Stupid question about a '69 VW Beetle I sold years ago
January 23, 2013 7:07 AM   Subscribe

I know, I know: it's silly to have an argument about this, but please help!

So once upon a time, I owned (and loved) a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle, a 3-speed semi-automatic. Had the thing for nigh on 14 years, and only sold it due to my leaving the country. This week, a relative and I got into a very mild argument over something we're unable to settle, and I therefore turn to you --- the all-knowing, all-seeing car people of AskMeta --- for the answer:

Smackdab in the middle of the dash, there was a red button? light? with a white capital 'B' in a white circle on it. When you pushed this button, it lit up, but (apparently) nothing else happened.... as far as I was concerned, the ONLY useful thing about it was entertaining small children. What the heck was that button for?!?

Many thanks, and we await The Truth About The Button.
posted by easily confused to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It is the "brakes failing" light. If the master cylinder is losing pressure, it will light up. You can press it to check if the bulb lights, so you know that it should be in working condition. I have it on my 1970 bug.

Image from the manual: Here
posted by LeanGreen at 7:09 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If the master cylinder is losing pressure, it will light up.

The purpose of the button is correct, but I'm pretty sure it only monitors fluid level through a float in the master cylinder reservoir. I've not seen a car that monitors braking performance that doesn't have ABS (ie much newer than that).

'Push to test' for the light is pretty smart, as a lot of cars didn't have that.
posted by Brockles at 7:27 AM on January 23, 2013

And as an aside, cars today no longer need the "push to test" functionality. We now have LEDs which don't burn out, and all of the dashboard lights will light up temporarily upon startup to show the user that they're still working.
posted by dobi at 7:38 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yup, brake warning light - from the owner's manual.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:00 AM on January 23, 2013

My '74 Ghia didn't have the push-to-test functionality. Quote the manual "The brake warning light will light up when the ignition is turned on." Progress.
posted by tayknight at 8:20 AM on January 23, 2013

I just popped in to say that this is a great thread.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:40 AM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: Well I'll be darned... that's handy. I'd gotten the car used and never saw an owner's manual; so other than 'entertaining small children' --- look, here's a button you can push and do *something*! --- it never got used.

Several relatives guessed, way back then, that it had something to do with the brakes; on the other hand were the ones (including an uncle who kept darkly muttering "you can't trust those Germans") claiming that it was one weird little car with an 'R' for Refill instead of an 'E' for Empty, therefore the 'B' could Brakes or Battery or Bottle (that person claimed it had to do with the window washer fluid) or maybe something entirely different in German.

Thanks all!
posted by easily confused at 8:41 AM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: 'R' was for 'reserve', not refill. Which is a lot more logical...
posted by Brockles at 8:48 AM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: As an aside, since the question has already been answered, we always called that the "you're gonna die!" light.

(Also, the handle on the dash was the "oh shit" bar)

We have owned many not-entirely-reliable old VWs.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:50 AM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: we always called that handle on the dash the 'towel bar'....
posted by easily confused at 8:56 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was the kid pushing that button. Thanks for the memory!
posted by whuppy at 10:00 AM on January 25, 2013

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