Eagle-Eyed Turn Signal Enthusiasts Note A Fascinating Detail About Some Modern Blinkers

Screenshot: YouTube

For years I felt alone. I once believed that I was the only person severely afflicted with an unreasonable and intense interest in automotive turn indicators, and as such felt like an outcast in mainstream society, all of who seemed blind to the achingly sublime beauty of flashing lamps that convey’d one’s intent to alter their direction. But now I realize that’s not the case; there’s a whole global community of indicator fetishists, like the one who reached out to me to point out a minor but very interesting detail on some new Mazda turn signals.

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When my valet read to me the email from Ian describing how he “was behind a new Mazda CX-30 this weekend, and noticed something interesting about the turn signals” I was so interested that I demanded he rise up from his crouched human-ottoman position and re-read the email again.

At this point completely drawn in, I grabbed the cross-stitched email from my valet’s hand (one of his duties is to cross-stitch the day’s email) and delivered him a hard ‘thank-you’ slap across his face.

What Ian was referring to is the way the new Mazda’s LED indicators blink; where LEDs are normally pretty ‘digital’ by nature, being effectively instantly able to turn on to full brightness and off to full darkness, older incandescent bulbs would take a brief moment to increase in intensity when turned on, and when turned off, a residual glow would persist for a moment as well.

It’s like the difference between a square wave and a sine wave one immediately blinks on and off, the other ramps up and down.

So, what’s interesting is that, for purely aesthetic reasons, Mazda has decided to emulate the old, slower reactions of incandescent flashing lights with their LED indicators!

Ian provided a link to yet another indicator fetishist who also noticed this, and decided to record a video proving it:

From what I can tell, it looks like there’s about two or three intermediate “frames” of partial illumination used to give a rough analog to the fade-in-and-out of an incandescent bulb.

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The fact anyone bothers to do this I think is fascinating; I suppose it’s a form of visual skeuomorphism, where modern tech is aping the look of earlier tech, though in this case it’s not to help people understand the function of something a bit better, it’s really just about the way things look and feel.

Really, the slow off-and-on of an incandescent is a hindrance to the act of blinking; technically, the LED is a more precise “blinker,” at least in a technical sense.

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But, because we’re perhaps just used to it, some people find the hard on/off of LEDs jarring, I suppose, and as a result we have quaint but strange solutions like this.

It reminds me of fake shift points in CVTs—they don’t actually help anything about the performance or efficiency of a car, but they help drivers feel better by providing them with sensory experiences they’re used to.

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This odd little detail likely took at least a fair bit of work and added a bit of expense (though likely minimal) to the cost of developing and building the car. It doesn’t really make logical sense, but that’s why I like it.

Things like this are fantastic reminders that cars are not, nor ever were rational things. We do not buy them for purely rational reasons, and I can’t think of a better way to convey that than knowing that it was some electrical engineer’s job to make an LED act a bit like an old incandescent bulb in a turn signal.

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And that’s a beautiful thing.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

DISCUSSION

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I want the rise time of my turn signals (and even more so, brake lights) to be as fast as possible, and if the effect is jarring, all the better. The fall time can be as soft as you like, though I’m not too interested in it either way.