Answers to Headlight & Tail Light Questions

BY MICHAEL D.

To get where you’re going, you need to be able to see where you’re going — and be seen by others. This is especially important when navigating through inclement weather. The right set of headlights and tail lights can mean life or death for you, your passengers and other travelers, but before you strike out on your next wild, on-road adventure, take a look at this article. Here, we’ll try to answer any questions you — and many like you — have about headlights, tail lights and also fog lights.

Q: How do I improve my vehicle’s light output?

A: Longer days and nights, failing eyesight, poor driving conditions — all of these are reasons to seek out brighter headlamps. But how do you go about improving your ride’s light output? As it is, manufacturers are taking care to outfit their new vehicles with the high-strength, bluish-white beams of HID systems, but what if you don’t want to trade in your trusty vehicle and start all over? Fortunately, there are several alternatives to choose from.

  1. Perhaps it may be time to upgrade to a new set of headlights and/or tail lights to reflect your style while improving your light output and visibility in all conditions.
  2. If your bulbs are halogen, you can replace them with those of a higher wattage or higher color temperature, like Putco Pure Halogen Headlight Bulbs. The ideal color temp rating for human eyes is 4300K, just in case you were wondering.
  3. Upgrade your bulbs with an LED conversion kit, putting the newest technology within reach of most cars and trucks on the road today.
  4. Make sure that the headlights are aimed correctly. If not, you should take your car back to the dealer and have the experts adjust your headlights’ aim back to spec.

It also pays to know what kind of lamps your vehicle came with — either reflector (forward light from rearward projection into the reflective dish) or projector (with the round, thick focus lens at the front of the lamp).

Here are two more tidbits that may be the deciding factor on your quest for a higher light output:

  • Halogen bulbs waste 90% of energy as heat, but only 10% as light output
  • LEDs are up to 80% more efficient than halogen, leading to a higher light output because more energy is used to produce light than is wasted

Q: What causes moisture in tail lights? HOW DO I FIX IT?

A: Moisture in your tail lights is a relatively uncommon occurrence, but it can cause serious problems. Depending on the size of the droplets within your light housings, or the amount of water that’s gathered, you could be dealing with one of two issues — condensation or water ingress. Condensation is a naturally occurring condition that can affect any light, so you don’t necessarily have a defective product on your hands. You could either be dealing with a broken seal or a crack in the tail light itself, but either way, it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Condensation is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can affect any light. It doesn’t necessarily suggest a defect in the product, as opposed to what happens when a leak occurs. Water accumulation can lead to system failure from a short circuit, often only blowing a fuse, if you’re lucky. This means you need to be sure of your diagnosis. You’ll know if it’s simple condensation if the droplets are smaller, while ingress can be recognized by larger droplets and a visible pool of water.

Fortunately, condensation doesn’t cause any functional problems with the light and therefore, isn’t considered a warrantable condition. Water ingress is typically the result of some sort of physical or structural damage, or even faulty workmanship.

Whatever the cause, here is the solution:

  1. You’ll first want to consider removing your entire tail lamp assembly if it’s accessible and you have the proper tools.
  2. Start by removing all the electrical harnesses and taking a picture or marking where each respective bulb goes.
  3. Next, remove the bulbs and lay the tail lights under the sun or take them inside to dry out and remove all moisture.
  4. When you reinstall the bulbs, ensure all the sealing O-rings are pliable and supple and don’t contain any cracks so they will seal properly. You may find applying dielectric grease to the O-ring helps it to sit properly and prevents pinching or binding to form a proper seal.
  5. Ensure the bulb locking rings (if equipped) are seated flush and installed properly.

Q: Are black tail lights legal?

A: Any Google search on this topic will no doubt lead to countless discussion forums and message boards wherein motorists lament their being pulled over and ticketed for an illegal set of too-dark tail lights. We can tell you up-front that tinting or smoking your headlights is illegal anywhere you live, but it’s not necessarily the case with tail lights.

The truth is that tail lights may be tinted to a certain degree, but for obvious safety reasons, the reflectors must be visible from 300-500 ft out. You may need to check local laws to know which is required for your custom setup. You can look up your local vehicle code on the DMV’s website. At the end of the day, you don’t want to risk anyone’s life — or, at the very least, a sizable fine — for the sake of looking cool.

Q: What are the benefits of fog lights?

A: Before we really get into the benefits, we should make the distinction between fog lights and driving lights. Typically, driving lights are mounted at the same height as, or even higher than, your headlights. Their purpose is to improve illumination under normal driving conditions. They sport different lenses than typical headlights, putting out a flat, wide beam to light up the roadside. When you’re steering headlong into a soupy fog, though, driving lights are unsuitable and if the atmosphere is reflective enough, they may even blind you.

Fog lights are designed to grant better visibility, and are just as suitable for use in heavy rain and snowfall as with mist. They’re mounted lower down on the front of your vehicle and at less severe of an angle, all but eliminating reflection back at the driver. Though they cast a wider beam, their range is also shorter.

Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of pairing fog lights with your driving headlights. We recommend switching your primary lights down to side lights or marker lights, then turning the fog lights on. Your light output will then project lower to the ground, resulting in less dazzle and backscatter.

Q: What can I do about foggy headlights?

A: All you need, really, to clear up oxidized headlights is a tube of pasty-white toothpaste (not gel), a roll of painter’s tape, a chamois towel, car wax, a bottle of water and a few minutes of your morning. Mask a barrier around the affected headlamps to protect your ride’s paintjob and rinse off any excess crud before you begin. Next, apply a generous amount of toothpaste onto the headlight and spread it out with a sponge. Rinse it off, then wipe clean. Finally, add a thin wax coat and buff it off to prevent the nasty cycle. You’ll enjoy clearer vision and more confident nighttime driving from then on. To see more, click here.

Be advised, though — as fast and even fun as this method may appear, that this improvement will be somewhat short-lived. You may even see the fogginess return after about a week, which means that ultimately, the easiest way to solve the problem is to replace your lights with a fresh, new set. Luckily for you, we sell plenty.

Conclusion

It’s our hope that once you’ve run through this list, you’ll feel more confident than before you started the search. The added bit of knowledge we pray you picked up here will make the buying experience shorter, your final decision wiser and the road still-to-be-traveled that much safer. Happy (well-lit) trails.