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Different Types of Car Lights and their Uses


The numerous lights on an automobile have different purposes, such as assisting the driver or signaling to other cars. Fog lights, headlights, taillights, brake lights, signal lights, and emergency lights are among the several types of car lights. 

Headlights and taillights illuminate the way for a driver. Fog lights can light up the road when visibility is limited by thick fog. Emergency lights alert others that the driver has problems.

While a turn signal may indicate a change of direction to other drivers, a brake light indicates that the driver is pressing on the brake pedal to slow down or stop. Another difference between lights is their placement.

Fog lights, signal lights, and headlamps are located on the front of a car, while brake lights and emergency lights are on the back. Now, let’s look closely at each light:

1. Headlights

It is critical to have properly operating headlights for your road safety! Headlights assist you in navigating the road at night and improve visibility in bad weather. Driving at night with malfunctioning headlights is actually illegal and you will get a ticket for that.

For automotive headlights, the Kelvin scale is around 2,500 – 4,600. There are four different types of headlight bulbs:

  • The halogen bulb is the most popular type of lightbulb for headlights. It is filled with pressurized inert gas and a small quantity of chemically reactive halogen gas. These types of bulbs burn hot and this is why they burn out the quickest.
  • LED (Light-Emitting Diode) bulb is made up of miniature semiconductors and emits a bright, white light that can illuminate up to a mile ahead without blinding anybody. These bulbs are energy-efficient but more expensive.
  • Xenon (HID lights or High-Intensity Discharge lights) is a type of headlamp that uses a mixture of xenon and argon gases. These lights are on the bright side of the Kelvin scale, which makes them way too bright for oncoming traffic. Usually found in higher-end vehicles.
  • Laser lights are the most long-lasting out there, but the most expensive as well.

The headlight system comes in two versions:

  1. Reflector. This system is often less expensive and gives more flexibility in terms of design.
  2. Projector. This system is more expensive and will produce a more even light output without too much glare.

Low-beam and high-beam are the two types of headlights that are used in modern cars. These lights allow the driver to see the road in the dark while also alerting other drivers to the presence of a vehicle.

Headlights come in two settings:

  • Low beams
  • High beams

Low beams

Low-beam headlights provide a wider, side-weighted beam of light that is much easier to regulate for glare. They distribute light such that appropriate forward and lateral illumination is provided without blinding other road users.

These types of headlamps are commonly used by drivers during the day as well, and they are turned ON automatically on newer models. They are intended to increase your visibility to other drivers, but some drivers find them disturbing in oncoming traffic.

High beams

High beams are bright, center-weighted lights that have no glare control. These types of car lights are extremely bright and should be used with caution.

While low-beam headlights are intended for everyday driving, high-beam headlights are intended for use on highways at night with no cars in front of you. They will light up a huge area very brightly, but unfortunately, at the expense of blinding drivers in front of you.

Therefore, on certain roads, you’ll have to turn them OFF when cars are coming in the opposite direction. On other roads, like divided highways with a center divider, you’ll need to turn them off when there are cars on your side as well.

If there are no cars ahead of you on the dark road, you can turn on your high-beam headlights and enjoy the good illumination. It is very important to drive with your high-beam headlights ON only when necessary.

When you want (or need) to see further down the road at night, when visibility is poor, you may want to switch to high beams. Only make sure there is no upcoming traffic or any cars in front of you.

High beams are also used to alert drivers of different events

For example, if you are giving them “the right of way” when they are turning into your road or there is an accident or a cop hiding in the bushes. This type of signaling usually includes short flashing of the high beam lights.

2. Fog lights

Fog lights should NOT be confused with daytime running lights! They are designed to be utilized at moderate speeds in low-visibility scenarios like fog. Fog lights could be used when weather conditions call for low-beam headlights to help reduce glare.

They’re an extra set of lights that shine light 12 to 18 inches above the road surface. The laws governing the use of fog lights differ from state to state. Fog lights are not allowed in some areas of the United States, and drivers should check local laws before using them.

You generally use these lights in foggy or rainy weather. These lights have a shorter range and a higher beam than headlights, so they light the road about two hundred feet ahead of the vehicle instead of three hundred feet.

Cars with fog lights have one on each side of the front bumper. The driver can turn fog lights on by pressing a switch labeled “fog light.” Fog lights are positioned at a low angle to avoid refraction in the fog.

They are also extremely useful when driving on roads with sharp curves. You need fog lights when your regular headlights aren’t strong enough to illuminate the road ahead, but they are in addition to them and NOT a replacement!

Because of their short-range, these lights should NOT be used when the road is clear and the weather is dry, as you will blind other drivers.

If you’re in a foggy area with lots of traffic, cars with low-angled fog lights will almost certainly blind you. This is why they give off yellow light, which some drivers prefer because it is easier on the eyes.

So, why should you use fog lights instead of headlights in bad weather? On a foggy night, headlights would not illuminate the road in front of the vehicle as well as fog lights, because fog and rain restrict visibility in all directions to about two hundred feet.

  1. Cars with headlights would have to be driven at about thirty miles per hour or less in foggy weather in order to see more than two hundred feet ahead of the vehicle.
  2. Fog lights would allow a driver to illuminate the road at four or five times that distance.

Fog lights are not required by law, and their use is discouraged in some countries due to the added glare they cause for other drivers. Some European countries require fog lights on trucks and larger vehicles. The use of fog lights is prohibited in most states when there is NO fog or rain.

3. Taillights

The red lights on the back of a vehicle are known as tail lights and they get turned ON automatically along with headlights. They light up more when you stop the vehicle and become dimmer when you are moving.

