QOTD: What Happened To My Headlight Switch?

I took my Audi A3 into the dealership for scheduled service the other day. I usually request a loaner, not because I need it (I work and home and have a fleet of cars), but for the opportunity it gives me to check out what’s new. This time they tossed me the keys for a 2021 Q3, and the first thing I noticed right away is that it has no headlight switch, or at least not a traditional knob. Instead, it has a single button pictured above (pay no attention to the two knockout blanks to the right), which has limited functionality based on the speed of the vehicle.

Like wipers, brakes, throttle, and steering before, technology is further encroaching in on a task that has historically been managed by the driver. Is this good or bad?


This switch seems primarily designed to reduce the number of choices to the driver, and eliminate the possibility of driving after dark with the headlights off, which as we shall see is a growing problem. When the vehicle is in motion, this switch toggles between exactly two settings: “Auto” (switched on after dark using the ambient light sensor) and “low beams” as shown above. There is no “Off” setting available, nor is there a parking light-only mode. Essentially if it is dark out, your headlights will be on.


At first, I thought that this was all this switch did – toggle between Auto and On. But if the vehicle is stopped, you get two more choices to toggle between – “Off” and “Parking Lights” as shown in the photo above. However, (and this is key), if you select Off or Parking Lights, the setting will switch to “Auto” once the vehicle starts moving, so again no driving in the dark with no headlights. Lastly, the headlight setting defaults to “Auto” every time the vehicle is started, regardless of the previously chosen setting.

So I this a good thing or not? I’m sure I will find out in the comments, and I have a hunch how the comments on this post are going to break. But before you start pounding our your response, hear me out:

I see more and more people driving after dark with their headlights off. It’s not that people are more stupid (well, mostly), it is just that there are fewer cues to turn on your lights anymore. When I (and most of us) started driving, there were three ways to know if you were driving after dark without your headlights on:

  1. You couldn’t see ahead of you.
  2. You couldn’t see your gauges.
  3. If all else failed, some kind person would flash their brights to let you know you are being a knucklehead driving with your lights off.

Unfortunately, we can no longer rely on any of these safeguards. Firstly, the rise of LED daytime running lamps means that you are now casting light forward even if your headlights are off, making it harder to discern that your headlights are on or off. Ditto for brighter LED street lighting. Over the past 15 or so years, most cars have moved to continuously illuminated instruments, and obviously, digital LCD instruments are constantly backlit, so you no longer have that visual clue to tell you you need to turn on your headlights. And strangers seem to be less kind anymore, especially if they are being bedazzled by your DRLs.

Lastly, I blame the inconsistent availability of automatic headlights for this phenomenon: Some cars have them and some don’t. Even I sometimes make the assumption that the headlights will turn themselves on when driving a car without them.

So for that reason, I for one welcome our robotic overlords and let them force motorists to turn on their damn headlights after dark. What do you think about this moving of your cheese?