      as SC5door says, each segment of the Mustang’s tail lamps is big enough to be a compliant indicator alone. Audi uses a strip of LEDs which are individually far too small.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    I hate it when DRLs turn off when the blinker is activated. If I owned such a car I would try to get into the coding and change it..not sure if possible with most cars. I know it is possible with Volkswagen products using VAG-Com.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    While I’ve always liked the sequential turn signal concept from the recent Mustangs, it always seemed a bit half-baked on that car. Something about it being only 3 sequential blocks moving rather slowly–it looked clunky and unfinished. The A4 above is better, until that large block lights up at the end. I think that Lexus has it right, though I don’t like the clear taillight housing.

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    I really don’t understand why the US and Canada don’t require amber turn signals like Europe. When I see a blinking red light, it takes a while to figure out if it’s somebody on and off the brakes or actually intending to change lanes, but a blinking amber light is unambiguous.

    Even stranger, the Germans these days seem to make special tail light assemblies just for the US/Canadian market that don’t have any amber in them. Do they think we actually want that? Is there some reason they think it’s better to have a less visible turn signal?

    That’s my rant for the day. And yes, I feel strongly enough on the subject that I actually bought lights from the European-market version of my car and swapped them.

  • avatar
    dawooj

    While LED lights of all sorts look cool and can do neat functions, wait till they either break or burn out. The replacement bill will make you wish for incandescent light bulbs all over again.

    I had a LED DRL cluster go out on one of my head lights after driving through monsoon level rain storms that caused condensation inside the housing. It was covered under warranty, but the line item was almost $1,000!

    As for taillights, I just wish the brightness is standardized to some reasonable level as some brake lights are blinding.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    Personally I find the Audi sequential rear signals to be obnoxious. The sequence plus the “traditional” blinking element create an effect that screams — EMERGENCY!!! — just for a lane change. It’s like watching someone have a panic attack.

    I’ve heard that back in the day, lazy, slow turn signals were a sign of luxury. Not advocating for going back to slow signals, but Audi’s are too frenetic IMO.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    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. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      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.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      “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.

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