The most popular type of lightbulb for taillights is halogen, but LED is becoming increasingly more common. You really CANNOT drive without working tail lights, because it is the SAFETY ISSUE!

The purpose of taillights is to let other drivers see you on the road at night. They are also very useful when backing up in low-light conditions.

You may also be pulled over if your tail light is not working and this is why you need to replace it ASAP to avoid further problems.

4. Brake lights

If your brake lights aren’t working, you might just be in really big trouble! It is not only is it dangerous to drive with no brake lights that indicate when you’re slamming on the brakes, but you could also be getting a ticket.

This is the red-colored light on the back of the car that warns other drivers that you are braking or slowing down. The brake light gets triggered when you press the brakes. Common problems with brake lights include:

  1. Your brake light is out
  2. The fuse is blown

In the event of an accident or if you press the brakes while going down on the road, other drivers need to be able to see your brake lights. If your brake lights don’t function properly, other drivers may not realize that you are stopping and could hit you from behind.

Once a brake light problem is discovered it is always preferable to have a professional take care of it. In many cars, a single light bulb with a double filament takes care of the brake and taillight (as explained in this article).

The brake lights will light up in red on the rear of your vehicle when you apply pressure to the brakes. The taillights on most automobiles are red, but the brake lights are a BRIGHTER red.

So, here are your main light combo in the back of your vehicle:

  1. Brake light – steady bright red
  2. Taillight – steady red
  3. Backup light – steady white
  4. Turn signals – blinking red

It is critical for all car owners to check that all outside lights are operational on a regular basis, but especially the brake lights! The simplest way to check brake lights (and other lights on the back) is to have somebody standing behind the car while you are pressing the brakes.

You don’t need to start your engine, but you will need to turn the ignition to the ON position for this to work. Following a regular maintenance routine that includes inspecting the brake and tail lights is highly recommended as well.

5. Back-up (or reverse) lights 

A backup light in a vehicle is located on the back and will illuminate in white when reversing. Its purpose is to warn others of your vehicle when you are backing up.

Every vehicle, regardless of its class or price range, is equipped with a reverse light. It serves as a warning to other drivers approaching from behind that you are about to reverse.

Another function of the backup light is to provide illumination. In low-light situations, the backup light offers enough illumination to determine where and how much to reverse.

This light only comes ON automatically when you shift into reverse gear and will help you avoid serious accidents when backing up. These lights should NOT be mistaken for brake lights though (which are red and engage ONLY while braking).

6. Turn signals 

Turn signal lights are installed on all four corners of your vehicle. On the dashboard, you will notice green arrows pointing in the direction of the desired turn when they are lighted up.

They are turned ON by pushing a lever which is normally located to the left of the steering wheel on most cars. If you push the lever UP, a right turn signal is illuminated, if you push it DOWN, then the left turn signal illuminates.

It normally turns OFF automatically once the turn is made and if it does not, should turn it off manually as quickly as possible. Turn signals are blinking lights that are mainly used to indicate a directional change.

These are special high-intensity lights that blink rapidly to inform other drivers of your intention to turn or merge onto another road. They are typically red in color and may be seen flashing during a turn.

If the right turn signal lamp flashes, a person is making a right turn, if the left turn signal lamp flashes, a person is making a left turn.

7. Hazard (or emergency) lights

An emergency light or hazard light is a flashing indicator on your vehicle that alerts drivers that you are a temporary hazard. They’re normally engaged by pressing a red triangle-shaped button on the dashboard.

Under hard braking or if the car is involved in an accident, some cars may automatically activate the hazard warning lights (usually European versions). They’re there to let other drivers know that you’re a temporary hazard.

If you’ve broken down on the side of the road or need to change a tire, then you should be turning ON a hazard light (which is sometimes called – an emergency light). You should also utilize this light if you are being towed.

These lights are NOT for normal driving conditions, even if you are slow in traffic!

You should NOT park illegally and use warning lights to alert other drivers of that! This light is for “Emergencies ONLY” and should not be misused.

Also, don’t forget to turn this light OFF when you start driving normally, since it may interfere with your signaling indicators.

8. Interior lights

These lights are there to light up your interior and most cars have them. They are usually mounted on the vehicle’s ceiling and illuminate when you enter or exit a vehicle.

Normally, the light remains turned ON until you and your passengers safely tighten their seat belts. It can also be turned ON manually if you need the light inside for any specific purpose.

Dimming lights

If your interior lights start dimming, it is a good sign that your battery is dying or the alternator is failing. This is also true if put too many accessories in your car and your alternator simply cannot handle it!

Interior lights are usually good indicators of anything that is wrong with a vehicle’s electrical system. If you have a multimeter, you can place it on the battery’s terminal while the engine is operating to see if your alternator is actually charging it.

Flickering lights

Once again, interior lights can help with alerting you to a bigger problem like battery corrosion or an electrical issue. If you notice that your lights are flickering, it’s a good time to have a professional inspection done on your car.

This flicker can be caused by faulty wiring or a faulty connection, so have your mechanic check it out. Flickering interior lights are one of the most common car problems that can occur, but it’s also easy to fix depending on the issue.

If you think you have a serious problem, contact the nearest mechanic:

Attention! This article is for informational purposes ONLY and is NOT a replacement for professional advice! ALWAYS consult your local specialist for an appropriate solution to your problem. All statements, prices, contact information, recommendations, and reviews contained herein came from sources that we believe to be reliable, but the accuracy or completeness thereof is not guaranteed. Please contact the service provider for complete details and updates.

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