By on March 30, 2016

2012 Volkswagen Passat SEL 2.5, Exterior, headlights, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has started rating headlights, and just released a report that takes a dim view on the performance of most midsize cars.

Only one vehicle out of 31 testers earned a rating of “good” from the road safety nonprofit, with the bulk of midsize vehicles earning a rating of “marginal” or “poor.”

The results are even less dazzling when you take into account optional lighting packages, which pushed the number tested to 82. Even then, it was only the LED-equipped advanced technology package on the Toyota Prius V that earned the IIHS’s acclaim.“If you’re having trouble seeing behind the wheel at night, it could very well be your headlights and not your eyes that are to blame,” said David Zuby, IIHS vice president and chief research officer, in a statement.

The headlight test, performed at the Vehicle Research Centre in Ruckersville, Virginia, recorded the illumination of nighttime road obstacles by regular low beam settings from five different approach angles. It also measured glare for oncoming vehicles.

When the results were in, researchers found the results didn’t discriminate along class lines, or nationality. The headlight performance of many luxury vehicles were outclassed by cheaper models.

The bottom of the headlight barrel are the halogen eyes on a BMW 3 Series. It was only optional equipment that allowed BMW to climb up into the “marginal” category.

“A driver with those headlights would have to be going 35 mph or slower to stop in time for an obstacle in the travel lane,” the IIHS said of the standard halogen setup.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and CLA earned a solid “poor rating,” as did the Cadillac ATS. Among lesser price tags, the Chevrolet Malibu scored poorly, but so did the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Passat.

The Subaru Legacy, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry made it into the “marginal” category, where they share space with the aforementioned Bimmer (plus the 2 Series), Audi A4, Acura TLX, and Lincoln MKZ.

Earning an “acceptable” rating were the Mazda6, Infiniti Q50, Nissan Maxima, Honda Accord, Lexus ES and IS, Volkswagen Jetta and CC, Subaru Outback, and Volvo S60.

Despite advances in road illumination — high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, LEDs and curve-adaptive headlights — the poor results mean technology still hasn’t caught up to real world driving scenarios.

With the IIHS now breathing down their necks over headlights, expect automakers to frantically upgrade their badly performing models before next year to avoid embarrassment.

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219 Comments on “Your Car’s Headlights are Probably Terrible: IIHS...”


  • avatar

    My CTS-V’s are merely meh. But I’m always shocked when I drive other people’s cars at night… recently discovered that the headlights on a 09 Subaru Outback are not far from completely useless on a twisty country road. It was kind of shocking how bad they were in what is considered a “good” mass-market car. Of course, the brakes in most mainstream cars seem marginal to me, too.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    That’s why we need BMW LaserLite, duh. I want to maintain laser modules, and need a laser technician at the shop.

    If you notice there, the cars with HID lamps as standard are the ones which make it into the acceptable category. I don’t think any of those have halogens.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It just irritates me when you can spend upward of $45K on a 3-Series and still not have HID or LED headlamps.

      But that’s not the most egregious thing that BMW omits.

      I was really flabbergasted when I received a 428i Gran Coupe loaner, and went to lock it, only to not hear it chirp behind me. Apparently, an alarm is not standard with the 4-Series and below, and if your car doesn’t have an alarm, it also won’t have any sort of external speaker to chirp and confirm a successful lock / unlock, nor to facilitate a panic function (so that the key fob will also be missing a panic button). Seems like a silly thing to not include on a Bimmer…seeing as how every other manufacturer throws it in for free. Worse, unlike the E-series vehicles, it is expensive and time-consuming to retrofit the alarm and external speaker on the F-series BMWs, since the wiring harness will need to be spliced.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Wow – an alarm is standard on what, an Accord? And a 4-Series, they can’t be bothered. BMW’s insistence on $10 and $20-ing (since it’s certainly not nickel and dime) you for everything is very annoying.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Mmm-hmm. The 4-Series in question MSRP’d at about $51K, too. Even if it wasn’t a proper alarm with sensors and such, they still could have included the speaker for the confirm-chirp and panic functions.

          And the worst part is that a lot of the dealer-ordered cars will outright lack the options you’ll want. I remember when they were still charging extra for SiriusXM (they probably still are), and a significant number of 3-Series’ on my local dealer’s lot lacked that option, which was factory-installed. Many of the 320i and 328i stock units also have the base halogen lights, which I would never go for.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy

        +1. A backup camera isn’t standard on a 4 series either. BMW seriously needs to revisit their standard equipment list.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Why? They make more money the way it is. Nobody didn’t buy one who was genuinely going to because the backup camera isn’t standard.

          I like not having to take a ton of crap I don’t want and will never use.

          Though it did irk me to have to spend $5K to not get a sunroof. The extra 90hp mostly makes up for it though.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        the problem is that the cost hit from going to HID from halogen is *enormous.* I think it’s on the order of at least 10 times more expensive. that’s why they’re only standard on higher end cars, and where they’re options they’re almost always buried in a package or “equipment group.”

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          “Many headlight problems could be fixed with better aim,”, it says.

          Since they only rate factory aim, I think that the IIHS rating invention will mostly have the effect of changing factory headlight aim.

          Which is fine.

          • 0 avatar
            NickS

            I am not familiar with that bimmer’s control modules but many of the ones used in German cars allow you to set a visual or audible confirmation. The panic button on the fob will still sound the alarm regardless of that setting.

