from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

The days are already getting shorter which means it’s time to be proactive with our cars. Each day from now on will have slightly less daylight and less daylight means more driving in the dark. Less daylight requires two import safety factors, you have to be seen and you have to be able to see.

Both are surprisingly simple checks. Begin by making sure you can be seen which means all your lights must work properly. That’s easy enough to do but it does take two people and some distance. Stand back from the car fifty to one hundred feet while someone in the car operates all the lights. The distance is so you can see variances in light intensity that isn’t apparent when you’re close to the car.

Suppose you have a light that is less bright than its companion light? Begin by checking the bulb to make sure it is the proper type. Many bulbs will interchange physically but the watts of light they produce is different. 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 as it makes the car more visible but more light comes from higher wattage and that means more electricity has to flow through the bulb and related parts. The extra wattage means more heat which can cause burned wires, melted bulb sockets and sometimes even melt the lamp lens.

Too dim usually means a wrong bulb but if the bulb is correct, check the bulb socket and its ground connection. Bulb sockets are particularly problematic on some GM vehicles. Inspect ground wires for corrosion where the screw attaches them to the car’s body. Also that nasty looking grease on the base of bulbs is there for a reason so don’t wipe it away; renew it when you renew the bulb. In addition to keeping moisture out of the bulb socket the grease helps hold the bulb firmly against the electrical contacts in the base of the socket. Wiping away the grease leads to corroded sockets and intermittent light as the bulb wobbles in its socket.

Headlamps are just full of nasty surprises. Most drivers and technicians alike think that if a headlamp lights it’s good. Not true because all bulbs, including headlamps, lose intensity over time. This means by age three years your headlamp bulbs may only produce fifty percent of the light a new bulb produces, that’s a serious nighttime hazard. 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, and numerous other things cause headlamps to move out of proper alignment. When your headlamps are out of alignment they don’t properly light the road so yearly headlamp alignment checks are highly recommended.

Finally, if your headlamp lenses have become dull and cloudy this will also reduce the light that reaches the road and reduce safety. Headlamp assemblies are very expensive so look for a shop that restores headlamp lenses, another economical way to help make your car more nighttime safe.