Not every automotive innovation needs to be some grand, world-changing bit of genius. Sometimes, an incredibly useful and life-improving innovation can be very simple, even as simple as, say, four lights and a little drawing of a car. The innovation I’m talking about is the little display on a car’s dashboard that shows which door is open, and I’m here to tell you how much I love it and how baffled I am that it didn’t become standard on every four-door car right away.
I remember the first car I saw this on, the 1980 Honda Accord my family bought to replace our 1968 Beetle. While there may have been some cars that preceded the Accord with this innovation, Honda seems to have had it since 1976 on Accords and Preludes, making them a very early innovator.
You can see it in action here on this 1977 Accord (forgive the horrific buzzer):
While cars have long had ways to let you know a door was open, often by seeing if the dome lamp was on, they never really bothered to tell you which door wasn’t quite closed all the way, which, on a four-door car, was a pain in the ass, making your dad flail his arms behind him from the front seat, either trying to pull on the rear door handles or smack you, the hapless child trapped back there, into checking the door closure yourself.
Once a car could tell you which specific door wasn’t latched, everything got easier. The person by the offending door could be alerted, the door re-closed, and life continued, free from the chaos of everyone opening and closing their doors at once.
It’s a little thing, but it made life just that much better, which is all you can really ask out of a few little lamps and some lines, right?
The Honda setup included an indicator for the trunk lid and brake lamp bulbs, making it quite an advanced little setup. Hell, a 1980 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow didn’t have anything like it:
While over the years a good number of cars had similar displays in their instrument clusters, what I’m always amazed by is how many cars didn’t have such a useful little display, all the way up until quite recently.
Sure, most cars have some kind of door-open idiot light, but it’s just one light, and not really any better than what the dome light was doing in a 1963 Ford Falcon.
The examples above there are from cars from the 2000s—the top one is a 2010 Toyota, and it still doesn’t have anything better than a solitary some-door-is-open-but-I’m-not-gonna-tell-you light.
If you think cost is an issue here, that may be a factor, as a single light has to be cheaper than multiple ones, but it’s not always the case — there were Lexuses and other premium cars that, somehow didn’t feel the need to let you know which door is the one not fully closed.
Today, in our era where full-color LCD displays are becoming cheaper in quantity than some vegetables, more and more cars are implementing on the display little diagrams that show you which door is ajar — I’d think that nearly anything you’re likely to buy today will show you what door is open on some sort of dash screen.
Well, maybe not a Mitsubishi Mirage, but I bet most new cars do this.
But it’s still quite recent that this is becoming universal, and I find that confusing. Is it just me who found the little overhead car diagram door-indicator thing so handy? I can’t imagine that to be the case—of all my stupid car opinions and fetishes, this one seems pretty tame and vanilla.
Anyway, let’s all take a moment to appreciate this little automotive detail, and enjoy all of the mild hassles it freed us from.