Hooniverse Asks- Do You Know What all the Buttons in Your Car do?

Have you ever gotten into an unfamiliar car or truck and then had to struggle with finding the light switch, wiper control, or even more frequently, the door lock? It seems that control standardization is a fairly loose field when it comes to the automotive world, and sometimes that can even result in you not knowing exactly what some of the buttons, switches, or slots on your own car do.
That’s just what we want to know today; do you know what all the buttons and knobs and whatnot do in your car? Are there any mystery switches, marked with cryptic hieroglyphs, that you just leave alone, lest you temp fate? Tangentially, are there any features of your car – power antenna or the like – that you have a hard time remembering how to actuate?
Image: ThaiCarNews

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69 responses to “Hooniverse Asks- Do You Know What all the Buttons in Your Car do?”

  1. Maxichamp Avatar

    I have not figured out some of the light switches on my V50. I suspect one of them is for rear fog lights. I have been too lazy to check the owner's manual or to get out of my car and walk to the back.

    1. craigsu Avatar

      I'm beginning the search for a V50 or V70 now and found Andy Rupert's walkthrough video on the interior features so helpful I sent the link to my wife.
      [youtube 1mdfxfbbUvI http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mdfxfbbUvI youtube]

      1. Maxichamp Avatar

        Thanks! The button is for rear fog lights.
        If you have no kids, then I really recommend the V50. It's just the right size, easy to park, and much more maneuverable.

        1. craigsu Avatar

          We're empty-nesters and I'm really leaning toward the V50, particularly the T5 between 2008-2011. While the R-Design would be nice it would have to be FWD. Where we live AWD really isn't necessary and I don't want the added complexity from a mechanical standpoint. It also gets better gas mileage than the V70 but prices in my area tend to be higher as well. There are also a lot more V70's to choose from. I've checked it dimensionally against our '99 Saab 9-3 SE 5-door and it's very close so I know we'd be comfortable in it. A V70, on the other hand, would be comparable to our '91 Volvo 240 wagon. It's nice to have 2 good choices knowing that I could easily live with either one.
          What year and submodel is your V50?

          1. Maxichamp Avatar

            I have the V50 T5 FWD manual. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and never go skiing, so AWD would just be a waste of money. I've driven both the T5 and the NA 2.4 liter and there is a significant difference in power/torque. It's a relatively low mileage 2006 that was really well take care of by the previous (and original) owner.Even with all highway driving, I have never gotten better than 26 mpg, and I don't have a lead foot.

          2. craigsu Avatar

            Interesting on the mileage. Ours will have to be the Geartronic automanual. I gave up long ago trying to teach the wife how to drive a manual. Given my in-town commute and my lower back issues I really don't miss a manual anyway. The 2.4 just didn't seem enough with 168HP so it wasn't really a consideration (says the man with the 114HP, 3000 lb 240 wagon). The T5 with 227HP is much more appealing.

          3. Maxichamp Avatar

            You'll really enjoy the sound of the turbo five. I love it.

  2. Vavon Avatar

    Yes I do, but sadly my car hasn't got a lot of buttons and it isn't equipped with the most important functions…
    <img src="http://i0.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/206/139/295855_2543842438754_1334531356_2895184_797710570_n.jpg&quot; width="640/">

  3. Maymar Avatar

    <img src="http://image.automotive.com/f/2011_mazda_mazda2/38049962/radio.jpg&quot; width=500 /img>
    Not a lot of buttons, so not too hard to figure them all out. Granted, I don't use the FLDR or Search or whatever buttons all that much, my radio usage amounts to my presets and whatever podcasts I have playing off my work phone.

  4. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    Nope, but every time SRS comes up on my dash I exclaim "Woah, Serious!"

    1. Maxichamp Avatar

      I saw a surprising number of 80s and 90s Rovers in France.

  5. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    I think the clock spring is bad in my car, so I never know what the steering wheel buttons will do. I mean, I know what they are supposed to do, but pushing the buttons is a crap shoot. I never know if the button will work, not work, or do something else entirely. Lately, the mute button switches radio stations among presets. Volume up hasn't done anything for at least 2 years.

