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Automotive toggle switch – How does it Work?

What is an automotive toggle switch? If you are a vintage car enthusiast, you have noticed lever-like components on the dash. These are the automotive toggle switches. 

In today’s guide, we’ll cover them and elaborate on their importance.

What are Toggle Switches?

A toggle switch is an electromagnetic switch featuring a lever that connects or disconnects the current when pushed up or down. Usually, this lever is on the car’s dashboard and only moves in the up, above, or down positions. 

The three primary components of this automotive switch include the lever (usually the visible part), switch housing and electromagnetic contacts. Also noteworthy is that this switch is a manual component. 

Hence, it’s unlikely to be found in a modern car. The other common name for the toggle is actuator. 

How Does a Toggle Switch Work?

Switches in a retro car.

Switches in a retro car.

This illustration assumes the toggle switch is in its default off mode. When you move it, you induce electrical contact, which initiates current flow.

When you move the toggle in the opposite direction, you disconnect the electrical contact, thus terminating the current flow. 

And When you activate the toggle lever, a spring moves the contact. This mechanical system is responsible for the momentary on/off statuses when you turn the toggle.  

Toggle Switch Types

Toggle switches in a car. 

Toggle switches in a car. 

Below are the major toggle switch types you’ll most likely find in your car. 

On-Off Toggle Switches

It’s the primary kind of switch you will find in vintage autos. It comprises binary on and off modes. Moving it in one direction will usually generate a clicking sound. Other people in the auto field refer to it as a positive on/off switch. 

On-On Toggle Switches

It has two on positions and no off position like the typical toggle switch. How is this so? When the toggle switch is in one position, it has already switched one component. When you turn it, it disconnects the primary element and connects another. 

The essence of this switch is that it eliminates the need for two switches to control two components. Another common name for this kind of switch is a changeover switch. 

On-Off-On Toggle Switches

It is a hybrid of the two toggle switches we’ve covered above. You’ll note From its name that it features three positions: two on-positions and one off. The off position is in the middle, while the two on modes are on either side. 

Momentary Toggle Switches

Think of this as a switch that is only on when you’re holding and automatically switches to off mode upon release. It usually features a spring that restores the false position upon release. 

Note that although these are the primary switch types, they are not the only ones. Others you might encounter in the auto industry include: 

  • LED Toggle Switch
  • Flat Toggle Switch

Common Auto Toggle Switch Accessories

Toggle switches in a manual car. 

Toggle switches in a manual car. 

Some of the parts you will require for a seamless toggle switch installation include the following: 

Rubber Boot

It’s a protective casing that usually encompasses the toggle button. It is important in preventing moisture and dust from entering the switch’s critical parts. 

Switch Guard

As its name suggests, this is a protector, which is usually essential in shielding the switch from accidental turning on/off. 

Toggle Switch Upsides and Downsides

Toggle Switch Advantages

A red toggle button on a truck. 

A red toggle button on a truck. 

  1. They are the most straightforward switches to operate. You do not need particular expertise to run them; their working principle involves turning the toggle up/down. 
  2. They are also highly durable, and the frequent toggling action does not result in outright tear and wear. 
  3. In addition, since their working principle is simple, their construction is also inexpensive. Hence, you can replace one at a low cost. 
  4. Fourthly, the toggle switch is a versatile solution for all switching applications. It’s no wonder it’s found in almost all electrical systems. 
  5. You can always tell when the toggle switch is faulty when turning it on/off. It is very important as it allows for the early diagnosis and resolution of a mishap. 

Toggle Switch Disadvantages

  1. They are conventional and thus don’t fit use in modern vehicles that usually operate via digital systems. 
  2. They are very exposed compared to the other switch types, making them susceptible to failure. 
  3. Thirdly, a toggle switch makes a clicking noise, which may be undesirable for some auto users. 

Toggle Switch Applications

A Toggle switch in an Elevator. 

The toggle switches that we’ve covered in this guide are helpful in auto applications, and this includes the following: 

  • Vehicles (usually vintage cars)
  • Ships
  • Aircraft
  • Military auto machinery

But these are just some equipment where you will find this switch type. They are also common in:

  • Industrial applications 
  • Microwave ovens
  • Old-school household electrical switches
  • Vending machines


Toggle switches provide a convenient way to control an auto’s electrical functionalities. They are the simplest of switches and apply the old-school electromagnetic strip principle. Therefore, you can connect and disconnect your electrical switch with basic electrical know-how. 

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