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Brighten the Night with Proper Headlight Maintenance

Published: September 2019

You may think your car's headlights are in good shape as long as they power on when you need them. But, have you ever thought about headlight maintenance and how it can help improve their performance? From learning how to inspect your headlights to how to adjust them, these tips can help you ensure they're properly lighting the road while you're driving at night.

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Clean the Headlights

Are the lenses (the plastic covering) on your car's headlights crystal clear, or do you see some fogginess and yellowing? Popular Mechanics says most manufacturers apply a UV protective film to the exterior of the lens to help protect the headlights. Over time, UV rays can damage this film and cause the lenses to appear foggy or yellow — this can contribute to impaired visibility while driving at night.

If your headlights are no longer clear, a headlight restoration kit may help clean them. The steps typically involve sanding and waxing, so be sure to follow the kit instructions to help ensure you clean the headlights properly. If you don't see a big improvement, you may need to use another restoration kit or buy replacement headlights, says Popular Mechanics.

Replace Headlight Bulbs

If your headlight lenses are clear but still seem to let off dim lighting, it may be time to replace the bulbs. Headlight bulbs naturally dim over time and need to be replace every few years, according to Consumer Reports. When choosing a bulb, The Family Handyman recommends selecting a long-life bulb if you do more night driving. These bulbs last about three times longer than standard bulbs.

Check and Adjust Light Bulbs

Check your headlight bulbs to see if they are centered correctly and pointing towards the road. Over time, bulbs can become misaligned and end up pointing too high, too low or off to one side. Some cars have built-in bubble levelers to help you align the headlights, notes Popular Mechanics. These are typically located on the sides and top of the headlight unit. If you can see that the bubbles are not centered in the levelers, you'll know the headlights need adjusting.

To check the aim of your bulbs manually, Popular Mechanics recommends following these steps:

  1. Make sure your car is level. If necessary, remove any items from your vehicle (or trunk) that may be offsetting the balance.
  2. Pull the vehicle as close as possible to a plain-colored wall and turn on the headlights.
  3. Mark the center of where each light beam hits the wall with pieces of tape. Place one piece of tape horizontally and one vertically. The vertical piece of tape should be about 2 feet long.
  4. Back up your vehicle about 25 feet and keep the headlights on. If the bulbs are set properly, the most intense portion of the light beam should be at the center of (or right below) the horizontal piece of tape and to the right of the vertical piece of tape.

If you find that you need to adjust the headlights, locate the adjusters and move them as needed — these are typically a bolt or screw on the sides or back of a headlight, says Popular Mechanics. You can also check your owner's manual for details on adjusting your vehicle's headlights.

If you have any concerns as you inspect or clean your headlights, consult with a mechanic or auto repair shop for advice. And remember, your headlights aren't the only lighting components on your car that may need inspecting from time to time. Be sure to check your tail lights, brake lights and turn signal bulbs regularly and replace them as needed.

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Our pages are filled with helpful tips and information about the topics that most of us face in our everyday lives. We focus on safety and maintenance issues with regard to your home, auto, apartment, motorcycle, boat, small business, finances and more. Please recognize that a particular tip may not be effective in every circumstance and that taking preventive measures cannot guarantee any outcome. We encourage you to use your own good judgment about what's appropriate for you and your property and always consider safety.
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