We love turn signals at Jalopnik. What lovely lights they bring and rhythmic clicking they make. I’ll go out of my way — taking detours left and right — just to push the turn indicator stalk down or up, over and over. My daily driver may be a BMW, but I’m a steadfast user of turn signals. I keep my blinker fluid topped up, and yet, I’ve been using my blinkers all wrong for years.
I’ve learned this quite recently, after using a few different vehicles: no turn signal stalk (or button on a bike) is exactly the same, but cars have a detent feature that is underrated. Next time you go on a drive and go to switch lanes, don’t apply too much force on the stalk; push lightly. The turn signal will briefly come on, flash a few times, then disappear by the time you’ve switched lanes. It’s amazing.
Automakers call it by different names, but BMW calls it a Triple Turn Signal:
You may be thinking, “Oh, look, a BMW driver who just discovered how to use the blinkers.” You wouldn’t be wrong, but it’s more like I’ve rediscovered how to use them. And you don’t have to drive a BMW, because many modern cars have something similar. Even if your car is older and not Bavarian, you can use the detent to indicate a lane change. Just hold it lightly.
I vaguely recall learning about the detent years ago, but just became aware of it again after back-to-back comparisons of my BMW 318ti, my wife Norma’s Acura TLX, my Yamaha SRX600 and Norma’s BMW G 310R.
The ’ti is busted again. The manual five-speed had been hard to shift on cool mornings, struggling to go into reverse and first gear. It was annoying, but once the car reached operating temperature it was OK. Now, when I shift into third or fifth gear I hear clicking noises coming from the shift lever. The transmission could be low on fluid, but I just had it flushed. It could be something worse, so I’ve been avoiding it because I don’t want my manual transmission to die yet.
Just before this, I’d been on my usual runs about town. When changing lanes, I started pressing the stalk gently instead of pushing past the point of resistance where it stays fully in the up or down position. Pushing the stalk fully is suited to 90-degree turns — during which it’s safer to keep two hands on the wheel.
Most cars have self-cancelling blinkers: when the steering wheel comes back to center, the turn signal stops and the stalk snaps back to default position. But neither of our bikes have self-canceling blinkers, so I have to slide the button back to “OFF” after turning like it’s 1986.
The mild annoyance made me pay attention to every turn signal mechanism in my life, which is how I noticed the detent in our TLX, too. I’ve been savoring it ever since.
It’s like you’re politely saying to your car, “Heads up, we’re changing lanes!” A light tap summons the signal, you do a quick head check and slide into the lane. There’s no need to push the stalk again! The turn signal goes off without any input. Just you and your car in sync. God, it makes me happy! I’m just sad I’d been ignoring the detent until now, using the turn signal wrong all this time.