We understand cars are powerful, helpful machines – they get us from A to B and provide us with a private means of transportation. But although driving can become somewhat of a second nature, do we fully understand what all the buttons or switches in our cars actually do?
Of course, the buttons and switches inside your vehicle may slightly differ in comparison to the buttons in different branded cars, but we’d like to help you recognise the functionality of some of these to help you stay safe on the road. So, here’s a list of commonly found buttons and switches in your car and what they can do.
Headlight controls can generally be found on the control panel, or control arm, located near the steering wheel. In most car models the standard headlight indicator symbols are shown on various intervals around the dial of the control arm and can be switched to different settings by rotating the dial until it reaches the desired mode. You should feel the dial “click” into place as you switch through each of the following settings:
When you first hop into your car, the headlight controls will generally be switched to the “off” setting, located to the end of the dial. It’s typically marked by an open or empty circle.
The next setting on the dial is generally the “parking lights”. These are designed to make your car more visible, at dawn and dusk, in bad weather and when it isn’t dark enough to require the use of headlights. This turns on the licence plate light, instrument panel light, and parking lights. If you’re stopped on the side of the road, having these on will help to make your vehicle more visible to other drivers.
Headlights (or “Low beam”)
The next setting usually on the dial will be the “headlights”. This will turn on the headlights that illuminate the road ahead. Headlights must be used when driving between sunset and sunrise, or at any other time when there is not enough daylight to be able to see a person wearing dark clothing at a distance of 100 metres.
TIP: Always ensure your headlights are switched off when you turn off your car. Keeping headlights on while your vehicle is off can drain your car battery, which means it might be able to start your car.
Many modern vehicles have this feature that automatically activates the headlights when low light situations are detected. If your car has this option, make use of it by selecting “Auto”. Although they are effective, it is best not to rely solely on this setting as in some cases it may already be quite dark before headlights are activated.
The “high beam” headlight setting is usually located either on the same control arm as the headlight or on a separate switch panel. Otherwise, it could be found on the turn signal indicator. It can be turned on by pushing or pulling on either lever. If it’s on a separate control panel, it can be turned on by switching to the high beam mode.
These lights illuminate a very bright beam of light and will allow you to see further ahead on any road. This setting creates a great amount of road glare and can cause flash blindness to other drivers.
You must dip your headlights to low beam when a vehicle is coming towards you within 200 metres, or when driving 200 metres or less behind another vehicle.
The “fog lights” button may be positioned on the headlights dial as a small switch or on a separate fog light control button. Fog lights are separate to your car’s headlights and rear taillights and are normally controlled by a separate switch on your vehicle. Fog lights are normally set lower on the front or rear bumpers and are angled in a way to light up the road and cut below the fog. These must only be used in fog or rain, or when conditions such as smoke and dust limit your vision. It is a legal requirement that once conditions improve and you can see more clearly, they be switched off.
Cruise control is designed to maintain a fairly constant speed without any input from the driver. The advantages of using this function is that it largely eliminates the need for you to monitor your speed and can help you to stay within the speed limit.
Cruise control buttons are usually located on the steering wheel, but in some vehicles, the settings are on the control arm behind the steering wheel.
To activate cruise control, drive your desired speed then activate the system by pressing the “cruise” or “cruise control” button. The cruise control symbol will appear on your dashboard to show if it’s on. To deactivate it press the same button or simply brake.
TIP: Always remember that cruise control is simply a way of maintaining a set speed. The driver should only use it when it’s safe to do so and pay attention to the road at all times.
There are several ways you can help clear the fog from your vehicle’s windscreens. You can use the air conditioning mode, or the front and rear window demister/defroster, to defog your windows.
The demister/defroster buttons have icons in the shape of windscreens with 3 arrows pointing up, with the words either “Front” or “Rear”. After your engine has warmed up, press the buttons to activate them and watch as your windscreens get clearer.
