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Your Headlight switch worn out? » Read more about common malfunctions • Repair • Replacement manual
Rare but important: the light switch The light switch used to be a very common part in every car's dashboard. Generally, it was a three-step switch for turning on parking lights and headlights. Nowadays, in most cars the light switch function is one of the many switching possibilities of the multifunctional steering column switch. Older cars still have the traditional flip switch. Different lights are activated via separate switches: rear fog lights, front fog lights, warning light signal, indicator or interior lights also have traditional switches. They are still manufactured and installed in the traditional way. Turn, pull, flip Over the last decennia, the car manufacturing industry has produced all possible variations of light switches: push-buttons, rocker switch, toggle switch, turn-switch, pulling switch - the fantasy and creativity of interior designers knew no limits in this point. Technically, a light switch is a very simple construction, consisting of a multi-part plastic casing with several copper contacts within. The switching unit opens and closes these contacts as required. With cable shoes on its back, the switch is connected to the wire harness in the car. If the switch for the light in a new car is not installed as an extra function of the steering column switch, it is generally built as a turn/pull multi-switch. These can be very expensive, depending on car model. Mercedes-Benz, for example, asks 300 euro (£250) for a new part. In cheaper cars, like e.g. Volkswagen or Opel, switches for similar functions can be bought for 50 – 70 euro (£40 – 60). Light switch defects Light switches are generally built to last a given amount of operational movements. However, they are tested und ideal and constant circumstances. Possibly, a switch should theoretically last several thousand switch movements, but practically fails after 8 years in the car. The way a switch wears down depends largely on the design as well. The common turn switches of the past, like for example in Opel, could easily break after too forceful application. Flip switches give up sooner or later if they are operated with too much force. Plastic parts can break off, disabling its function. The most common defect however occurs through moist corroding the copper contacts, disabling the switch sooner or later. Repair of light switches Especially in vintage or exotic cars the purchase of a defective switch can be a real challenge. It is therefore recommended to inspect the switch closely and attempt a repair. If it is a multi-part switch, it can generally be opened with a small slot-headed screw driver. If the contacts are accessible, it is possible with help of brake cleaner, Q-tips, a small brush or in emergency cases with the screw driver to remove the corrosion layer from the contacts. The contacts are also pre-bent to give them certain elasticity when switching. The bend stretches a bit over time and must be bent back. With a little patience and the proper tools a defective switch can under circumstances be made functional again. When opening the switch it is important to be very careful in order not to damage or break off the plastic casing or the tab. Should this happen, the switch is probably beyond saving. Nevertheless modern possibilities offer a solution. Re-creating non-available switches Re-creation of plastic parts is no longer science fiction. Nowadays, every larger town has one of more 3D printer services, offering valuable services especially for smaller products like switch casings. However, these services are not exactly cheap and only pay off in case of switches which are no longer available. Buying a new switch The laborious disassembly and ultimate re-creation by printing of switch casing components should only be undertaken as a "worst case scenario". For most cars, the accessory trade offers switches from the vintage stock and the supply is secured for older cars as well. A new light switch begins at ca. 10 euro (£8), but can become a lot more expensive, depending on construction.