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While the usage of controls like steering wheels and pedals have been around since cars were invented, other controls have developed and adapted to the demands of drivers. For example, manual transmissions became less common as technology relating to semi-automatic and automatic transmissions advanced.
Earlier versions of headlights and signal lights were fueled by acetylene or oil. Acetylene was preferred to oil, because acetylene flames are resistant to both wind and rain. Acetylene headlights were popular until 1898, when the first electric headlights were introduced.
With the development of modern vehicles, there became a need for more tools to publicize the state of the mechanics.
The first automobiles were steered with a tiller. The steering wheel was first used when Alfred Vacheron competed in the 1894 Paris–Rouen motor race in a Panhard et Levassor. In 1898, steering wheels became a standard feature of Panhard et Levassor cars. They were introduced in the U.S. by Packard in 1899.
Power steering helps drivers steer by augmenting the driver's steering effort. Power steering has used hydraulics to reduce steering effort by the driver. However, hydraulic steering is being replaced by electric power steering, both because it eliminates the hydraulic pump, and because it increases fuel efficiency.
Foot pedals are levers that are activated by the driver's feet to control the vehicle. Pedals usually hang from the bulkhead on smaller vehicles, while typically standing on the floor in heavy-duty vehicles. Regardless of where the pedals are mounted, the arrangement is the same for both right- and left-hand traffic. The following pedals are positioned in left-to-right order:
- parking brake pedal (replaces the hand lever in some automatic transmission vehicles)
- clutch pedal (if the vehicle is not equipped with automatic transmission)
- brake pedal
- throttle (controls fuel and air supply to the engine and is also known as the "accelerator" or "gas pedal") The accelerator has a fail-safe design. It has a spring, which returns to the idle position when not depressed by the driver.
Normally the throttle and brake are operated by the right foot, while the clutch is operated by the left foot. In the USA, drivers who mistake the accelerator for the brake, leading to sudden unintended acceleration, cause 16,000 accidents per year. However, there are drivers that practice left-foot braking.
Vehicles that generate power in internal combustion engines (ICE) are generally equipped with a transmission or gearbox to change the speed-torque ratio and the direction of travel. This does not usually apply to electric vehicles because their motors can drive the vehicle both forward and backward from zero speed. In some four-wheel drive vehicles there is a gear lever that engages a low-ratio gearbox. Other levers may switch between two- and four-wheel drive and differential locks.
Some cars have a freewheel that disengages the driveshaft from the driven shaft. This happens when the driven shaft rotates faster than the driveshaft. For example, Saab used a freewheel system in the Saab 96 V4 and early Saab 99 for better fuel efficiency. It was also used in Saab's two-stroke models at the cost of engine braking. Some cars, such as the Rover P4, include a manual switch to engage or disengage the freewheel.
Manual transmission is also known as a manual gearbox, stick shift, standard, and stick. Most automobile manual transmissions have several gear ratios that are chosen by locking selected gear pairs to the output shaft inside the transmission. Manual transmissions feature a driver-operated clutch and gear stick. Historically, cars had a manual overdrive switch.
The desire for driver convenience led to the widespread implementation of the semi-automatic transmissions, automatic transmissions and CVTs. Some automatic transmission vehicles have extra controls that modify the choices made by the transmission system. These controls depend on the engine and road speed. Automatic transmissions generally have a straight pattern, beginning at the most forward position with park, and running through reverse, neutral, drive, and then to the lower gears.
Signals and lighting
Cars have controls for headlamps, fog lamps, turn signals, and other automotive lighting. Turn signals are activated by the driver to alert other drivers of their intent to turn or change lanes. While the modern turn signal was patented in 1938, electric turn-signal lights date back to as early as 1907.
As of 2013[update], most countries require turn signals to be included on all vehicles that are driven on public roadways. The turn signal lever is usually activated by a horizontal lever protruding outward from the steering column.
Vehicles are generally equipped with a variety of instruments mounted on the dashboard to indicate driving parameters and the state of the mechanics. The placement of the instruments can vary. While they are usually mounted behind the steering wheel, they may also be mounted centrally below the windshield, or integrated into the center stack above the climate control and audio system. The standard gauges found on road vehicles include the following:
These gauges are supplemented by an assortment of warning lights that indicate the currently selected transmission gear mode, the generic check engine light, and the current status of various vehicle systems.
The layout and design of these instruments have evolved over the years by being implemented as digital readouts rather than the traditional analog dial-type indicators. Depending on the type of vehicle, more specialized instruments may be used such as a trip computer, fuel economy gauge, or battery level display.
Starting and running the engine
Before the appearance of the starter motor, engines were started by various difficult and dangerous methods. These methods include wind-up springs, gunpowder cylinders, and human-powered techniques such as a removable hand-crank. In 1896, the first electric starter was installed on an Arnold, one of the first motor cars manufactured in the United Kingdom. Charles Kettering and Henry Leland later invented and filed U.S. Patent 1,150,523 for the first electric starter in America in 1911. The Cadillac Model Thirty became the first American car to have a starter installed in 1912.
Before Chrysler's 1949 innovation of the key-operated combination ignition-starter switch, the starter was operated by the driver pressing a button that was mounted on the floor or dashboard. This type of control has now returned with the use of keyless entry. Early Chevrolet cars had the starter pedal to the right of the accelerator, but there was a secondary throttle control knob on the dashboard because it was difficult to operate the starter pedal and the throttle pedal at the same time.
Early cars such as the Ford Model T had a hand lever to control the throttle. Later cars used both a foot pedal and a hand lever to set the minimum throttle. This was an early form of cruise control. The 1918, Stutz Bearcat had a central throttle pedal with the clutch and brake to the right and left. Modern cruise control was invented in 1948.
In the past, all cars had manual controls for starting and running the engine. Now, modern cars not only have automated controls, but they also have controls that are not directly used to drive the vehicle. These controls include air conditioning, navigation systems, on-board computers, in-car entertainment, and touchscreen panels.
These controls vary in scope and design between different types of cars. They may also be located and operated differently in other road vehicles such as motorcycles, where the throttle is controlled by a hand lever and the gear shift is operated by a pedal. Some types of vehicle controls are found in rail vehicles. For example, some trams and light rail vehicles like the PCC streetcar use automobile-style pedals to control the speed.
- "Are We Losing Touch? A Comprehensive Comparison Test of Electric and Hydraulic Steering Assist". Car and Driver. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
- "NHTSA Safety Advisory: Reducing crashes caused by pedal error". NHTSA. 2015-05-29. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
Pedal error crashes can occur when the driver steps on the accelerator when intending to apply the brake; the driver’s foot slips off the edge of the brake onto the accelerator
- "Rover P4 Manual". Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment: Final Rule 12/04/2007
- U.S. Patent 2,122,508
- U.S. Patent 912,831
- G.N. Georgano (1985). Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886–1930. London: Grange-Universal. ISBN 1-59084-491-2.
- "Chrysler Family Debut", ''Popular Mechanics'' April 1949, p.122. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-09-30.
- "The Ford Model T". Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- Leno, Jay. "1918 Stutz Bearcat". Retrieved 5 November 2016.
- Speed control device for resisting operation of the accelerator. Ralph R. Teetor. US-Patent 2519859 A
- "1928 Chevy Owner's Manual". Retrieved 30 March 2014.