            I used to think the audible un/lock confirmation was cool and somewhat useful on a few occasions, but I later realized I was just showing off and in the process annoying others nearby, so I disable it on all my cars. YMMV.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Nick, the BMWs in question literally lack a panic function. There is no panic button on the keyfob. There is also no way to get an audible chirp or beep confirmation of a lock or unlock because the car doesn’t have an external speaker to provide those functions. The options are altogether missing from iDrive, because the car knows it doesn’t have the hardware for that stuff. I just think it’s silly for BMW to skip out on that stuff when a base-model Chevy Spark has it.

            As far as annoying, BMWs emit light high-pitched beeps when locked and unlocked (as do Toyota/Lexus, Nissan/Infiniti and some VW Group products). It’s not particularly loud. But even with the cars that honk the horn to indicate they’ve been locked, it shouldn’t be particularly annoying to anyone…so long as you don’t press the lock button nine times.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Agree 100%. Both of my BMWs were aimed far too low from the factory. 30 seconds with an allen wrench and all was much better in the world.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Alarm is standard on the 2-series for 2016. Haven’t looked at the 3 & 4, but assume on those too. Part of the re-alignment of options that they did for 2016.

        First thing I did was disable that stupid obnoxious chirp. If you can’t hear the lock motors doing their thing, you need hearing aids.

      • 0 avatar
        Italian

        The fact that the chirp is an american market thing might be the reason why it doesn’t come on all cars. In europe when you lock or unlock a car the hazard lights blink. 2 or 3 times (depending on the car) as a sign that it’s unlocked an once as a sign that it’s locked. I think it’s by law to avoid noise polution.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’m not surprised. I was driving the Golf SportWagen on a long 330-mile trip yesterday and I had quite a hard time seeing once it got dark. And I have the optional Lighting Package with the bi-xenons.

    On a slight tangent, I’m surprised at the number of people who (a) are able to drive in such conditions with no headlamps on and (b) don’t understand that when I flash my brights at them, I’m politely reminding them to turn their lights on.

    • 0 avatar
      NeilM

      “I’m not surprised. I was driving the Golf SportWagen on a long 330-mile trip yesterday and I had quite a hard time seeing once it got dark. And I have the optional Lighting Package with the bi-xenons.”

      What generation is it?

      My 2015 Golf R (Mk7 series) has the optional lighting package, and its Bi-Xenons (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) are simply spectacular. My wife, who has generally poor eyesight, doesn’t like to drive at night, but says she can see just fine in my car.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        It’s a 2015, so also a Mk.7. Up to the Mk.7, there hasn’t been a wagon sold in the United States with the Golf nameplate.

        Note that the Golf R housings are slightly different than the bi-xenons that are available with the Golf / Golf SportWagen / GTI. The ones on the Golf R illuminate both of the decorative rings in each housing, not just the outboard ones like the base bi-xenons do. Also, the Golf R’s indicators are LED, whereas the standard bi-xenons have halogen indicators. None of that should really change the lighting pattern at night, though. Then again, the ones in the Golf R may actually swivel around curves; I don’t think mine do.

        One thing I appreciate, though, is the corner lamp function on my bi-xenons, which illuminates a diagonally-mounted bulb in the respective headlamp that’s aimed at the curb when you start to make a turn or turn your indicator on below a certain speed. It reminds me of Detroit cars from the 80s that had such lights in the bumpers.

        • 0 avatar
          NeilM

          “It’s a 2015, so also a Mk.7.”

          Other than the DRL and turn signal differences, which are largely cosmetic, your lights sound just like mine (which also have the cornering lights). I’m at a loss to explain why mine are great and yours not so much.

          For comparison purposes, our other cars are a 1996 M3 and a 2003 525iT, both with meh halogen projectors. I used to have a 2005 Mini Cooper S with Xenons which were pretty good, but not in the same league as those on the new Golf R.

          Count me among those who, back in the day, used to retrofit Cibiés to my cars!

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            It’s probably just a difference in perception and vision. I know mine are working properly. Typically, they’re great; it’s just that on the dark interstate with no other illumination, they’re fairly dim compared to other cars I’ve driven, like the E70 X5.

          • 0 avatar
            Jagboi

            I have Cibies on my old jags that have the round 7″ lights. Makes driving at night a pleasure.

            The worst lights I have ever come across were on a 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII. Plastic housings, and the silvering burns off from the bulb heat after a while. It’s sort of like driving with just parking lights on, they allow other drivers to see me, but I can’t see them.

          • 0 avatar
            KevinC

            My GF has a ’15 Golf TDI with the lighting package, an option I insisted that she needed and made her hold out for the exact car she wanted, including the lights. She now understands why, it’s absolutely spectacular lighting, probably the best on any car I’ve ever driven.

        • 0 avatar
          derekson

          Your headlights do have the adaptive turning feature.

          Note that it does disable this feature when you Turin on the fog lights though.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Thanks. I didn’t realize that, because I never see them swivel. I do see them auto-adjust up and down.

        • 0 avatar
          Delta88

          I have a Golf with the LP and I’m so surprised at how bad it is when I drive other cars at night, especially in the city and tight corners. I think you are experiencing the sharp cut off that HID’s have (I think it is more noticeable on a dark straight highway) Halogen headlights seem to gradually fade away into the dark but HID and LED have a distinct cut off that can seem strange.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            The sharp cutoff is a function of the beam pattern, not of the light source. Good halogens have just as sharp a cutoff. Even the best US-market HID lights do not have as good beam pattern as older European e-code halogens because US law won’t allow it.

            The main advantage of HID is that marketing allows enough of a higher price for them to allow the use of top-notch optics rather than the just good enough of the basic headlights.

