Where does the term "idiot lights" come from?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

Please settle some confusion. My husband says the term "idiot light" comes from the fact that the car is an idiot, and cannot comprehend why the light is lit. I say it's because people are idiots and have no idea what's going on under a car's hood. Please tell me I'm right.

RAY: You're right, Mary.

TOM: Many years ago, when my brother still had hair, cars had gauges. But that required interpretation. People had to know just how much oil pressure was good enough, and what temperature was too high.

RAY: This proved to be quite a challenge for some people...my brother for one. So manufacturers switched over to "idiot lights." "Idiot lights" require no interpretation. When the light comes on, you don't have to ask any questions, you just pull over and call for help. But believe it or not, we have customers who even ignore the "idiot lights."

TOM: So we're working on a more advanced warning system. It's a mechanical arm that comes up from behind the seat and gives the driver a crisp dope-slap. Now if I could only convince my brother to volunteer for the testing program.

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