A Tweet has baffled a few of us in the Autopian office Slack. A person was quite upset to see a trio of cars sitting at a red light, brake lights illuminated. The Tweeter suggested putting your vehicle in park at a red light or pulling the parking brake. Either way, the end result is supposed to be that your brake lights don’t blind the person behind you.
As a motorcyclist, my first thoughts went straight to the worst-case scenario. I’ve been behind a person who put their car in park at a red light. Their chosen gear on the green light? Reverse! I just about turned my seat brown, but thankfully, the driver corrected their error before kissing my tire. I absolutely wouldn’t want people trying to fumble with their shifters on the regular, especially in this day and age of automakers being cute with ways to shift.
At least here in the United States, the sight of illuminated brake lights tell you that traffic is either stopping or stopped. So, maybe this is a difference in how drivers are educated. As it turns out, the Tweeter was apparently referencing the UK Highway Code:
“In stationary queues of traffic, drivers should apply the parking brake and, once the following traffic has stopped, take their foot off the footbrake to deactivate the vehicle brake lights. This will minimise glare to road users behind until the traffic moves again.”
Perhaps even more incredible than the suggestion to turn off your brake lights, the government also expects you to drive around without your headlights on in areas that have street lights:
“use headlights at night, except on a road which has lit street lighting. These roads are generally restricted to a speed limit of 30 mph (48 km/h) unless otherwise specified”
Does this mean that vehicles with automatic headlights, single-pedal driving modes, and brake hold functions run afoul the law?
Reader TheCrank gives us an alternative explanation with this COTD winner:
If America’s cars had electronics made by Lucas, we’d probably advise against using lights, too.
Hey now, just make sure your headlights are not set to the flicker position and that you’ve replaced your wiring harness smoke. Though, given my fleet, that also sounds like good advice to Volkswagen owners.
If you want the sticker used in the top shot, it’s available from Redbubble. No relation, it’s just a sticker that makes me laugh. Alright, I’m expecting jokes about Lucas (the “prince of darkness“) electrics out of you lovely readers. Have a great evening!
(Top image: Triumph/Redbubble/Autopian)
I’m inclined to agree with this, I hate driving at night because oncoming headlights make it darn near impossible to see where I’m going. On the rare occasions when I’ve forgotten to turn headlights on (after getting used to automatic headlights in a different vehicle) I often won’t notice a difference in my forward visibility if there are street lights around.
Driving at night is perfectly fine when nobody is in the oncoming lane, but when there are lights in my face, it’s just stressful. I know sometimes there’s no avoiding the need for headlights, but in any situations where you can get along fine without them, they shouldn’t be required.
Brake lights though, should be perfectly fine? Red light is the least harmful to your night vision, and in the dark I think it’s pretty darn important to know when another car is in front of you.
You never know who might be offended. An old friend who lives out of state bought an MGB to restore. I sent him a “Lucas-Prince of Darkness” T-shirt. He sent it back to me with a note that said, “I don’t think this is funny.” Neither of us ever mentioned it again, but yikes!
This is why some cars have city lights.
But why are people talking about such old cars in the comments? Do brits drive around in 70s Triumphs like it’s a weird version of Cuba?