          • 0 avatar
            Felix Hoenikker

            Exactly,
            I checked the headlights on my 14 Accord. They consist of a pair of projector low beams with a halogen bulb and a separate pair of halogen reflectors for the high beams. The low beams show the sharp cutoff of at the top of the beam that I used to associate with HID bulbs. This shows that the cutoff is a function of the projector lens and not the bulb type.
            The low beams stay on when the high beams are switched on. I find the low beans good for 98% of my night driving. I rarely use the high beams in local driving. I doubt that I have more than an hour on them in the two years that I owned the car.

    • 0 avatar
      mchan1

      “… don’t understand that when I flash my brights at them, I’m politely reminding them to turn their lights on.”

      It’s not that as much as that some people don’t care.

      Heaven help some other drivers when they yell back at you when you flash them politely to turn OFF their high beams or to let them know to turn ON their lights.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      They probably think that you are warning them of a police cruiser ahead.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    So if headlights are so important, can they say why Chrysler products are allowed to turn off one headlight when you put the turn signal on?

    Come to think of it, the real problem is people driving at night with no lights on at all. Every time I drive at night I see at least two or three.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      You’re thinking of the Chrylser daytime running lights, there’s a stupid law that requires the DRL be off while the turn signal is on. My 300C does this, the LED ‘C’ cuts off when the turn signal is on. Audi’sdo it too.

      The BiXenons on my 2011 were crazy bright when new. Note at 100k miles, they’re meh. Wouldn’t complain if they weren’t so God awful expensive to replace

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I think that law, if there is one, is only for LED DRLs. And it’s not stupid, IMO. Now that these newer cars have bright white LED DRLs, it can be hard to see an amber indicator if it’s in the same housing as said DRL.

        If it’s not in the same housing, it’s easier to see. For instance, the new Mustang has bright LED DRLs, but the indicators are in the bumper, beside the fog lamps.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          For the first time the other day, I saw a Lexus which keeps the DRL running at the same time as the blinker right above it. I can’t recall which model it was, though.

        • 0 avatar
          Lack Thereof

          My Chevy keeps the DRL’s burning at the same brightness no matter what the turn signals are doing.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          Hell, pet rant time:

          I’ve noticed some cars, new and stock by all appearances, have turn signals that are *just hard to see* during the day, when it’s bright, even apart from DRL/headlight glare.

          Either the signal is basically invisible from the side, or it’s just a yellow bulb in a clear housing, making it a point illumination …

          It’s not like turn signals are important, right?

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        I think that they stopped the “DRL off” feature since most people thought it was a system fault.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      During the daytime, I know that some of FCA’s cars will turn off the daytime-running lamp (DRL) to make it easier to see the amber indicator. In that instance, the DRL is the narrow strip of LEDs that frames the perimeter of the light housing. It is NOT the actual headlamp. During the nighttime, the car will simply dim the respective DRL.

      In fact, my Golf SportWagen also does that.

      Other cars, like the new Volvo XC90, effectively use the entire DRL as a turn indicator, and it will go from solid white to flashing orange when the driver signals.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      that’s only the DRLs, to make sure the DRL doesn’t mask the turn signal in daylight conditions. if you actually have the headlamps “on,” they don’t turn off with the turn signal.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I was observing a a newer (2015 – 2016) Charger while in traffic and it simply dimmed the DRL when the headlights were on and the driver signaled—as opposed to turning completely off, like it would in the daytime. I don’t know if other automakers also use the dimming tactic.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I’ll have to double check, but I don’t believe my Ranger dims/shuts off the DRL when the turn signal is on. Though mine was originally sold in Canada so the legal requirements might have been different.

          • 0 avatar
            brettc

            I don’t think any of the old-school cars without LED headlights do such things, or at least I’ve never seen it. The new cars that shut the DRL off with the signal confuse me.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            back in 2006 I noticed this behavior on a 2007 Durango.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      The “no lights at night” problem is due to illuminated or backlit instrument clusters combined with daytime running lights so clueless people dont have a clue that the rest of the vehicle exterior lights are not turned on. I try to point out the windwo at their front lights if traveling along side them or turn off my lights if infront of them which causes them to want to flash their headlights sometimes and realize that the lights are not fully on.

      You cannot fully turn off most new cars instrument cluster lights now while the car is running with the head lights on. It used to be you could turn everything off except for the blue high beam indicator or a cruise control light. In years past for various vehicles, both my father and I had fashioned little pieces of cardboard or plastic to hide the cruise control indicator light for driving with a darkened instrutment cluster.

      I’ve even darkened a ceiling mounted overhead central LED light due to the reflection from around the hole the LED is sunk into because the light cannot be turned off. (current generation of Hyundai Sonata).

      Tis a sad loss for driving without interior lights on straight highways with cruise control on…

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        My M has this feature still, I can black out the entire cluster at night. Made me feel very uneasy when I tried it.

        • 0 avatar
          TDIGuy

          > I can black out the entire cluster at night

          I remember driving a last generation Pontiac Grand Prix with that feature. Had a big button behind the shifter that when you pushed it, the gauge cluster lit up with the words “stealth mode” and then faded to black. Only the HUD worked so at least you knew how fast you were going.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Ha, I don’t have anything as classy as STEALTH MODE. You have to turn it down via the adjuster knob. Saab had a Night Panel button doing something similar for a long time.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        I have driven without lights myself on a few rental cars recently — due to a confluence of factors:

        1) Interior instrumentation that’s lit up during daytime, such that it’s not obvious that you don’t have your lights on. Many cars now have instrument clusters that are *brighter* in daytime than at night. Combine that with a large touchscreen handling most of the car’s other controls, and you lose even the cue of not being able to see your radio buttons.