  6. OA5599 Avatar

    There is a button in the post for the rear view mirror. I'm certain it is used to recalibrate the compass display, but the operation is totally undocumented in the owner's manual.
    The compass used to be accurate before I pushed the button that first time.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I don't know if the process is the same for all cars, but on my parents' old Chevy Astro, when you hit the button to calibrate the compass, you had to drive in a circle a few times so it could set itself. Maybe that's why yours got all out of whack when you hit that button.

      1. OA5599 Avatar

        Sometimes it's circles, and with other cars it is figure 8's, and then there is the matter of how long to push the button and whether you need to push it again to capture the settings. I'm sure I could figure it out if I tried enough combinations, but I didn't feel like looking like a 14-year old practicing driving in an empty parking lot.

  7. Alan Cesar Avatar
    Alan Cesar

    2010 Ford Fiesta wiper controls. It's so different from every other car I've driven, and turning off the wipers took me a long time to figure out. I couldn't figure out if I was in very-slow-delay or not; when you turn the wipers off, they'll do one additional wipe a few seconds later, which then caused me to fiddle around with the controls. "What the hell? I thought I turned it off."
    Fumbling would mean turning the wipers back on and then off again. "Alright, I think I got it now." (5 seconds later: final wipe) "What the hell?"
    Rinse and repeat. Sprinkle in a few occasions of operating the rear wiper by mistake while trying to turn off the windshield wipers, with the same resulting confusion now doubled. The rear had that same delayed additional final wipe.

    1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

      Ford did that with all of their cars in 2010 (and might still. I haven't driven a Ford newer than 2010). I affectionately referred to it as the "auto streak". The washer would wipe until it was clear, and pause for a moment then do a dry pass just to streak the newly cleaned windshield. Every. Fucking. Time.

      1. dukeisduke Avatar

        Ironically, it's called a "courtesy wipe". It's supposed to get that drip trail that comes down in the sweep area after the wipers shut off.

        1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

          Because Ford, in all their wisdom, decided that their customers are too stupid to determine if the windshield needs another wipe and hit the switch if necessary.

          1. craigsu Avatar

            It's not just Ford. My '99 Saab 9-3 SE has this feature as well. In addition, if your front wipers are on and you put the car into reverse the rear wiper automatically engages with an intermittent wipe. I'll blame GM for including the front feature and give kudos to Saab for the rear feature.

        2. Alan Cesar Avatar
          Alan Cesar

          "Courtesy wipe" sounds like something you do in the bathroom.

  8. Alan Cesar Avatar
    Alan Cesar

    Newer Mini Cooper and BMW turn signals took me a while to figure out, too. They don't actually click into position when you set them. They immediately return to center as though it's broken, though the turn signal lamp and indicator operate like they should. Took me a few drives to figure out that the signal stalk was not broken.
    I can't remember if I figured out how to cancel the turn signal in those cars.

    1. wunno sev Avatar
      wunno sev

      i believe you tap it the other way to cancel it, and if you tap it gently you get three blinks.
      this came out with the iDrive system, so they were sort of throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck. i'm not sure that returning to center no matter what is a good idea, but the three-blinks thing is super useful and i've used it in a couple of newer non-BMW cars. i wish my cars had it.

      1. Sean Avatar

        My Sentra (2012) does the three blink thing.
        I've used it on accident a few times but I normally just manually operate the turn signals.

      2. Alan Cesar Avatar
        Alan Cesar

        Plenty of cars have the lane-change blinker that just does the three blinks if you move the stalk only part way. All the ones I had experienced before that Mini Cooper (not a car I owned) would still have a deft click for full-on turn signal. On the Cooper, I kept thinking I was only activating the lane-change signal and kept whapping the stalk to make it stick to indicate a turn.
        Ah well.

      3. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
        C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

        That three blink thing isn't enough, by any stretch of the imagination.
        It's a lane change indicator. Wholly unnecessary if you're in the midst of changing lanes, 'cause it's obvious you're either changing lanes, to fookin' tweeting about changing lanes.
        That's all the time three blinks are good for, doing it half-assed.
        You're supposed to indicate BEFORE you actually start doing it, and keep the indicator on until new lane position is established.

