Getting around the lights in your car isn’t exactly rocket science. They need to be in working order, and you’ll know when and how to use them. There are headlights, park lights, indicators and hazard lights, tail lights and brake lights in every vehicle. These can be specified in different bulb types and lighting arrays and will function manually or automatically. You’ll also find driving lights, daytime running lights, fog lights, light bars, light strips and internal lighting that may come standard on your car, or you can add them later on.
If any of these is broken or faulty, they need to be swapped out. Bulbs might need replacing, or the housings and lens array damaged or dim. Either way, lights that don’t work as they should present a safety risk, as their primary intention is visibility, for you and anyone else on the road. Fines and demerit points, or not passing a roadworthy test is the least of your worries here.
Damage is the obvious reason you’ll need to change existing automotive driving lights. But you may also want to swap out the older bulbs in headlights or tail lights for newer tech, and the promise of more visibility further afield.
Types of Lights Standard on All Cars
These are either dipped and called low beams or are positioned higher and called high beams. They’re used when visibility is low and in less-than-perfect weather. Headlights come in two basic designs, older reflector types, and newer projection headlights.
You’ll use sidelights, also called park lights when parked beside the road, so you and your vehicle are visible to others, and at speeds below 50kph, usually in urban settings. They’re situated in the same housing as headlights
Brake and Tail Lights
These are found at the back of the car. Tail lights are automatically switched on with the front headlights to make you visible to traffic behind you. They’re found in the same housing as brake lights.
Indicators and Hazard Lights
There are two turning signals or indicators at the front, located in the left and right front wings or bumpers, or integrated in the side mirrors, and at back alongside the brake lights. Hazard lights are essentially all four indicators flashing at once, used in a breakdown or emergency.
Fog lights were once optional pieces of kit, but many cars now have them as standard. They’re used in low light situations, along with dipped beams, and illuminate a wider area at closer distances. Daytime running lights are a newer feature on cars that turn on when you turn or press the ignition. They flash intermittently until the car is turned off. Automotive driving lights are often additions to standard lights mounted on the vehicle, usually in line with the headlights. They improve visibility in low light conditions, in urban or rural settings, or when off-road. Light bars and light strips can be positioned anywhere along the vehicle, but you’ll need to check with state regulations whether they can be used on the road. Light bars work in conjunction with headlights and fog lights in extremely low lighting, whereas light strips are more about making your car visible to others. Lastly, there’s a multitude of internal cabin lighting and illumination, mounted in and above the doors, in the centre of the roofline, and above the rear-view mirror.
There are three main types of bulbs found in vehicles currently on Aussie roads. Older tech consists of halogen bulbs, which light up using a combination of nitrogen and argon, and a tungsten filament inside a glass tube. These are the cheapest to produce, but emit lower-intensity light, around 1200 Lumens in a 60 Watt bulb. The heat buildup also means they won’t last as long as other options. Xenon or HID lights work in a similar way, by heating gases and rare metals to produce a much brighter light in a white or bluish hue. They need more power to start up, but when on are considerably more efficient. In addition, they last much longer, though come in at a steeper price. Lastly, there are LEDs. These are steadily becoming the industry standard, and with reason. They emit light with comparable intensity to Xenons, but use much less power. Besides efficiency they are quicker to turn on, so are also safer. Their small size means they can be configured in various shapes and output, and used in different types of lights.
Factors to Consider When Buying Lights
- Colour Temperature – This is measured in Kelvins. The warmer the light, the lower the number. Red, orange and yellow lights have lower colour temperature and are suited for lighting in fog, rain and snow. Xenons can be optioned at 3000K so can also be used in newer fog lights. They are also available in a white(ish) colour temperature, around 5000k, or in blues and purples at around 8000 Kelvin. LEDs seem to be more natural-looking, and are chosen to avoid blinding of oncoming traffic. They shine a cool white colour at around 4000K, just below that of direct sunlight at 5500 Kelvin.
- Beams – This refers to how light is dispersed and how far. There are flood beams that illuminate a wider area closer to the driver, and spot beams, that shine a focused light farther into the distance. Fog lights will have flood beams, and headlights spot beams. New LED lights can have diodes arranged so that they offer a combination of both beam types, allowing for a wider spread of light at longer distances. This is the lighting array we see on most automotive driving lights, to create a wider field of vision when used in conjunction with factory-installed headlights.
- Brightness – Brightness is measured in Lumens, and is in direct correlation with power output. Luminous efficacy also plays a part here. Halogens fair worst, LEDs cover the middle ground and Xenons are the brightest. For example, a 15-Watt LED will put out roughly 1500 Lumens, or about 5 times that of a 15-Watt halogen bulb.
- Build Quality – If you’re getting replacement lights, you want the best quality possible. Or at least within budget. Look for metal housings with impact and water resistance, advanced lens array setups, and proven chips form reputed bulb makers. Also consider the quality of mounting parts and wiring. Some lights will bear more impact than others, and light bars fitted high in particular. Skimping here means you’ll be buying another set of lights quite soon.