        2) Daytime running lights that are bright enough to illuminate the road ahead noticeably

        3) The infuriating tendency of every rental agency and valet on the planet to turn *off* automatic headlights on cars equipped with them.

        It’s the last one that drives me nuts. I wish manufacturers would change their auto lamps so they’re impossible to deactivate mindlessly — make them default to on and include a one-time defeat, or at least make the auto control sufficiently different from the manual that it can’t be turned off the same way.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          It seems like every time I get into my grandmother’s Kia Soul, she has turned the auto headlamps to off, and turned the dome lights off so that they don’t illuminate when the doors are opened.

          Maybe grandma’s gang-banging, and she needs to keep her lights off; that’s the only thing I can come up with.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Oh man, my brain went to the OLD definition of “gang-banging” and my eyebrows raised a bit at the thought of what granny was doing in the dark. Then I realized what you probably really meant… :-)

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            She’s making it darker so she can’t see all your root beer stains!

  • avatar
    qfrog

    Halogen lamps are a legacy item specified for poverty spec and lease price point cars. Xenon or LED are a must IMO if you do any sort of extended night time driving particularly at high speed. I can say that a 50w D2S system changes night time driving completely.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      if you’re putting those xenon capsules in housings meant for halogen bulbs, you need to be beaten with reeds.

      • 0 avatar
        qfrog

        No, I spend the money and buy xenon housings and adjust the lamps to dip the left lamp lower than the right to reduce oncoming’s chances of directly viewing the portion of the projector unit that isn’t shielded.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        The people who retrofit their OEM halogen housings to have HID projector beams aren’t even the main ones that draw my ire anymore. Nor are the ones who buy cheap Chinese HID housings on eBay.

        No, there are now idiots driving around with blue, green, red and purple LED DRLS on their cars. Sometimes, the entire headlight will be colored. Not only does it not provide adequate light, it’s annoying and distracting to other drivers (especially the purple). And I usually see them on vehicles that sit high—like Silverados and F250s—so that if the person is behind you, the lights are aimed directly into your wing mirrors.

        I really wish cops would start pulling these people over and ticketing them, or taking their cars off the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      The type of reflector or lens has far more to do with the light quality than the actual light source.

      The best headlights we had were the “optic plate” halogens of the late 80’s / early 90’s, they actually illuminated the road. Everything since has been all about cosmetic appearance, and light quality consistently declines.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      qfrog, did you happen to notice in the IIHS article that the Accord’s halogens outperformed its optional LED headlights, and many other vehicles that have HID headlights?

      Don’t blame the technology for the implementation. The halogens in my first-gen Mazda3 are excellent; as good as any HIDs I’ve experienced.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Meh. I have a 3-series with halogens and a 2-series with HIDs. The HIDs are better, but they aren’t OMG better when both are properly aimed. The big difference is that the HIDs swivel into curves, THAT is useful.

      The best lights in my current fleet are the e-code German spec halogens in my P38 Range Rover. The best lights I have ever had were the e-codes (made by Cibie, of course) on my Peugeot 505 SW8. Of course, both of those setups are officially illegal and for “off road use only” in the US.

      What amazes me is the willingness of people to drive cars without headlight washers. 3 minutes on a sloppy winter night in Maine and you might as well have candles strapped to the bumper. No matter how fancy the headlights are, they don’t do squat when shining through a thick layer of sh!t.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I haven’t been happy with a headlight since the lenses were made of glass and the whole thing got replaced when a headlight burned out.

    I’m getting really sick of polishing the lenses of my wife’s Vibe and my Highlander. The Vibe eats headlights too and I haven’t found any replacement bulb that I think is good enough.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Sealed-beams? Yuck.

      However, there was a happy-medium period where certain cars had proper bulb-based light housings, but the lenses were still made of glass, so they didn’t haze up. Two of my cars, a 1990 Honda Accord and a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta, have had glass lenses.

      • 0 avatar
        JustPassinThru

        Sealed beams were a hell of a lot better than many of the new offerings today. I once had one of the first-gen Jellybean Chrysler minivans – with lights so horrid, they were scarcely better than parking lights. No, the lenses weren’t fogged and they weren’t misaimed – they were just designed completely for style with only minimal thought to making them legally compliant.

        The round sealed beams of years past were much, much better. And a hundred-thousand times better than those, were the round Cibie Z-Beam replacement assemblies – that for many years, the law wouldn’t let us use, legally. I had a set of those; which went bye-bye with a front-end fender-bender…not that it matters now, since no car uses the formerly-standard round headlight bucket. But those were phenomenal.

        Right now I’m fighting the poor design and yellowed lenses of an old Tacoma truck – nighttime is white-cane time with that thing. Put in LED driving lights, which help – but are too hot close up; and literally blinding to oncoming traffic. So they’re really only good on deserted roadways. They have to be off long before even needing to dim the high beams.

        I may cobble on some snowplow lights…I can’t see spending $400-plus for NEW equally-ineffective headlight assemblies.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          You might see if you can just replace the headlamp lenses themselves. That shouldn’t cost too much, although it will be a bit of a surgical procedure and you’ll need to be sure you don’t introduce moisture into the housing.

          • 0 avatar
            JustPassinThru

            I actually did use a cleaning compound, which removed about 80 percent of the grunge. They look like…most lenses, now.

            They still don’t light up the road worth a [email protected] It’s the optics.

            I want my Cibie.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          yeah, I remember that. back in that day they were regularly slammed by Car & Driver for the pathetic headlamps on the minivans and LH cars.

