Whether you drive a standard passenger vehicle that uses the common H11 headlight or operate a fancy pick-up truck with white rock lights for a cool undercarriage glow at night, you need to take good care of your headlights. More than 2,500 traffic fatalities every year are directly caused by headlights that are not operating properly.
Here are some of the top reasons that it's vitally important to do regular headlight maintenance:
- Scratches: Minor scratches are the least of the problems you’ll have with your lights' exterior casing—but they’re still a nuisance. Too many scratches from excessive wear and tear on the case can lead to bad visibility, uneven lighting ability, and potentially a crack in the surface of the lens. See "Cracking" below.
- Poor alignment: Here's a problem that is hard to notice but can be a real danger. Poor shocks and too much off-road driving can lead to the headlight bulbs getting out of place and aiming in a different direction than they should. If the situation is extreme, you might see the beams aiming in odd directions and not in tandem. Have a technician fix this problem as soon as possible if you suspect poor beam alignment.
- Condensation: If water or humidity gets inside the light casing, you can be in for some electrical trouble. When you see moisture droplets on the inside of your lens, get your lights checked by a professional.
- Yellowing: A yellow or foggy look on the plastic light cover comes from too much sun exposure. You can remove this discoloration but will need to use plenty of "elbow power" when doing so. When you're done, consider applying one of the many retail protectant solutions that can prevent further fogging or yellowing.
- Dimming: When headlights intermittently or permanently go dim while you're driving, it's highly likely that you need to replace them as soon as possible. Dimming is a common symptom of old or damaged lights, so be sure to get two, not just one, new headlamps when you do the replacement. It's important to purchase a pair of new lights so the beams will be of the exact same strength.
- Cracking: Cracked lenses are usually not a super-serious problem when you first notice them. But it's wise to replace the lens covers before the cracks become so deep that they allow water and dirt to get inside the casing.
- Flaking: Flaking of the light case, also known as the lens, is a common problem on older cars. Lenses last a long time and are built to withstand a lot of punishment. But, after a while, even the highest-quality lenses begin to flake. Unlike discoloration, which can be cleaned off, flaking is a more serious problem and is a sign that you should replace them right away.
How to Care for Your Headlights
If you find serious problems with your headlights, visit a technician and have them fixed as soon as possible. For minor problems, like slight discoloration, tiny amounts of chipping, and grime build-up, you can usually take care of the problem yourself. Here are some essential strategies for self-care of your car's headlamps:
- No matter what kind of headlamps you prefer, the typical H11 headlight, or the bright-shining LED bulb headlight, you need to do a walk-around of your vehicle at least once per week. Make note of anything out of the ordinary.
- If you notice slight chipping, tiny bumps, minor peeling, or a few spots of discoloration, use some medium-grade sandpaper to work on the bad areas. Don't rub too much, just enough to get the crack, chip, or peeling area is taken care of. After that, use a fine sandpaper grade to polish the area and get it back to its original clear, shiny appearance.
- Grime and dirt build-up can usually be removed with a retail window cleaning solution. Always remember to clean light casings in the shade, or preferably indoors. Don't try to clean any part of your car while it is in direct sunlight. Spray cleaner directly onto the grimy part of the light cover and let it sit for a minute or so, then remove as much dirt as possible with a sponge. Repeat until the surface is clean again.
- Rock lights for trucks are not headlights, per se, but still, need to be checked for the sake of appearance if nothing else. Look for bulbs or entire sections of the lighting that are not functioning properly. This could be a sign that there is a problem in your electrical system that needs to be looked at by a technician.
Headlights are an essential part of your vehicle's safety features and are just as important as things like brakes, tires, airbags, and electronic warning systems. Many vehicle owners routinely check things like tires, oil, washer fluid, windshields, alignment, and dozens of other things but neglect to care for headlights. Don't fall into the trap of forgetting to do routine headlight maintenance. Headlight maintenance is easy, doesn't cost much, takes very little time, and can save you a lot of money down the road in terms of preventive care. Take care of your headlights and you'll enjoy a safer time on the road, wherever you go.