What To Do About Cloudy Headlights

AAA Auto Repair Article
By AAA Automotive
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Are your headlights failing you?

Properly functioning headlights are key to safe nighttime driving. With 50 percent of crashes occurring at night, drivers cannot afford any reduction in visibility. Yet research by AAA shows that deteriorated headlights – found on millions of vehicles on the road today – reduce the amount of light output by nearly 80 percent as compared to new lenses.

Most of today’s cars use halogen reflector headlights, which have covers typically made of plastic with a protective coating to prevent scratching and sunlight damage. Exposure to sunlight breaks down this coating, causing yellowing and clouding that noticeably lessens the headlight’s ability to provide enough light on dark roadways. Depending on where and how the car is used, headlights can begin to show signs of deterioration within three to five years before requiring maintenance from a professional mechanic.

A vehicle inspection will let you know in a matter of minutes how well your lights are holding up. Once they become yellowed or cloudy, AAA’s study found that headlights may produce only 22 percent of light as compared to new lenses.

Figure 1. A headlight with a clouded lens used in AAA’s research. (AAA image)
Improving visibility

Replacing headlights with original equipment parts is the most effective method to restore light output back to 100 percent. Aftermarket parts can restore light output to between 83 and 90 percent of the original unit, with some limitations in light intensity and increased possibility of glare. Replacement can cost anywhere from $130 to $430 depending on the type of part selected (original or aftermarket) and method of installation (professional versus do-it-yourself).

Restoring headlights offers less of an improvement in light output than replacement. This cost-effective option can return light output to about 70 percent of that of new lights. This process can cost between $20 and $190 depending on whether it is done professionally or by the driver with a kit that can be purchased at a local automotive parts store.

Figure 2. The same headlight after refinishing. (AAA image)
Add headlights to your inspection routine

AAA suggests drivers routinely check headlights for signs of deterioration. If the headlight appears to be yellowed or cloudy and the bulb is difficult to see, it’s time to schedule some much-needed car care as soon as possible. Choosing restoration or replacement will depend upon your budget and how long you plan to keep the vehicle. Once the lens is fixed, it’s important to make sure headlights are properly re-aimed to maximize forward lighting performance and minimize glare to oncoming and preceding motorists. You can be a safer driver and help reduce accidents on the road.

During your next auto shop visit, you can also get an oil change service and wheel alignment at the same time. Replacement and restoration services are provided by most repair shops including many AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities. These facilities have met AAA’s high standards for appearance, technician training and certification, insurance coverage and customer satisfaction. AAA regularly inspects every Approved Auto Repair facility and surveys their customers to ensure quality performance. In addition, AAA members receive special benefits that include auto repair discounts, an extended 24-month/24,000-mile parts and labor warranty, and AAA assistance in resolving repair-related issues.

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