Dealing with Headlights and Directional Signals

Directional signals and fog lights make it easier for you to see and be seen; overhead lights, map lights, lit glove compartments, and illuminated mirrors on sun visors all require attention periodically. In this section, I deal primarily with headlights and modern headlamps.

If you experience problems with other lights, it’s usually just a matter of changing the bulb or changing the fuse associated with the light. If that doesn’t do the trick, seek professional help. Older vehicles have headlights with sealed-beam units (bulbs).

Modern vehicles have headlamps filled with halogen or Xenon gas. In the interest of brevity, where I refer to both systems, I just call them headlights.

Troubleshooting headlights

It doesn’t hurt to wash the outside of your headlights and taillights occasionally; clean lights provide better visibility at night. If you still have trouble seeing at night (and you’ve been getting enough vitamin A), check to make sure that both of your headlights are shining straight ahead rather than at the side of the road or into the eyes of other drivers. If they appear to be out of alignment, check out the “Checking headlight alignment” section late.

Determining which headlights you have

Before attempting to replace or adjust your headlights, you need to know whether you have halogen or Xenon headlamps or the old-style sealed-beam units. You can tell which type of headlights you have by looking at them when they’re on at night. Headlights with sealed-beam units are quickly going out of style. The light they give off is just plain white.

Many modern vehicles have halogen headlights. The newest models often come with HID (high-intensity discharge lamps), also called Xenon or bi-Xenon lamps. Light from Xenon lamps has a bluish cast.

If you’re in doubt, check the clear outer cover of your headlamp assembly. If it’s marked with D1R, D1S, D2R or D2S, you have HID lamps. (Those markings denote the type of bulb.) If the lens cover isn’t marked and you still see a bluish cast to the light from the lamps, you either have an aftermarket Xenon system or a halogen bulb that’s been tinted. Your parts dealer or service facility can tell which type you need by looking at the bulb.

Replacing and adjusting halogen and Xenon headlamps

Although they are far more powerful than sealed-beam units and enable a driver to see 20 percent farther, these modern units require less power to operate. Xenon are the brightest, have the longest life, and consume the least power.

Halogen and Xenon headlamps have also allowed designers to get pretty creative with shapes because they use small, replaceable lamps that don’t have to be contained in round or rectangular housings.

The connector can be held in place by a ring that unlocks by twisting it counterclockwise, by a little catch that you need to press down while pulling on the plug, or by a metal clip that pulls off (don’t lose it!).

Last word

Don’t touch the replacement glass bulb! Natural oils from the skin on your fingers will create a hotspot that will cause the new bulb to burn out prematurely. Instead, handle the bulb by its plastic base or the metallic tip, if it has one. Also, these fragile bulbs are filled with gas under pressure, so be careful to avoid breaking them.

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