from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

The number of daylight hours is already on the decrease so it’s time to perform a vehicle visibility check. Each day from now on will have slightly less daylight until we wind up driving to work and back home in the dark. I hate it! Driving in the dark makes being able to see the road a top priority but possibly even more important is, that other drivers be able to easily see you.

Both are easy at-home checks. Begin by making sure you can be seen which means all your lights must work properly. Although this check is simple enough most drivers do it wrong. To do the check right requires two people and a little distance. Stand back from the car fifty or more feet while someone in the car operates all the lights. Why so far away? That distance allows you to see variances in brightness that aren’t apparent when you’re close to the car.

If you find one light is less bright than its companion light, begin by checking the bulb to make sure it’s the proper type. To verify, look in your owner’s manual for the correct bulb number and specification. Many bulbs will physically interchange but produce more or fewer watts of light. This means it’s necessary to check both the brighter and the dimmer light as one may be too bright or the other too dim.

Brighter would seem to be a benefit because it makes the car more visible but brighter light comes from higher wattage and that means more electricity has to flow through the bulb and related parts. The extra wattage creates more heat which can burn wires, melt bulb sockets and sometimes even melt the lamp’s lens.

Too dim might mean a wrong bulb or a cheap import knockoff bulb but, if the bulb is correct and good quality check the bulb socket and ground connection. Bulb sockets can become distorted, contacts can burn and ground wires love to corrode around the screw that attaches them to the car’s body. Here’s news; that nasty looking grease on the base of many bulbs is there for a reason so never wipe it off. Actually you should always renew it when you install a new bulb. The grease protects against moisture intrusion and keeps the bulb from jiggling in the socket by holding the bulb more firmly against the electrical contacts at the base of the socket. Wiping the grease away leads to corrosion and flickering, dim or no light as the bulb wobbles in the socket.

Headlamps are just full of nasty surprises. Drivers and technicians alike think that if a headlamp lights it’s good. Not true because all bulbs, including headlamps, lose intensity over time. At age three years your headlamp bulbs may only produce fifty percent of the light they did when new. Fifty percent less light makes nighttime driving fifty percent more dangerous. So, if your headlamp bulbs are three years old replacing them with fresh bulbs is an inexpensive way to gain significant nighttime safety.

Another headlamp issue is alignment. Vibration, road shock, parking lot thumps from discourteous drivers and numerous other things cause headlamps to move out of proper alignment. This can reduce the light that actually hits the road where it’s needed. Yearly headlamp alignment checks are highly recommended.

Finally, if your headlamp lenses have become dull and cloudy the amount of light that reaches the road will be reduced; sometimes dramatically reduced. Again less light means more danger. Replacement headlamp assemblies are very expensive so look for a shop that restores headlamp lenses. Clear headlamp lenses are one more way to light your way to better nighttime safety.