A Better Engine Hood Safety Latch Release

Engine hoods on automobiles are equipped with an important safety mechanism: If the main lock should fail (or be unlocked inadvertently), a safety latch will prevent the hood from popping open all the way. Without this safety latch in place, a hood that is unlocked while the car’s moving might slam into the windshield and fully block the driver’s view.

You can easily tell when someone is trying to disengage this safety latch on their car: They hunch down in front of the vehicle, move their hand along the front edge of the hood feeling for something in there for minutes on end, and occasionally peek in between the hood and grill. Gratuitous cussing and swearing has also been observed.

That is because, in most car models, you disengage the safety latch by pushing or pulling a tab on the latch, or the latch itself. Due to its location somewhere along the inside front edge of the hood, the latch is hidden from view and very difficult to spot. And even when you’ve found it, it usually takes some time to figure out how, exactly, the latch needs to be manipulated for it to disengage.

A safety latch release in plain view

The engineers who designed the hood on this BMW have taken a different route. As soon as you unlock the hood from inside the car’s passenger compartment, a handle jumps out from the car’s front grill.

BMW car's front grille with a handle protruding from it

It’s easy to spot, and lifting the hood via the handle is much more convenient than lifting it by its — often unpleasantly sharp — edges. Keeping your hand on the handle and, thus, away from the hood’s edges also reduces the risk of the hood crushing down on your fingers to almost zero.

Pulling up on the handle automatically disengages the safety latch. “Lift handle to lift whatever’s attached to it” is an interaction we encounter in our lives on a daily basis. Consequently, lifting the hood by lifting the handle feels natural, and you don’t even have to consciously think about disengaging the safety latch anymore at all.

When the lid is closed, the handle is hidden between the grill’s fins. This means that, if the handle isn’t visible, the hood is properly latched and locked.

BMW car's front grille with retracted handle somewhat hidden between the grill's fins

If you look at the list of benefits, it’s difficult to understand why most manufacturers still stick to the “traditional” safety latch design:

  • Can be located instantly
  • Lifting the hood is easier and safer
  • Disengaging the safety latch becomes transparent to the user
  • Provides visual clue as to whether the hood is properly locked