When I owned a Discovery 1, the electricals were a combination of Lucas, Marelli, and Bosch. Given its age and the poor treatment its previous owners had apparently given it, nearly anything was subject to failure when I first got it. But then I learned when replacing anything with new or rebuilt parts, nothing Bosch ever made for Land Rover was worth the alleged better quality and availability. Went through two Bosch replacement alternators, finally found a rebuilt Marelli and never had another problem. Bosch coils and distributor caps died with depressing regularity. Marelli distributor caps held up until it was time to replace them and the rotors based on actual wear. A genuine Lucas coil held up where anything else failed. I did have a headlight switch fail in somewhat classic British fashion, but I don’t believe it was Lucas, either. It came from the period when BMW owned Land Rover, so it probably had Bosch heritage. The throttle position sensor got flaky, and went NLA in Land Rover/Lucas catalogs… but it turned out to be a re-branded GM part commonly found on Astro vans and S-10 pickups. If it weren’t for rust eating up the structure behind the *aluminium* panels, I’d probably still be driving it today…
While I’ve not ever had the pleasure of owning & maintaining vintage British cars I’ve ridden in quite a few & I’m given to understand from people who drive theirs as DDs that a substantial majority of problems with Lucas electrics can be rectified through rigorous cleaning (& tightening) of any and all contacts, most particularly ground points, and overall rigorous and meticulous maintenance. It doesn’t help that so many British sports cars in the US (& elsewhere!) were so subject to rot given the state of rust-proofing technology back then. Also it doesn’t help that oftentimes Lucas electrical wiring would have inconsistent color schemes where they apparently simply made do with whatever wires they happened to have on hand at the factory regardless of color. So just disregard the colors & use the continuity testing function on the multimeter religiously (as well as copious amounts of contact cleaner spray & judicious use of quality crimpers) when working on such wiring. Looks like Lucas might just be a mere duke or earl of darkness after all.
When I purchased my 1970 MG Midget back in 1997 I had to drive two hours to get back home. Imagine my surprise as I was zipping down the PA turnpike to have the instruments go dead and then back to life several times during the trip. Fortunately, the engine never quit on me, and I tracked the issue down to an old slightly crusty fuse box. Popped in a replacement 7FJ unit and never had another issue again the 6 years I drove it.
Joseph Lucas – the man who invented dark.
Lucas headlamp switch: Off, Dim, Flicker.
Why do the British drink warm beer? Lucas refrigerators.
But I love the cars anyway ????
Prince of Darkness
I had three Minis (’91, ’92 and ’95). Yes, today I can laugh about Lucas jokes. But not back in the days with fading headlights, squeaking alternators (not the belt) or breaking light switches…
Well my GMC Envoy use taillights bulbs like candy… the trunk got locked permanently at some point that I couldn’t remove the taillights to replace the bulbs. I stopped driving that car just because of the damn trunk, my local shop did their magic and now it stays unlocked even if the alarm goes on… GM had Lucas wiring during those years lol
Lucas is called The Prince of Darkness for reason.
I replaced the wiring harness in my electric GT6 conversion with a cheap/craptastic GM unit. A world of improvement.
When I was in Egypt, they didn’t use lights, either—even if there was no street lighting—until they were about to hit someone, then they would flash the high beams as if to replicate reports of bright light from people who claim near death experiences. This practice was consistent even when driving in the oncoming lane while trying to pass a row of 3 buses in a 300k mile ‘80s Peugeot where there was no road margin, just a ditch into irrigation canals.
My Social Science teacher once missed four days of school, as he was stuck in Poland. On his way to the ferry to get back to Sweden in his brand new Volvo 340, he was T-boned by an aged Volga at 1am or so. The Volga had its lights off, as did nearly all locals, in order to save gasoline… I would love to know how much gas this could possibly save.
Anyhow, repairing a new Volvo in rural Poland was not super easy in 1989.
Can confirm unreliability of spitfire electronics. My first car (’71 spit) has had 4 or 5 minor electrical fires in my 12 years of ownership and yes, the headlight switch is two toggles now, much better. What’s really fun is when the taillights won’t ground through their own sockets or the body. I have taken to repairing this by running welding cable from the battery to the back of the car and hardwiring the grounds.
In Japan it’s common to turn off your lights at stoplights to avoid blinding others. Indeed, when driving in rural Japan, people rarely use bright lights and will wait until it’s REALLY dark to turn on any lights at all.
When you think of the terrible headlights of Japanese cars pre 2000 this little nugget of cultural information gives us context.
When I was an irresponsible teen, we’d often drive back from the pub by moonlight in the middle of the countryside.
I was a fucking idiot back then.
We did that in the Colorado foothills, except we’d wait for moonless nights for added excitement. We were all idiots when we were young.
I’ll often switch to DRLs when stopped at an intersection at night: between the factory Rubicon lift and the fact that my headlights are LED, it doesn’t take much slope to put my headlights in someone else’s direct line of sight.