          • 0 avatar
            CobraJet

            My worst night time driving experince ever was in a 2000ish Chrysler T%C mini van on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi on a moonless night. Deer were standing all in the road and I was the only car out there. Could barely see past the hood with those lights on high beam.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          How yellowing lenses aren’t a safety related feature that needs to be covered by the manufacturer is beyond me. Way beyond me. The light is no longer meeting approved illumination.

          The Saab has great HIDs; my Trooper has glass lenses (zero problems in 15 years) that are awesome with some Silverlights in them. Both cars have turning lights which I love.

          The Outback just lost a halogen, so I picked up a pair of Silverlights to perk it up a little. I’m aggravated that to replace the bulbs I need to remove the wheel and fender liner on each side.

        • 0 avatar
          bufguy

          Couldn’t disagree with you more about old fashioned sealed beams…I own a 1981 VW Scirocco with halogen sealed beams and they are horrid compared to contemporary headlights…even the most basic halogen.

          • 0 avatar
            HotPotato

            A VW of that age has wiring problems and the lamps aren’t getting enough juice. I installed a Euro grill and lights on my Mk1 Jetta and had to run a second power line, relay and switch to them. Actually kinda handy since those bright-ass H4s weren’t legal as such — when I saw a cop I could turn off the supplementary switch and they’d dim by at least a third trying to feed on that ancient stock wiring.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        My old Toyota and my old Mercedes both had Hella replacements in them.

        An H4 bulb and glass housing *shaped to fit* a sealed-beam fixture; aim it once and they just replace the bulb if it dies.

        They were really, really nice, all things considered.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I remember how nice it used to be to read by a whale oil lamp. These modern candles are awful.

      • 0 avatar
        GermanReliabilityMyth

        You’re right, Corey, it’s a great smokeless-burning oil, but I can’t get past the pungent fishy, briny aroma it gives off.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’ll put a Sylvania sealed beam halogen high beam from my 87 Cutlass up against a freshly polished plastic lens high beam from a mass market American brand any day.

        Now will the rest of a car made in the last 10 years be better? Absolutely. But headlights to headlights the newer stuff is utter crap.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Well Corey, when I can go down to Autozone and buy a replacement H4 bulb for either of my Hondas for $7.99, instead of hundreds/thousands $ to replace an HID module, I’m perfectly happy to be running something that is affordable to keep operational.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          You’re happy, but the IIHS isn’t, and suggests you cannot see properly to avoid accidents.

          Guess who will win out in the end. ;)

          • 0 avatar
            Sigivald

            Note that the IIHS report says most of the problems don’t need HIDs to fix them, just *aiming*.

            The buried lede in there was “factory headlight aiming sucks”…

        • 0 avatar
          Felix Hoenikker

          When I was car shopping for a MY14, one of the questions I asked was what kind of headlights come standard, and how quickly can you change either bulb. While none of the cars I considered had standard HID headlights, several required removal of the bumper cover to change the bulbs. Big fail there.
          I ended up with an Accord with halogen lights. There was only one sub model of Accord that year with LED headlights. All the rest had halogen.
          I am very impressed with the reflectors used in the Accord headlights. The top of the beam is very sharp at 50+ yards. I can see why they were rated better than most of the competition in the test.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Up to 2016, only the Touring trim had LED headlamps; you’re right.

            And I concur. A family friend has a 2013 Accord EX-L and visibility is excellent.

    • 0 avatar
      yogsothoth

      I agree. I’m in the same boat with my Matrix.
      What options are out there if I’d like to uplift myself out of the “marginal headlight” category?

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Depending where you live, DOT-approved add-on lights might be perfectly legal.

        It varies by state, what kind of aftermarket lighting you can add and how it is allowed to operate (low, or high-only).

        That’s the cheapest, easiest fix for something like a Matrix.

    • 0 avatar
      92golf

      I have polished the headlamps several times on my 2000 Golf. It didn’t last for me either.

      What solved the problem was I had some body work done and the body shop did the headlamps too. They polished them up and then painted them with clearcoat. The clearcoat has a UV inhibitor in it and they have remained clear for several years now.

      • 0 avatar
        Lack Thereof

        The protective coating wearing off is the real problem. Once you get to polishing them, what’s left of the factory coating gets stripped off extra fast. Unless you have some way to re-protect them, they’re going to haze up again in a matter of months.

        About 5 or 6 years ago I got in a parking lot fender-bender with my Chevy, and replaced a bashed-in headlight assembly with some name-brand aftermarket replacement. The replacement started to visibly haze within 2 years, and today is starting to look almost white. Meanwhile, the 12 year old factory headlight on the other side is clear as new aside from some minor scratches. I’ve never done anything to polish or clean it other than what happens driving through an automatic car wash.

        I might try to scavenge a factory replacement for the aftermarket one, at pick n pull. The car is starting to look like a before/after advertising picture.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Yes sir!
      It was the dreaded evil marxist socialist Federal regulation requiring uniform and adequate headlight performance on all cars.
      I rather long for those days. These days there are low beams that are worse any high beams of old.

  • avatar
    GermanReliabilityMyth

    All of my classic Volvos and SAABs had very good headlights (especially considering their age), particularly the 240, which obviously had big, square buckets to reflect and magnify light from. My VW Jetta Sporwagen has what I’d consider fairly good headlights, a tick or two above average, but not amazing. I’m unsure whether this is the same Jetta referenced on the acceptable list. When I used to have my 2007 Dodge Ram, I swapped out the OEM headlights for halogen/LED combinations, which turned out to be a terrible mistake. They had good dark penetration, but a very narrow field of light and none of the beneficial light bleed you get from normal bulbs. More than 50% of the time I needed to turn on the fog lights during low light driving conditions. My point is, I think that cheaper halogen systems aren’t very good and have sizable drawbacks, whether they’re OEM or aftermarket.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Is your Jetta SportWagen a 2009, or a 2010-2014? I had a 2014, and the headlights were pretty good, but I’d have paid for HIDs if they’d been available (and why weren’t they, since the Jetta SportWagen used the exact same halogen housings as the Mk.6 Golf after 2009?)