TIP: The cleaner you keep your car windscreens, the clearer it will be to see out of them. Having a clean windscreen and rear window, free from oil, dust, and other contaminants, means that it will take longer to steam up at first, and will be quicker to clear up when foggy.
This button looks like an icon of a car with an arrow rotating inside it. When activated, the car’s air conditioning system recirculates the air inside the car, instead of using air intake from the outside. Turn on the air conditioning as well as the air recirculation button. This will recirculate the cooler air from your car and cool it down, instead of pulling in more hot air from outside.
This is useful for hot days when your car has been parked in the heat or in situations when you’re driving behind another vehicle with heavy exhaust fumes or going through a tunnel.
Once the air in the car is cooler, turn off the recirculation button to avoid the air becoming stale within the vehicle.
Hazard Warning Lights
Your vehicle’s hazard warning lights button looks like a red triangle symbol, which must not be used unless your vehicle is:
Stopped and obstructing the path of other vehicles or pedestrians
Slow-moving and obstructing other road users
Stopped in an emergency lane
Stopped to sell a product such as food and refreshment
Driving in hazardous weather conditions
Fitted with hazard lights as part of an anti-theft or alcohol interlock device
Child Safety Lock
Those of you with children will know how handy this button truly is. The child safety lock is a sure way to help prevent children seated in the back seats from accidentally opening the rear doors. This feature should be used whenever children are in the vehicle – even the furry kind.
To locate and activate the child safety lock, open the rear passenger doors and look for a small switch or keyhole area along the side of the doors, then flip the switch so that the child safety lock is on (you may need to use your car keys to do so).
Power Window Lock Switch
The power window lock switch is generally located near or above the buttons controlling all the vehicle’s power windows, on the driver’s door. Simply push this button to disable the power windows to prevent passengers from being able to operate the windows.
Electronic Parking Brake (EPB)
An EPB is the new age hand brake. Some vehicles no longer have the standard parking hand brake lever and instead have an EPB button. Activating the EPB will activate the vehicle’s brakes and display the park brake warning light on your dashboard.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
ESC helps drivers to avoid crashes by reducing the dangers of skidding or losing control as a result of over-steering. ESC detects if a vehicle is about to lose traction during cornering and braking and adjust the braking to individual wheels to maintain vehicle stability.
This button may either have the letters ‘ESC’, or it’ll look like an icon of a car with swivel lines underneath it.
Vehicle manufacturers may use different names for ESC, such as Dynamic Stability Control or Vehicle Stability Control.
Lane Keep Assist (LKA)
This handy feature helps detect lane markings on the road and keep you within your lane. Most lane monitoring systems use the camera mounted in the windscreen and assists the driver’s steering to help keep the vehicle in its lane. When the system detects the vehicle straying from its lane, it alerts the driver with a visual and audible warning, while applying a slight counter-steering torque to the steering wheel to pull the vehicle towards the centre of the lane.
TIP: You shouldn’t rely on this safety system and should always pay attention to the road and the direction you’re travelling in while driving in your dedicated lane.
Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA)
When the vehicle is in reverse, the RCTA system monitors approaching traffic behind the vehicle from both sides. This is helpful to drivers because it detects oncoming cross traffic and assists the driver by alerting them to the risk of a potential collision. When the RCTA systems senses an object from behind, the driver is alerted with an audible warning or visual warning on the dashboard – or both.
TIP: RCTA is most useful when backing out of a driveway that might be obscured by bushes, fences or other cars. It’s also useful when backing out of a parking space where you might not be able to see passing cars.
The headlamp levelling switch adjust the level of your car’s headlights. When your vehicle is unloaded, it’s in a natural position. As you add a few passengers in the car or luggage in the boot, this adjusts the level of your car as it sits on the road. When this happens, you can easily blind or dazzle other drivers with your headlight.
The headlamp levelling switch can generally be found next to the light settings on your dashboard and may feature a numbered dial. Ordinarily it should be set to 0 and adjusted based on how and where the weight has been loaded into the vehicle. Refer to your own vehicle’s manufacturer manual for more detail.