Specifications May Vary

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Like finding empty spaces in a tray of chocolates, but worse

In a perfect world there would be no such thing as a switch blank. You´d have enough money to buy the car with every conceivable feature fitted. Or, if you wanted a simpler, lighter car, that version would have a console and switch panel designed for that exact level of trim. If there were four switches required  for the four functions, there would not be a fifth and sixth hole stoppered with an unmarked plastic plug. Ideally, the designers would arrange the buttons so that there was no evidence of anything being omitted.  For the manufacturer this might mean designing and tooling a large number of variant parts. But in a perfect world, you wouldn´t mind paying that little bit extra. What we find in reality is that manufacturers need to make hard-headed decisions. On the one hand they want the possibility of fitting as large a number of functions as possible but also they want to have, on the other hand, the possibility of selling the car for the lowest price possible. A circle must be squared.  The resultant squircle is the existence of glaringly obvious non-functioning buttons and blanked-off switch holes around the dashboard. They say to the owner: you were too cheap to opt for the rear-view mirror demisting function. You did not have the wherewithal to afford the heated rear armrest or the electrically-actuated glove-box closing feature.
1997 Volvo 850 centre console
1997 Volvo 850 centre console
The other puzzle is the existence of switch blanks on quite expensive motor cars. My research indicates that the highest ranging prestige brands from continental Europe are among the worst offenders. There are Porsche Panamera’s with switch blanks. Conceivably even Porsche can´t fit everything as standard despite their high prices but their customers are not so price insensitive to be able to pay for custom trim, designed for the number of buttons for that trim level and no more and no less.  Looking backwards, it was drawn to my attention that the rear doors of the Peugeot 604 had grommets where the manual window winders were to have been placed despite electric windows being standard on the car in W. Europe.  You´d think the entirety of W. Europe was large enough a market to warrant  a grommet-less door card. Anyone who has ever peered inside a Mercedes W124 will find a wealth of switch blanks, none of which quite fit the panel they sit on. Is this phenomenon still with us? It has been a while since I looked at an E-class interior. I must suppose that as more and more function migrate to touch-screen interfaces, the days of the switch blank are numbered.

1995 Tacoma 2
Deleted option: remote control for rear ashtray?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

One thought on “Specifications May Vary”

  1. It reminds me of the sad tale of the ‘One Fish Ball’ in which a diner who can afford no more than that is humiliated by the waiter who bellows his order to all the guests. The Vauxhall Carlton I mention somewhere else on these pages had an impressive line of blanks as did the Renault Espace I once owned. They both constantly berated me for my small-mindedness, meanness, lack of ambition and general underachievement. I often thought of buying accessories that I didn’t need, so that I could fill the blanks with fine, functioning switches, but I never did. Now that you mention it Richard, apart from my Citroen, which comes from a different era, I don’t think I have ever had a vehicle that didn’t have switch blanks. But maybe switch blanks are a good thing and they should be retained, even in the era of touch-screens. They tell us that there is always more to achieve in life. They inspire us to aspire. Possibly the switch blanks on a Porsche are there for just that reason. There actually aren’t any switches available to fill them. Only as we face the final curtain, surveying a full compliment of working switches, will we say “enough, my work is done, I can move on – assuming of course that the camel-eye-of-a-needle thing doesn’t apply to a dashboard crammed with operating switches”.

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