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The Ins and Outs of Headlight Safety & Maintenance

By Justin Stoltzfus

Headlight Safety
Of all of the features that we examine during the car shopping stage, headlights are not usually a prominent selling point. However, they're among the more important parts of a vehicle in terms of driving safety. Front lights ensure that a driver can see and be seen by others. Without them, the roadway would be far more dangerous. Read on for tips on keeping car headlights in good condition and using them correctly:

When to Use Headlights. Each state in the U.S. has its own requirements and guidelines for turning on headlights. As a general rule, drivers should always use them in bad weather, in the darkness of night as well as during dusk or dawn, and anytime when visibility is low.

Using High Beams. The high beams on a vehicle are for use when there's no oncoming traffic. High beams or 'brights' can help drivers see further, but when used on busy two-way roads, they can also prevent others from seeing the road because of glare. High beam glare can cause serious problems. Prolonged exposure to high beam glare can temporarily affect your night vision; AAA recommends looking to the center of your pathway and using the painted edge lines to guide your vehicle when driving at night. Experts suggest using high beams on one-way roads or on isolated roads without much traffic, where a driver can turn them off if he or she sees a car approaching. As for inclement weather, high beams can be good for times when bad weather cloaks the road in darkness, but they can also lead to glare when used in fog, snow, sleet or other conditions so use them with caution.

Headlight Restoration and Maintenance. Drivers should ensure their headlights are working properly by implementing periodic checks - turn on the lights and walk around the front of the vehicle to have a look to make sure both bulbs are on (be sure to stabilize the vehicle in park first!). Additionally, check your headlight alignment - sometimes, car headlights get crooked, and light doesn't shine directly ahead as it's supposed to. If this happens, you may need to take your vehicle to a shop to get this repaired.

Keep headlight lenses clean; dirt and debris can cloud the light casings and prevent the full shine from getting through. Over time, lenses can also yellow with age, which can impact the quality of light coming out. This is when headlight restoration becomes critical. Often, mechanics will check the brilliance of the headlights as part of routine annual state inspections. Don't be surprised if a shop requires a "re-lamination" or other alteration as part of getting an inspection sticker. States are making sure that vehicles on the road are able to use the full light capacity provided by the manufacturer to keep roads safer for everyone.

October 23, 2013, 9:13 AM

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