  9. Alan Cesar Avatar
    Alan Cesar

    My Subaru Justy has HVAC control options that say, "Vent" and "Heat" at different positions. Temperature and recirculate are both selected on different sliders. I still don't know the difference between the Vent and Heat settings.

    1. Preludacris Avatar

      Maybe Vent is for Heating the windshield and Heat is for Venting hot air toward your body?

    2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      On my two Fords, Vent sends air through the dash vents, Heat comes out down at the floor. But since neither is a Subbie, that may be of no help at all.

  10. hwyengr Avatar

    I had to pull out the manual for the rear defroster control in the 928. It's a combo knob/pushbutton. Twist for continuous low-power defogging, push for 15 minutes of high-power defrosting.
    Which all leads to another ridiculously expensive double-wide relay in the electrical panel…

  11. lesscubes Avatar

    I have this on most cars I get into, used to 60-70's dashes.
    My least favorite is the lights and wipers being on the turn signal stalk like in some GM Trucks/Vans; I usually manage to turn everything on except what I was looking for.

  12. nanoop Avatar

    I even know what some of them used to do.

  13. Sjalabais Avatar

    Yes. Just like many others here, part of the reason to this seemingly overwhelming status of human knowledge is that my Honda doesn't have that many buttons, after all:
    <img src="http://www.theaa.com/images/allaboutcars/testreports/R0227_Honda_stream_INTERIOR.jpg&quot; width="600">
    I got to say, part of the reason I am so happy with my little Honda van is that it is a frugal, no bs-design. That goes for the dashboard, too.
    The lead image above is a nice choice, btw. A great ergonomy, together with good seats, reliability and safety, has been an important part of Volvo's automobile mission.

  14. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    Yes, but as time goes by, more and more of the Town Cow's buttons do nothing at all.
    At Ford, Quality is Joke One.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Just wonder…how much of that is expected? After all, Panther cars are supposed to last until after the Russian invasion. And the German Focus impressed big in tech inspection statistics.

    2. Preludacris Avatar

      You know, my parents' '95 Explorer has been like that. Indestructible little truck, except everything electric is broken.

  15. JayP2112 Avatar

    In the Focus I what buttons I need to know.
    The Microsoft Sync sucks eggs and I do not consider it as part of the functional car.

  16. Devin Avatar

    <img src="http://assets.clickmotive.com/ail/stills_white_0640/9562/9562_st0640_057.jpg&quot; width="500">
    Yes, but I haven't been actually able to find the cat folder, which is a shame since there are so many unfolded cats running around.

    1. 1977chevytruck Avatar

      I though I recognized that dash… I agree, the buttons are very easy to figure out. Took me till the end of the trip to realize that it had heated seats, though. Not that the button was hard to figure out, just didn't expected a RENTAL Hyundai to have heated seats.

    2. Vairship Avatar

      Does your car have a sunroof? [youtube Rn8TBAp96Mk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn8TBAp96Mk youtube]

      1. Devin Avatar

        That cat isn't so much folded as dismantled.

  17. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    these HVAC controls took me two years to figure out, mostly because it was cold and i was waiting for someone so i was able to look them up in the manual.
    <img src="http://jlkautoparts.com/prod_img/4fe9e4396443d_IMG_0354.JPG&quot; width="500">
    (not my picture)
    the arrows on the directional air dial are pretty ambiguous in meaning, especially w/r/t the arrows (why does the feet-and-defroster setting not use the same picture as the defroster???) and the fresh air vent on top just has a blue arrow instead of a useful pictogram.
    it's all good now, and it could have been all good right when i bought the car if i'd just RTFM, but who's got time for that?

    1. wunno sev Avatar
      wunno sev

      wow this post needed a thorough proofreading

    2. racer139 Avatar

      This time of year just set both dials to 74 and click the slide over too auto.. One of the eastest HVAC I have used and pretty good at keeping the heat or cool that it set at.