Ah yes, Lucas. Inventor of both the intermittent wiper and intermittent headlight!
Believe it or not, my 1970 GT6 has intermittent wipers, and they that way intentionally!
The part about headlights ought to have some context. As per rule 113 of https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/general-rules-techniques-and-advice-for-all-drivers-and-riders-103-to-158 – this is indeed offered as a suggestion.
But further down the same page:
You should also
use dipped headlights, or dim-dip if fitted, at night in built-up areas and in dull daytime weather, to ensure that you can be seen
So, one is about seeing. The other is about being seen.
In related news…
Nothing to worry about.
Could be worse. It could be a Lucas nuclear reactor.
As someone who once helped restore a Triumph GT6, which included replacing nearly all the wiring in the vehicle, Lucas was very efficient at making all the lights on the vehicle go dark. Even still, I did love that GT6 and always wished it were mine.
As someone who recently refurbished (not restored) a GT6 and still drives and autocrosses it regularly, I approve of this comment. I’m proud to say that every electrical device on my car is functional. Today, anyway. Read on below.
My favorite Lucas sticker has a much more British saying: “A Gentleman Does Not About After Dark”.
Fun fact: The original headlight switch in many GT6s and Spitfires was made by a company called Clear Hooters (huh, huh). It was subject to a recall due to unreliability and replaced with a Lucas switch. So basically, I’ve always wondered just how horrible that switch had to be that Lucas was the better option!
I say all this to tell you that my GT6 still has the Clear Hooters switch. It works… most of the time. I don’t worry about it much because I’m a gentleman.
I had a ’71 GT6 in high school and college (1972-76) and loved it. Of course the electrical system was awful, but I got used to it and it had its advantages. I had a few wires hanging under the dash for various functions (headlights, heater etc) that only I as the daily driver understood. The car was stolen a few times (I always left the key in the switch because it would occasionally short) I invariably found it just a block or two away because the the thief couldn’t get the electricals to work.
What’s sad, from what I’ve heard, is that Lucas was perfectly capable of making reliable, competent electronics. They were simply told not to by British car companies, because when faced with the decision to either make fewer better cars or more cheaper cars, they chose more cheaper. As a result, they cut costs wherever possible, and that meant pushing for cheaper, lower-quality electronics.
Cars with Lucas electrics made before this decision had significantly fewer problems, and the Lucas electronics were actually regarded as being pretty darn good.
The British car industry as a whole would’ve fared so much better if they had focused on lower-volume, better-quality cars to compete with foreign imports.
As those on OppositeLock know, I’m rather obsessive about watching for people with burnt-out brake lights so I can warn the drivers.
Last fall I spotted a Sprite in the distance with no brake lights, saw it pull into a parking spot, parked a block away and chased down the owner.
His response: “That’s odd, they worked last weekend.”
I wonder how many non-Lucas-blessed drivers check their brake lights often enough to be able to make a statement like that.
Volvo 240s, sedans in particular, had taillight circuit boards with fiddly connectors. (They were French – Valeo, I think?)
I was once pulled over, doing close to 60 in a 50 in the middle of the night, most of the way home from the 28-mile-each-way (with some rough dirt roads involved) journey to the only open Walmart after buying some generic nuts and bolts for a visiting friend’s 760.
The cop told me that he’d only pulled me over because when I touched the brakes, only the CHMSL came on, and he let me off with a warning after I reassured him that I only had another couple of miles to go and that I’d sort ’em out pronto.
I kept & exercised a 58 Morris Minor after the owner had knee surgery. Every time I took it out, I would end up rewiring something. I once redid the rear lighting grounds under the supervision of a deputy sheriff (who was actually rather understanding) at night in a rural county billed as the Moonshine Capital of the World after being stopped for absolutely no rear lights or brakes.
But I can’t blame Lucas, really. The car was 60 years old, and the wiring original.
Were the barrel connectors loose?
God I miss my spitfires. I’ve had 5, mk 1 and 2 are best, never cared for the 1500. Part of the fun was never knowing when it would randomly shut down, or how long before it would bother to restart. 🙂