      • 0 avatar
        GermanReliabilityMyth

        Yep, it’s a 2014 SE. Just the standard OEM beams. It was a late year model sitting on the lot that I scooped up for a song, so there wasn’t much choice in headlamps. Although I imagine if I feel the need to, I could swap them for OEM HIDs down the road.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I had the TDI with DSG and Pano. Sunroof, and mine was also a lot anchor, so I got a nice deal on it.

          Oddly enough, due to the business arrangement I had with the VW dealership where I bough the ’15 Golf SportWagen, I ended up paying *less* for it, even though it has far more options than the JSW did.

          You can retrofit the OEM HIDs from the Mk.6 Golf / GTI onto the Jetta SportWagen. It requires some wiring-harness work, but it can be done. I just found it frustrating that they were never offered as factory equipment in the first place. Nor, for 2014, were fog lamps or even automatic headlamps available.

          • 0 avatar
            brettc

            I was frustrated as well that the Golf offered the “tech package” or whatever they called it and came with Xenons, while the wagon didn’t have such an option.

            I ended up putting 65w bulbs in my car from Daniel Stern lighting and it has made a difference. I considered upgrading to the Golf lights, but it seems like a huge pain especially if I’ll potentially be dumping the car soon.

            My wife’s 2014 Jetta sedan has much better lights even with 55w stock bulbs in it.

  • avatar
    hifi

    My 2013 Range Rover had the best headlamps I’d ever experienced in any car ever. The adaptive feature really helped on the back roads. Much better than the current BMW I’m driving. Which is shocking, because from an engineering perspective, the Range Rover was inferior in just about every other way.

  • avatar
    ixim

    Back in the day, the law required two or four sealed beams. Not much leeway for styling touches but they got the job done. Now many headlights barely outshine the DRL’s which can glare even in daylight. So we get OEM or aftermarket bright blue/blazing white flamethrower lights often paired with similar, smaller so-called “fog lights ” Most of these in-your-face annoyances turn on automatically; many drivers seem unaware of their effect or how to control them. I guess they look prettier than the old sealed beams did, though. Re-regulations, anyone?

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      There are regulations, now. Micro-regulations.

      The regulators have been swayed/bribed/coerced into approving substandard hardware that is pushed to allow styling. These new LED running lights are to make an otherwise nondescript model stand out – similarly to the way AMC put amber rear turn signal lenses on its obsolete Hornet-derived Concord models.

      Once regulators are put in place, the focus is no longer on performance but on corrupting the regulators. Because, once co-opted, the regulators offer a shield – it’s okay by regulations, so WE, the manufacturers, are not at fault.

      The regulations and regulators are.

  • avatar

    Sealed Beams were an abomination, but they all held to a spec. Many of us tossed them and installed e-codes, also built to a spec, but one written in the 60’s, not the 40’s. Indeed, in 1992, I posted a long thing to usenet on the 16v GTi list, about dumping the crap 9004 powered lights and installing the E codes. VW actually used a glass housing and tried to make the 9004 work, but there was no saving it. I saw ONE car with good lights from a 9004 bulb, a Volvo 240. The headlights were glass, and in a very, very long housing front to back….it was the exception that proved the rule….

    Four round Cibie Z beams on another VW….ahhhh….wonderful

    The basic e code H4, and the 9000 series bulbs, can be made to work pretty well, depending on the housings…they toss adequate light, unlike the 9004.

    When the aero lights came out, the same non reflector bulb style was used, and things got worse (In Clarkson’s best tone). (9004)

    When HID showed up, there was a glimmer of hope. It all comes down to the money spent on the lights. Uprated lights tend to be good, because you paid for them. The Base halogens are hit or miss…some are actually quite good.

    This is a part of the car no one ever sees prior to purchase…who car shops and test drives at night ?

    I’ve got HID in all of my cars. The Acura MDX is the winner, with HID low and halogen highs-best stock lights ever. The Caddy, with active lighting, is a close second, and the BMW, with HID from 2003, also excellent, but as far as high beams go, you can compare the shutter driven HID with the center halogens and there is no difference in pattern but only color of light. There isn’t a way to compare low beams.

    I think part of the problem is engineers are given a hole to fill, and can’t say “but I need a few inches further back”. Short focal length and poor light control.

    Rentals-yes, I’ve been blind on many occasions, and if I owned any of them, there would be a set of “fog” on low, and “driving” lights on high…which is what a lot of folks do, instead screwing up the whole thing, and we get the bogus aftermarket “silver stars” or HID in non hid housings, so NO ONE can see.

    I tried the illegal but higher wattage bulbs in a few of my prior cars. They never really worked right, you had to toss the whole assembly if possible. Other than a set of 100 watt H1 in the center grille of a VW, on a relay….

    The IIHS doing something useful ? Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day….

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      If you found a 240 with glass headlights that aren’t the standard sealed beam sizes, you found a 240 with Euro-spec e-codes on it, and they ARE very good. The US “Aero” light 240s got plastic abominations with about 3 candlepower that yellow horribly.

