Car Care

Improving the effectiveness of your lights

According to NZTA, issues with vehicle lighting contribute to around seven deaths and 88 injuries on our roads each year. Inadequate lighting can make it difficult for a driver to see and for their vehicle to be seen at night. However, lights which are too bright, incorrectly fitted or poorly aligned can be just as dangerous.

So, how do we give ourselves the best shot at seeing in the dark without annoying other traffic that’s in front or oncoming? Well, a good place to start is in the lens.

Take a visual check of 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 but, failing that, you may require a full headlight replacement. Another overlooked part of the headlight is the reflector, over time the chrome reflective material can flake off reducing the effectiveness of the light output.

Many methods of cleaning a polycarbonate lens have been tested and some of the products that have been trialled are Silvo, Brasso and cut and polish products. We’ve even heard of people using Jif and whitening tooth paste. While these all work to some extent, there are now automotive suppliers who stock products specifically designed for the job - Headlight Doctor by CRC is effective and reasonably priced.
If your vehicle headlights aren’t bright enough you might 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.

Bulb upgrades must be with the same wattage but you can get some that are designed to give an increased percentage of light (+120%) and brighter colour (Cool Blue, Arctic White). If you make the mistake of upgrading your light bulbs for higher wattage output, you risk melting and potentially catching the headlight lens, the bulb holder and the wiring alight. The chrome reflective material can also be damaged by the fitment of higher wattage bulbs due to the excessive heat.

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 this system or vehicles designed for off road purposes. It’s illegal to retrofit an aftermarket HID kit to a vehicle that didn’t have it in the first place.

The majority of new vehicles are now equipped with LED front, rear and daytime running lamps and some main headlight beams also incorporate LED technology combinations. Manufacturers are switching to LED’s for their lamps due to their bright light output, longevity and low power consumption, but there is an important factor to consider before blinging out your car, (just like aftermarket HID's) these types of lights are unlikely to meet the vehicle manufacturers standards and could fail a WoF.

We are now starting to see the next best thing in automotive lighting – Laserlight. Laserlight headlights have a beam distance that’s two times longer than that of conventional systems. This system can only be used for high-beam applications and is available as an upgrade option on a few luxury vehicles in our market.

If you’re packing up your car for a long weekend with all the family, you may also need to adjust your headlights to avoid blinding other drivers. Some vehicles have automatic adjusting headlights, so when you load the vehicle up the beam height should adjust itself. For those with a vehicle that has a manual adjustable system, there’s often a small thumb scroll switch numbered 0-4 - zero being the highest setting for your lights. You can then lower the headlight height from the ‘standard’ position, but don’t forget to switch it back after unloading. This is still only effective if your headlights are aimed correctly to start with and is required be checked as a part of every warrant of fitness.

It’s always a good idea to have a quick whizz around the front of your vehicle and check that all the lights are operating before driving at night. And, if you suspect that you are not getting the best out of your lights, it’s best to pop down to your automotive parts retailer who will be able to advise you on choosing the right lamp for the job.

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