  18. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
    PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

    <img src="http://images.newcars.com/images/car-pictures/original/2010-Toyota-Matrix-Coupe-Hatchback-Base-5dr-Front-wheel-Drive-Hatchback-Interior-Driver-Side.png&quot; width="550/">
    I don't have the Bluetooth phone controls, since it's a Vibe, not a Matrix (Vibes got VSC and XM radio standard instead) but you can see a distinct lack of buttons. Also, instead of the digital clock, I have a small cubbie that is perfectly wallet sized. I could never understand why Toyotas have 2 clocks so close to each other (in the radio and in the dash) and then they are also not synced to each other, which makes even less sense. The only gray area is the dots between vent settings, which I just assume are halfway between the two they are between, but I never use them. I don't trust GM/Toyota on compromises, haha.
    So I guess yes, but the level of difficulty is very low on this model. It is certainly no Audi.
    EDIT: Found a Pontiac on eBay with the airbags popped, but you can see the difference in the dash layout.
    <img src="http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/NjAwWDgwMA==/z/xwMAAOSwg3FUjJ47/$_57.JPG&quot; width=550>

    1. Devin Avatar

      Actually the Toyota stereo doesn't have a clock, it just displays stereo information. The display is also a lot harder to read and doesn't work at all in freezing temperatures.

      1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
        PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

        Ok, I stopped selling them in 2007, but they had redundant clocks then.

        1. Devin Avatar

          They probably realized how dumb the redundant clocks were but couldn't break their gentleman's agreement with their ugly digital clock supplier.

          1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
            PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

            Haha. I think it was an issue with the first Gen being that one radio was GM and the other Toyota. I think it had to do with a 6-disc changer or tape deck or single cd player, but I'm going back too far in my memory on an otherwise insignificant part.
            It could be that I'm thinking about an entirely different Toyota, but I thought it was the Matrix due to the parts sharing with GM on the center-stack.

          2. Devin Avatar

            I think you are right and they only stopped sharing stereos in the second generation.
            I find it interesting that each brand has something irritating about their stereos, the GM having the aux port in a much more annoying place, and Toyota having the worst display known to man.

          3. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
            PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

            Yeah, my wife worked for the Toyota shop I had sold at when we bought the Pontiac. They were none-too-happy about it. We had GMS for the Pontiac because her father was an AC Delco retiree and the various differences between the two cars were enough to tip the balance towards the Vibe. We only wanted the XRS or GT since IRS and stick with the 2.4L was the package we were looking for.
            1. The Pontiac had partial leather seats, VSC and Trac, XM radio and cost $18,500 after discount.
            2. The Matrix had Bluetooth and something else, maybe a 6-disc changer in the XRS.
            3. The Vibe's drivetrain warranty was 5/100k not 5/60k like the Matrix
            4. It was ~$2600 more to get the Matrix if all options were considered.
            So we went with the Vibe. The dealer was even trying to push the Gen2 xB on us which was around the same price as the Vibe GT and comparable, but I think it didn't have IRS and it was ugly as sin (and I liked the Gen 1 version)
            Everyone has their priorities when it comes to shopping for cars, but the VSC was a better feature than Bluetooth and speed-sensitive audio volume.

          4. Devin Avatar

            In my case, I went Toyota because it was in the midst of GM's cavalcade of unpleasantness and as a result the local Pontiac dealer was not quite confident they could find a manual transmission before they stopped selling Pontiacs. Now they sell Hyundais.

          5. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
            PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

            I don't think I would like this car (Matrix or Vibe) without the manual. I hate to say it like that, but I would have just found a manual transmission FWD Ford Escape S at that point.

  19. mdharrell Avatar

    <img src="http://image.automobilemag.com/f/26538133+q100+re0/0911_03_z%2B1980_kv_mini_1%2Binterior.jpg&quot; width="450">
    There's only one button, in chrome at the far left of the dash. It's for the horn.
    I also know what both toggle switches, both push-pull switches, the rocker switch, and the keyed switch do, which I think is a pretty fair accomplishment, inasmuch as the factory left them all unlabeled. In French.

    1. cosme Avatar

      I love the spare tires emplacement!

  20. Alan Cesar Avatar
    Alan Cesar

    My Mercedes W123 diesel 240D had cruise control. Not that it worked, mind you. But it was a stalk that you could push in four different directions to activate, and all the text on it indicating the function of each motion had long ago worn off. I was clueless as to how it worked the entire time I owned it.

