Why are there red turn signals?

On cars sold in the US, the traditional rear turn signal was red, since it was tied in with the brake light. At some point, and I’m guessing in the 70s or perhaps 80s, cars began to be designed with a rear turn signal that was separate from the brake light.

On many cars, the separate turn signal is still red, and on others, it’s amber. I happen to think the amber signal is safer, since it’s less likely to be confused with the brake light, but I have no numbers to back that up.

My question is, why isn’t amber standard for rear turn signals (at least on cars sold in the US)? Is amber standard in other countries? Is it mixed like in the US? Why is it still mixed?

The crazy thing is you can’t pin it to any one manufacturer. Ford has amber signals on some models, but not on others. Same for Chrysler, Toyota, GM, etc. You can’t say it’s amber on foreign built (Canada, Mexico) and red on domestic built cars, because my Camry was built in Georgetown Kentucky, and it has amber turn signals.

I’m hoping for a factual answer, but mods, move where appropriate.


Looks like it’s just us 'mericans being contrary again.

Thanks. I appreciate it. :slight_smile: However, that article doesn’t really give the answer from a manufacturer’s POV, but I’m afraid your comment may be the closest we can come (unless/until we can hear from auto designers/engineers/corporate suits):

It seems that mostly US manufacturers make vehicles with red turn signals. Every US-made vehicle I’ve owned had red turn signals. And every foreign vehicle I’ve owned has had amber.

To make it even more confusing… Honda traditionally used amber rear signals, most likely because that’s what they had to use in Japan. For example, the 96-98 Civic:


For the 99-00 refresh, they switched the coupe and hatch taillights to get rid of the amber lenses:


Note that the bulbs are still amber through the clear lenses.

From there on, at least in the Honda community, amber was seen as ugly and boring and safety minded, and Honda has all but abandoned amber lenses on a lot of its cars.

So I don’t know if this counts as factual or not, but as an anecdote, I’d guess that the reason red still exists is because the law allows it, and it looks better.

I’ve only owned one car that had an amber rear turn signal. I think they look like crap next to the red lights (purely a cosmetic preference…this has nothing to do with function).

The clear lens with amber bulb looks much better but I haven’t seen that very often.

You only need one red lense. And one bulb with two elements.

Instead of two lenses, and two bulbs.