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Lighting the way in the darkness…in your car

October was officially National Headlight Safety Month, but darn! We missed it. No problem…headlight safety is a year-round thing anyway. (And if you just get insanely busy this winter, then you can wait for April, which is National Car Care Month.)

And so, here’s a January tribute to headlight safety. Now is a fine-enough time to check all your vehicle lights: headlights, tail lights including back-up and brake lights, turn signals, license-plate illuminators and mirror lights. (And while you’re at it, check your windshield wipers – your visibility is only as good as the windshield, no matter how well those lights are working.)

High beams or low, they need to give you the view of the roadway so you have time to react to anything ahead, from a deer entering the highway, to a pedestrian, to simply a curve coming up along an unfamiliar stretch.

“Driving a car that has major visibility problems can be like getting behind the wheel without your glasses,” says automotive expert Sam Memmolo, quoted on, a great blog of automotive advice for women. Headlights do dim over time, so check them regularly.

To check your headlights, park your car on a level surface facing a wall and about 5 feet away from it. Check the light display: If it isn’t bright or soft white, or is yellow or dim, and the circles aren’t even and aligned straight, time to replace the bulbs.

Oh, and always replace bulbs in pairs even if the other bulb seems fine, so you can get consistency and the intensity you need. You can expect to find a range of quality and performance, so buy smart – you and your passengers are riding on your visibility.

Checking the rear lights is the same process, just backing in and looking at the pattern on the wall with your rearview mirror. If you replace your bulbs and the lights still don’t work, try replacing the fuse. These are small and inexpensive, so it’s a bright idea to keep spares in your glove box.

And just for fun — or if you are a real connoisseur of headlights and visibility, check out Peter White’s research site on headlight beams.

Cloudy or just dirty? Either way, a real detriment to visibility.

Headlight cataracts
If you are driving a car that’s older than 10 years, first off – Congratulations!

At the same time, surely you’ve noticed how crummy-looking the plastic lenses of your headlights are. Maybe you’ve even noticed that the “cataracts” have diminished how much light makes it through to light your way.

Yes, we know that replacing the lenses can mean hundreds of dollars. But there is another option, and all you need (we’re told) is an electric drill (check), about an hour of time (check) and a headlight lens restoration kit – around $30 – from an auto parts store (hello, Fred Beans NAPA!).

The procedure involves scouring away the clouded surface and polishing each lens to a shiny, new-looking clarity. Your headlights will shine in the darkness and gloom providing  far greater visibility and a safer ride for you, your passengers and others on the roadways with you.

Winter salt spray and muddy water from sand and snow melt mean you should be wiping down your headlights and tail lights frequently in the winter.