  21. ellande Avatar

    No. It is very difficult with all the buttons this automobile contains. On a serious note, I think it was much better when there were less buttons to distract the driver from driving inevitably causing them to crash.
    <img src="http://www.landroverclub.net/Club/Interiors/Number1_interior.jpg&quot; width="600">

  22. giannibu Avatar

    I dailied an Alfa 164L for 10 years. Contemporary road tests in the US press took the center stack design to task all the time. It only took a few minutes to figure out. I really enjoyed the Italian style of it vs. appliance blandness.
    <img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-POe2XbxrraA/UKXiYgePJdI/AAAAAAAAC_k/E7ZJEgoLHuw/s1600/1991ALFAROMEO164SINSIDE+6.jpg&quot; width="500">

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Polished aluminium buttons? Approved.

  23. Andrew_theS2KBore Avatar

    Currently, my S2k has one working button… the engine start. The roof, windows, HVAC, and stereo have all been stripped, and solid rocket boosters are on backorder at RockAuto…
    Now, if anyone has amusing ideas for what i should do with the currently useless dash panels, I'm all ears.

  24. Preludacris Avatar

    <img src="http://cdn.stanceworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Corydone11.jpg&quot; width="600">
    But seriously, it wasn't too hard to figure these out…
    <img src="http://i194.photobucket.com/albums/z313/ndrwhrnr/DSC_5247_zpsjr31c20b.jpg&quot; width="600">
    The only "user interface" confusion I've had in a Honda was in my first car. I thought it had a broken windshield washer pump because the icon on the stalk is a little mist symbol with a down arrow. The arrow is actually intended to mean pull the stalk toward you. But when you don't know that and you push the stalk downward, and it wipes the windshield without spraying anything, you first assume you're out of fluid. Then after you top it off you assume it's broken because after all, you paid $750 for the car. Then you accidentally spray your windshield a week later.

  25. cosme Avatar

    <img src="http://images.forum-auto.com/mesimages/501873/P1060121.jpg&quot; width="600">
    My 1996 twingo is like this one and easy : rear defrost, rear fog light (green buttons on the left)
    On the wheel : left = lights + horn / right = wipers
    Center console : A/C position / cold/hot / strenght from 1 to 4

  26. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
    C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    I know what all of them do, but I wish I could change the functionality of a few, because I never use what they control…ever.
    GM's voice recognition bit does anything but recognize voices accurately.

  27. Wildcat_445 Avatar

    I pretty much knew all of the Acura TL's buttons inside, but came across a "feature" by accident. I had forgotten how to reset the maintenance indicator. I knew it involved the odometer buttons. I sat there holding one in, and heard a beep. Nothing. Did it again, another beep, then pressed the other button a few times…then I noticed the outside temperature was changing in a sequence. I then had the "aha!" moment when I realized I could correct the outside temperature reading.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      Did you set the outside temperature to a more comfortable temperature?

      1. Wildcat_445 Avatar

        I discovered it in the summer of 2013. It was so hot out, it felt more like I was adjusting the oven temperature. Alas, setting it lower did not help the temperature. The brownies baked faster though.

  28. Cure_Quanta Avatar

    My lights are like the only thing I don't quite know yet, but that's only because I often leave them in the automatic setting so it's never really a bother. At least, it wasn't until this one snowstorm where I thought they'd turn on, but with a sort of whiteout going, the light sensors didn't trip, so they didn't.

  29. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

    Yes. Additionally, the circular blank sitting in the middle of nowhere is where the non-button to not deactivate my no traction control isn't.
    In my old Delta 88, I also knew the function of more buttons then actually existed. Even with as little expectation of sensibility I have of GM, I know there must have been at least one button to adjust the clock. I searched and searched, but never found it.

  30. Wildcat_445 Avatar

    OK, I just thought of one "mystery knob". My grandfather had two in his 1971 Olds Ninety Eight. The dashboard had a clock, and there was also a clock embedded in the back of the front seat, so the rear passengers could see the time. Neither one kept the right time, ever. You could turn the adjustment knob to supposedly set the correct time, whereupon the clock would enter its own little time warp and run at whatever speed it wanted.
    Supposedly (and if I remember what the manual said), the clock was supposed to compensate for its inaccuracy based on which way you adjusted it. In other words, if you set the time forward, the clock would run slightly faster. Both clocks in that car never were at anything close to the correct time.