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When Was the Last Time You Checked Your Headlights?


On the checklist of car maintenance items, headlights often fall to the bottom. We don’t pay them much attention until one burns out and we’re suddenly left with only a partially lit view of the road ahead. This is not only a dangerous situation, it’s illegal. Here’s how to take care of your headlights so you can safely see.

Clean your headlights.

We clean our windshields all the time. Whether it’s dirt, mud, or nine zillion bugs during a long road trip, windshields get dirty. Since we are looking directly at that mess it’s easy to notice when the windshield needs a little cleaning. Whatever is happening to your windshield is also happening to your headlights, so give them a good cleaning, too.

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Some cars have built-in headlight washers so you can press a button and give them a bath without stopping. If your car doesn’t have this feature, then clean off your headlights the next time you stop for gas. It only takes a few seconds to make sure your headlights are clean enough to do their jobs so you can see the road.

Check headlight alignment.

This is tricky because it’s something that can be hard to notice. Your headlights might seem like they’re pointing straight ahead even when they’re out of alignment. Driving over potholes, across rough pavement, and especially off-road can knock your headlights out of alignment giving you a less than perfect view.

This isn’t something you can check yourself, but the professionals at a repair shop can do the job easily. Whether they seem aligned or not, have your headlights checked the next time you’re in for an oil change or any car repair. The service person can determine if they’re aligned correctly and make the necessary adjustments if your headlights are off kilter.

Clean fogged or yellowed lenses.

Most headlight lenses are made of a material called polycarbonate plastic. It’s a durable material that resists scratches, but over time, exposure to the UV rays of the sun causes polycarbonate lenses to oxidize. This results in a yellow or cloudy lens. The bulb behind that lens may be bright, but the oxidation on the lens keeps the light from getting to the road and hampers visibility. Have you ever tried to fix this problem on your own?

You can easily clean off this oxidation to improve your view and your car’s appearance. Your local auto parts store has a variety of headlight cleaning kits designed to make old headlights look as good as new. It’s simply a matter of applying a specially formulated polish to the lens and rubbing off that outer later of oxidation. Once your headlights are again shining bright, consider applying a UV-resistant coating to the lenses to keep them from getting cloudy again.


Repair surface scratches and peeling.

Headlights become scratched over time as a part of normal wear and tear. Rather than leaving the damage on your headlights, take a few minutes to remove the scratches. Much like removing the oxidation from plastic lens, removing scratches from the surface can be done with a simple kit as a part of regular car maintenance. It involves sanding the surface smooth and then polishing it back to its original shine. The kits are inexpensive and the process is a quick one.

Peeling is more complicated and can eventually cause damage to the interior of your light, particularly the electrical system when water gets inside the headlight. If you notice the surface of a headlight peeling or flaking, then take it in for repair before it causes more expensive damage. A quick visual inspection of your headlights should be a part of regular car maintenance to ensure your car’s overall good health.

Check for condensation.

If there is condensation inside a headlight or, even worse, a pool of water, then this needs to be repaired immediately. The moisture interferes with the quality of light and it can cause corrosion over time. This isn’t car maintenance you want to tackle on your own.

Have a professional repair the problem. It may be costly, but not as costly as letting it go. Remember, your lights are run buy your electrical system and water and electricity aren’t a good combination. A small leak left unchecked can cause major electrical problems and increase your repair costs. Get any water or condensation in your headlights checked out right away.

Don’t ignore dimming headlights.

If your headlights seem dimmer than usual or if you notice them dimming and brightening when you’re driving, then you need to have them checked. Dimming headlights are caused by several different problems, none of which should be ignored.

A corroded ground wire is one of the most common causes of dimming headlights. The ground wire connects to your car’s chassis and can become dirty and corroded, which will disrupt the flow of electricity to your headlights and make them dim. Other possibilities are a bad alternator or loose alternator belt. If these parts fail you could find yourself in need of roadside assistance. If you have dimming headlights, don’t wait to have the problem diagnosed.

How often do you check your headlights? Let us know in the comments below!

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