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Turn Signal Switches and Levers

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Turn Signal Switches and Levers

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What is a turn signal switch and lever and where are they located?

Your turn signal lever, also sometimes referred to as a turn signal arm, is located on the side of the steering column and is your input to activate your turn signal lights, also known as the blinkers, directionals, or indicators, depending on where you grew up.  Many of these are multifunction levers that also include dials and switches to activate other systems, such as the head lights, fog lights, or windshield wipers. Some even include controls for the cruise control system.

The lever connects to the turn signal switch, sometimes referred to as a blinker switch, inside the steering column which contains the circuitry that sends the driver’s input to the turn signal lights. Some assemblies will combine the lever and switch into one unit. When the switch is activated, the signal lights at the front and rear of the vehicle activate accordingly depending on the position that the lever has been moved to, signaling a left or right turn. The switch is also responsible for cancelling the blinker while the steering wheel is turning back. So, the switch and lever work together to produce the accurate turn signals for the other drivers on the road to see.

How do I know if my turn signal switch and lever needs to be replaced?

Not to oversimplify things, but if your turn signal lever is not working, then you may wish to replace it.  For example, if the lever doesn’t stay in the on position or if it doesn’t return to the off position after you’ve finished a turn, then you may want to replace it.  Luckily, these problems are more of an annoyance than a safety hazard. 

Failure of the turn signal switch itself can make one or more of your turn signal lights fail to activate.  Although this is not extremely dangerous, it does hamper your ability to communicate your intentions to other drivers, which can be problematic. The wiring for each signal light may exist on a separate circuit, so it’s possible to have only one signal light fail to activate. If you’re having this problem, it’s probably best to check that the problem is not with the turn signal light assembly. If the lighting assembly is fine, then the problem is likely with the signal switch. If you are so inclined, you could check with a multimeter if the individual circuits in the switch are working. This would involve opening up the steering column and removing the switch, but on the plus side, if the switch is found to be broken, you’ve already removed it and are halfway there to replacing it.

Can I replace a turn signal switch and lever myself?

As mentioned above, replacing the turn signal switch and / or lever will involve opening up the steering column. Make sure to disconnect the battery and take any other precautions specific to your model to deactivate the airbags. You do not want the air bags to deploy while you are working in the steering column. Otherwise, the task should be completed easily enough with no need for special tools.

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