      I have spent a TON of money upgrading headlights over the years, living in moose country it is a necessity. But I don’t see the need for HID. Properly designed halogen lights work just fine for a tiny fraction of the cost.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    This is precisely why the cottage industry of headlight retrofitting has boomed over the last decade. I have done it a few times and have always been happy with the results. I have the hardware for my Civic ready to go…. just need to get over this cold.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    It’s well past time that we updated our ancient auto light laws to allow for new technology that has been in place in the EU for years. How many times have you read a new car preview of this or that European car model that has a whole bunch of fancy new headlight tech, only to have the article say “none of these features are allowed by current US law, so the US model will have basic LED/Xenons.”

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I must say I’m a bit surprised by this; my Sonata has halogen projectors and while it’s not stellar it’s certainly not bad. The low beams are good enough that you can almost drive just with them, and the cutoff is super sharp (meaning you get a ton of light right out to the edge).

    I also reserve a degree of skepticism for people who claim you need 170 feet to stop from 30mph. Either they’re assuming mechanical brakes on the rear wheels only or they think my reaction times are measured in geological terms. Either way it makes me question their judgment in general.

  • avatar
    Laughing Lion

    I’ve been complaining about poor headlights for years. It’s about time that these fundamental safety items come up to a first-world standard.

    For that matter, I think drivers should have their headlights ON at ALL times, day or night, and I think it should be the law. How hard is that?!

    /rant

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Constantly burning headlights:

      1. Add to light pollution. We’re already subject to many sources of illumination, even during daylight.

      2. Consume fuel. Two halogens are ~110 Watts, or about 0.15 HP load on the engine. This might be about 1% in highway cruising, but a higher fraction at lower speeds. This is counter to MPG efforts. LED lights aren’t as hungry, though.

      3. Wear out faster. Do you want to replace halogens every 2 years? It’s a pain, and not cheap.

      LED lights remain very expensive; a replacement on my former Leaf was $650.

      Also, sometimes you don’t want the lights on, such as when you’re waiting in a parking lot, and don’t want your lights shining into someone’s house.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Ya, because with 200 HP being flat out normal, 300 HP available in a countless list of vehicles, and the average middle class slob able to afford 500 HP, .15 HP is going to make THAT much of a difference.

        I’m guessing you also believe that running the AC in a modern car reduces power and MPG also.

      • 0 avatar
        Laughing Lion

        I’ve been driving with my lights on at all times my entire motoring life (a decade and a half) and I’ve never had to replace my lights.

        Point-one-five horsepower is unnoticeable.

        If having headlights ON at all times makes one more visible to other roadway users (drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, etc.) that alone is a worthy goal.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        Light pollution? From headlights. During daylight? That’s funny.

        Properly set up DLRs run at lower than normal voltage, so they use less power and don’t stress the lamp very much. Halogen bulbs run about 10 bucks each, even if you do have to replace them every couple years—and you don’t, I run my headlights all the time and have replaced the lamps once in 100K miles–no big deal.

        Keeping your headlights on makes you more visible, and thus less likely to get hit by someone. May only make a tiny difference, but it’s a tiny expense, well worth it IMHO.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        Unfortunately, it appears that most drivers cannot handle the privilege of turning their lights off. They will drive around in dense fog or rain with no lights on.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        All of these excuses are, frankly, ridiculous. I drive with my low beams on at all times and I think the world would be a better place if cars worked like motorcycles and the low beams (or, alternately, during daylight, parking lights + DRLs) turned on with the engine.

        Light pollution is not an issue during daylight, and at night everyone needs lights anyway. If we’re concerned with light pollution from cars, the best thing we could do would be to try to ensure the headlights transmit the least possible light upward.

        120 watts (or probably about 50 watts if LED headlamps and taillamps are used) is a small price to pay for improved visibility.

        Yes, bulbs burn out. Tough cookies; they’re a standard maintenance item on a car. LEDs don’t burn out. They just get dimmer over time, but on a time scale in the tens of thousands of hours of active use that cars almost never see. (Your average car is on for less than 1000 hours per year.) If you have to replace a LED unit, it’s not because the LED burned out, but because of some defect in the circuitry. In other words, not a wear item, but a failure. The LED CHMSL in my G8 stopped working and was replaced under warranty.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          Living in Canada means both of my vehicles have DRL’s. My F150 is 5 1/2 years old and still on the same bulbs. My wife’s Sienna is 6 1/2 years old and has not needed any replacements. I had an F250 for 15 years and had to replace the headlamp bulbs once. I don’t see “wear and tear” as an issue.

          The headlights on my pickup do illuminate better than the one’s on my wife’s Sienna. I like the fact that IIHS is testing lights. I do believe that GM did get hit with litigation over poor headlights in their pickups.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            I beg to differ in the quality of lighting between Ford vs Chev, Lou.

            A friend of mines father has a F-250 and a friend at work has a Chev 3500 dually, dual cab. Very nice rig.

            It appears the Chev has much better lighting at night than the SuperDuty.

            The guy with the Chev had a 1500 Ram that had even better lighting.

            But, I suppose Ford is that little bit better as you put that FoMoCo slant in many of your comments.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @BARFO – the litigation over headlights on GM trucks is a new phenomenon. Google it.
            I don’t recall saying Ford was better than GM in my post. I said my truck’s lights were better than my wife’s Sienna. That is pretty specific.

        • 0 avatar
          fvfvsix

          To further dal20402’s point – LEDs are far better for longevity than Xenon. Life span is usually dictated by the quality of the power supply and the size of the LED heatsink. They also provide far better color temperature control for OEMs, and are nearly impervious to shocks and jarring. Laser headlamps are diode-based as well – just with a different construction that probably allows for better pattern control.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            yep. LED lifespan is largely dictated by how efficiently you cool them. arc lamps like HIDs degrade every time they’re turned on, and continually as the metal vapor diffuses into the envelope.

