Car Care: Lighting the way
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IMPROVING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF YOUR HEADLIGHTS MAKES DRIVING AT NIGHT MORE ENJOYABLE
Sometimes we receive complaints from drivers saying their vehicle headlights are too low and they can’t see at night.
This is often because the light output is weak or the bulbs aren’t bright enough.
On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for us to hear about vehicles blinding other road users with headlights that are way out of adjustment.
And, let’s not forget about vehicles driving with only one headlight operating. So, how do we give ourselves the best shot at seeing in the dark?
A good place to start is in the lenses. Check the headlight lens and ensure it is clean and clear. Glass lenses cause few problems but polycarbonate (plastic) lights can become cloudy or have a tarnished yellow tint. In this case, it’s always worth giving them a clean first with a light polish.
Many methods of cleaning a polycarbonate lens have been tested and some of the products trialled include Silvo, Brasso and Cut and Polish products. Though they all work to some extent, automotive suppliers stock products specifically designed for the job — Headlight Doctor by CRC is said to be effective and reasonably priced.
If your headlights aren’t bright enough, you may want to consider upgrading them, but be warned, it’s not as simple as replacing the old bulbs with higher-wattage or LED bulbs. It requires a bit of homework.
Always upgrade your headlights with the standard bulbs that are designed to give an increased percentage of light and brighter colour without increasing the wattage. If you make the common mistake of upgrading your light bulbs to give increased output, you risk melting and potentially catching the headlight lens, the bulb holder and the wiring alight.
Aftermarket HID (high intensity discharge) kits are available to fit into factory headlight units, but it’s important to note that these are super-bright, high-voltage lighting systems that should only be installed into vehicles that were originally equipped with them. It’s illegal to retrofit an aftermarket HID kit to a vehicle that was not designed to use these in the first place.
You may also want to consider upgrading to LED bulbs. They are becoming more popular because of their bright light output, longevity and low power consumption — but there are a few important things to consider before blinging out your car.
Modern vehicle electronics can use a complicated, multi-communication, CAN bus system. This uses multiple signals that travel down a twisted pair of wires and they can also have warning systems to alert you if a bulb is out. LED bulbs may compromise these signals and confuse the system or damage the electronic control module, which can be costly to replace. But we are now starting to see the next best thing in automotive lighting: laserlight. Laserlight headlights have a beam distance two times longer than that of conventional systems.
Though the system can be used only for high-beam applications and is currently found only on the new BMW 7-series, we expect to see many manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon soon.
If you’re loading your car with heavy bags for a long weekend, you may need to adjust your headlights to avoid blinding other drivers.
For vehicles that have a manual adjustable system, there’s often a thumb scroll switch numbered 0-4 — zero being the highest setting for lights. You can lower the headlight height from the “standard” position, but remember to switch it back after unloading. This is still effective only if your headlights are aimed correctly to start with, and is required to be checked at every warrant of fitness.
Another tip: check both headlights are operating before driving at night.