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There’s a lot of weird lingo to know when it comes to cars. Aside from the obvious terms like automatic transmission, engine, and interior, there are other and more obscure terms like “switchgear” to know. But what is a car’s switchgear?

What does switchgear refer to?

Manual air conditioning  switch in Dacia Sandero.
Manual air conditioning switch in Dacia Sandero. | Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The term “switchgear” refers to the various switches, buttons, and dials on a car’s center console and dashboard. Go Auto notes that these controls are used to operate the car’s air conditioning, heating, ventilation, and audio system. If you have peeked your head into any newer cars, or if you currently own one, then you may have noticed that many of the standard buttons are being replaced with touchscreens.

MotorTrend reports that automakers are switching to touchscreen not just because “they look cool,” but because they also save money. Apparently, utilizing touchscreens for a car’s switchgear costs less than having to design, engineer, and produce a bunch of different buttons and switches for various models. One of the most stellar examples of using touchscreens is the Hyperscreen found in the Mercedes-Benz EQS. The massive 56-inch screen takes care of all of the car’s interior controls including the heating, cooling, seat massagers, and audio controls.

Why do some cars use the same switchgear?

Interior on a Tesla Model X.
Interior on a Tesla Model X. | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images)

Mostly for cost savings. Have you noticed that some cars from different makes have the same switchgear? For example, you can find a lot of the same window switches and stalks in a Tesla Model S that you can find in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. And while you might think that a $150,000 Acura NSX will contain all of its own buttons and switches, it doesn’t. In fact, it shares a lot of the same switchgear that you’ll find on the dash and steering of a 2017 Honda Civic.

Considering it would cost an automaker more money to design and produce various buttons and switches for their own model, it’s easier to take them from an existing one. That’s why you’ll see a lot of the same switchgear across different vehicles in the same model line as well.

Will automakers replace all the buttons with touchscreens?

2022 Mercedes-EQ EQS
2022 Mercedes-EQ EQS | Mercedes

Why Do Some New Cars Still Have Physical Keys Instead of Keyless Push Button Starts?

Not necessarily. While most, if not all, automakers are set to produce hybrid and electric vehicles in the next five to 10 years, it doesn’t mean that we’re headed toward an all-touchscreen future. Car Magazine notes that a major drawback to having touchscreens in any car is that they are distracting to the driver. After all, what’s so cool about being able to pinch and zoom on Google Maps if it means you have to take your eyes off the road for some time?

Fortunately, some automakers like Audi are incorporating fully digital displays into their car’s instrument panels. These displays can show the driver all of the pertinent information without them having to take their eyes off the road for too long. Until these high-tech screens and displays become more mainstream, we can look forward to seeing more buttons and switches as part of many cars’ switchgear.