In defense of idiot lights

So I’ve been spending a lot of time in here:

Illustration for article titled In defense of idiot lights

Not an unpleasant place, if I do say so. One thing that I thought I’d miss from the Ranger is the full instrumentation. The Love Boat only has speed (only to 85 mph) and fuel gauges. Idiot lights for oil/temp, amps and low fuel and low oil. Plus the seatbelt and brake warning lights.

So I’m being deprived of information. I no longer know engine rpm, temp, oil pressure (which on the Ranger and other modern Fords is really just a phony gauge that reads mid-range if it’s over 7 psi) or volts.


All I have is no light or “hey there’s a problem here.” And you know what? It’s fine. It’s liberating. If I fill up before a long trip and set the cruise, I never even have to look at the IP. If something comes up that I need to know, a nice bright light will tell me so.

I am no longer a slave to my gauges.

For more than 40 years, auto journos have derided the idiot light, favoring instruments. But instruments demand constant attention. If you’re not watching them and something goes awry, there’s nothing to alert you to the problem. I had an alternator fail in heavy high-speed traffic and didn’t check the gauge until it was too late and I got stranded. Yes it was my fault. But if I’d had an idiot light I’d have been alerted as soon as it happened, rather than 45 minutes later when I sputtered to a stop.


With that said, I wouldn’t mind a real temp gauge, and more on the top end of the speedo. Keeping my eyes open for a police-package speedo, but those aren’t as easy to find as they were 20 years ago.

Idiot lights are luxury, in that they make life easier for you. And isn’t that the point of a luxury car?

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