Whatever happened to …

… car cigarette lighters?

Thanks to Noeline Laccetti for this idea. I really like it when people send ideas for this regular Sunday morning post through social media, email, or add to the Whatever happened to Padlet.

This bit of memory jogger lets us know just how far society has come.

Santeri Viinamäki / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

Back in the day, a cigarette lighter was an absolute necessity. Many people smoked; I know my mom and dad did. My brother and I got to enjoy the smoke from the back seat. The lighter was conveniently placed on the dashboard so that both the driver and front seat passenger could easily access it.

My first full-time girlfriend and I used to go out in our car before I got my truck. Fortunately, she lived 3 or 4 towns away and I would drive to get her with all four windows rolled down. I don’t ever recall her complaining of the smell. She would have been sensitive, I suspect, since nobody in her family smoked.

Every vehicle that I’ve ever owned had this functionality although these days, the pop out lighter outlet is called an auxiliary power outlet. And, with society’s need for more and more power, there is one on the front dashboard for front seat people and another in the console between the front seats for use in the back seat. Both Ford and Chrysler (our current vehicles) also have USB ports. For me though, I still have my portable unit from my old Cobalt that plugs into the auxiliary port and has a phone connector on the other end. It seems to charge faster than the built-in USB ports.

For a Sunday, cut through the smoke and share some of your thoughts.

  • do you recall a time when you and/or your family had a cigarette lighter in the car and used it for that?
  • how many ports and what kind does your current vehicle have?
  • what have you ever plugged into the port? My list includes:
    • smartphones (of course)
    • a portable GPS unit
    • a portable cassette player for those time I was out of radio range of a good station
    • a coffee cup heater
    • a chargeable flashlight
    • an iPad
    • a portable battery
    • a portable XMRadio
    • … (can you add to this list?)
  • how do people light up in cars these days?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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6 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Oh, the cigarette lighter! I remember this more from family vehicles growing up. My mom smoked occasionally when I was young, so sometimes used it in the car. Your post made me think about just how times have changed. One of my step-dad’s funniest stories is about making an ashtray out of asbestos at school for his mom for Mother’s Day. You would not be making these crafts nowadays. I wonder though if the project was indicative of life experiences at that time. Hmmm … Thanks for the walk down memory lane.



  2. Once I had my driving license, I travelled for work in parts of Ontario. The vehicle had an AM radio, and the speaker was built into the cowling above the dash so that the sound reflected off of the windshield and back into the vehicle. Sound quality back then was not that great, and the radio reception varied over the course of longer drives. Augmenting that AM radio with a cassette player meant that I could then listen to the music of my choice while driving.

    I purchased a battery-operated portable cassette player from Radio Shack, along with the necessary adaptor to plug it into the dashboard receptacle. Just as I recall the first album I ever purchased (Not Fragile, by Bachman Turner Overdrive) because I played it so much, I also recall the first cassette I would have purchased (Moving Pictures, by Rush) — because it was the only cassette I had during the multi-day trip for which I had purchased that cassette player. The cassette player set just in front of the dash, and with the volume cranked to just below distortion, I could hear the music well enough over the sounds of the tires and the engine at highway speed. This was in the days before boomboxes became a thing, and so this particular cassette player had one large speaker and one smaller speaker. It was possible, but I remember looking forward to the day when I might have a car with a built-in AM/FM cassette player and more than one speaker. That day finally came after I graduated from University.

    Subsequent to that, the lighter/power receptacle in my vehicle would have gone unused until I purchased my first cell phone in the late 90s. The timing is a little fuzzy now in my memory, but it would’ve been when I was travelling again occasionally for work, and the rationalization was that we were expecting our second child. Just prior to his birth, we replaced the car and we added a built-in phone holder that was wired into the car, so the power receptacle again went unused for a while.

    Some point, I purchased a 120 V converter to plug into the receptacle so that I could charge my laptop during longer trips. The car had come with a six CD cassette unit in the trunk, but once MP3s appeared, the CD technology became obsolete (or at least, far less convenient). So now we were back to using the power receptacle in the dash to power the iPod AND the mini-plug-to-cassette adaptor to jerry-rig musical choices into the car sound system. Suddenly, the dash of the car had a lot of wires to keep clear of the gearshift.

    It wasn’t until a just couple of years ago that the car was replaced with a newer model that supports Bluetooth. So now the dash area is wires free, and music can stream straight from my pocket to the car and thus to the speakers. There’s also a second receptacle for use in the backseat, but with the boys now grown, it goes mostly unused, unless I am again on a long trip and need to charge multiple devices.

    I guess, all told, over the years I will have powered/charged the following using the 12-volt receptacle in a vehicle
    Cassette player
    120 V converter for laptop
    Cell phones
    portable DVD player (when the boys were young)
    camera batteries
    portable battery
    … and …

    … the most recent thing I’ve powered from the dash receptacle would’ve been a new purchase this past summer when my brother and I drove out to BC and back. Deciding that our tender bones were no longer up to dealing with the roots and rocks underneath a tent, we each purchased a honking big air mattress from Canadian Tire. When fully inflated, the mattresses are about 18 inches above the ground, perfect for sitting on while you put on your shoes, etc. There’s a trap door in one end that opens to allow access to the power cord and the built-in pump. It takes maybe three minutes to inflate/deflate the air mattress — provided you have an extension cord long enough to reach from your vehicle to the tent. Which we did.

    So while cars continue to come with more and more features built-in (speakers, various types of radios, GPS systems, entertainment screens) there still a place for the humble 12 V receptacle—even though I daresay many vehicles no longer come with the original cigarette lighter component. I bet you have to buy that extra, if you need it. Fortunately, I never have.


  3. I’ve had converters that power laptops in the past. Very handy though of course I never used the laptop while actually driving. Some of our cars have multiple USB ports including one in the front and one for the back seat. I find that the chargers in the auxiliary power outlet do charge faster. I’m not sure why that is. In any case we are set up to charge my and my wife’s phones in all of the cars these days.


  4. We even have a mini travel cooler that plugs in so our staff stays cold without ice. It’s a great addition to our long trips. We also have a DVD player but use the iPad now. Thank goodness both vehicles have multiple outlets!


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