    • 0 avatar
      baggins

      THere was a study done on the notion daytime driving w/ lights on, somewhere northern, either Canada or Sweden

      Conclusion was that frontal accidents were reduced, but more cars were rear ended (the distinction between tail lamps and brake lights not being as acute as between no light and brake lights.

      Hence, DRLs. Only lights in the front during the day.

      • 0 avatar
        JustPassinThru

        Sounds like an argument for separating the brake/tail lights.

        I’ve wondered about that, since I’m on a motorcycle a lot. If it would be safer by wiring the taillight circuit to a separate aftermarket clearance or other red light and just leaving the big OEM for brakes only.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Personally I remember when day headlights were unheard of. I prefer lights off. Glare clearly debilities my ability to asses multiple vehicular happenings up ahead, they also render bikes and pedestrians less visible.

      • 0 avatar
        baggins

        The trend toward widespead use of DRLs REALLY makes motorcycles less apparent. Just on light out there among many now. Used to stand out.

        • 0 avatar
          JustPassinThru

          “The trend toward widespead use of DRLs REALLY makes motorcycles less apparent. Just on light out there among many now. Used to stand out.”

          Dead-on. Not unlike the high-mount third brake light – before it was mandated equipment on new cars, the few fleet vehicles that had it, had fewer rear-end accidents BECAUSE THE WARNING LIGHT WAS UNUSUAL AND STOOD OUT.

          Now that nearly every car on the road has it…its safety effect, always nebulous, has pretty-much disappeared.

          So now all these cages have DRLs. Which means cycles blend in – and are in the same situation they were in in the 1970s when the government required the headlight be wired on with the ignition.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The headlights in my 05 Scion xB1 were excellent.

    They had a large surface area that was mostly pointed straight ahead. Not great for aerodynamics, but that didn’t matter when you considered the rest of the car’s boxy shape.

  • avatar
    bills79jeep

    About the only kind of required vehicle inspection I can get behind is properly setup/aimed headlights. It’s a good thing that lights are getting brighter and drivers can see better at night. But all of that safety is negated when I’m blinded by badly aimed headlights coming at me on dark, wet two-lane road.

    At first I blamed the aftermarket and cheap retrofits, but over the past few years I’ve seen new luxury vehicles causing the same problems. I don’t quite know why, they should be functioning properly. But on any road that’s not perfectly flat the glare is blinding any time you drop below the headlights. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter that angle you are at.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    The halogen headlights on my 1994 Mercedes E320 (W124 Chassis) still outperform the HIDs I’ve had on more modern cars. Of course, they are huge, rectangular, and glass-lensed beams that look dated by today’s standards. The driving lights are high and in the center of the regular headlights and they actually help when driving on dark roads.

    Most new cars I’ve driven have “fog lights” or “driving lights” that are no more than cosmetic, as if lighting up the road 2 feet in front of the car will help anyone see anything.

    Personally, I’ve had cars with base and optional lights and usually felt that the differences have been negligible. Fogging plastic lenses and dirty headlights probably make a bigger difference in visibility performance for the majority of drivers than anything else.

    I do tend to be skeptical, however, of anything the IIHS publishes. There must be some play here to pump up the cost of replacement headlights and thus insurance premiums. Call me a cynic, but they are always so negative and their tie to the insurance industry does make me question their intent. I’d like to see them mention driver training and skills as a life-saving issue more than constantly harping on manufacturers regarding new passive safety innovations with increasingly minimal returns.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      That headlight design was called “optic plate” and they were fantastic.

      Unfortunately every manufacturer in the world dropped them for cosmetic reasons. Styling departments demanded glitzy reflectors instead.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      The intent of the IIHS is to minimize injury and death. Injury is an expensive payout and death is a very expensive payout. I’m glad see them focusing (sorry) on lights. If IIHS can induce manufacturers to put function before style in their next design cycle, fine with me. Do the sensibly designed lamp fixtures lauded in the comments add cost?

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        yep. that’s why we’ve basically given up on the 5 mph bumper stuff and other such nonsense. Cars are now designed to sacrifice themselves to protect the occupants, and for good reason. Insurers would rather cut a $10-20,000 check to replace a car than to pay out hundreds of thousands in medical bills or millions in settlements.

        you can fix or replace a busted up car. Fixing a busted up person is a lot harder, and replacement is impossible.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        chuckrs – death tends to be simpler and cheaper for insurance companies to deal with as opposed to chronic injury claims. They tend to look at lost wages and the cost of child care if a spouse is lost.
        Injury claims especially brain and spinal cord/column are more nebulous and difficult. Insurance “likes” a clear end to a claim.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Oh certainly. Death with a certificate and a reasonable cause as listed by the ME is very preferable. So clean! On the other side, continual health/disability claims for years on end, with questionable doctor practices and paperwork is very costly. All that has to be investigated. It’s also harder to determine your necessary overhead/reserves when the claims are more random. You can estimate deaths much easier.

        • 0 avatar
          chuckrs

          I see your point Lou. On a continuum of severity, many injuries short of chronic are resolved with final payouts, but the severe ones are very costly. Uncertainty is to be avoided, too.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @chuckrs – another can of worms that gets opened is who is actually to blame for death or long term disability. In some cases they will try to pass blame onto health care providers and that passes the costs onto their insurance. A surgical misadventure tends to be obvious but hospital acquired infections and complications can also be difficult to sort out.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          death is “cheaper” until someone sues.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Driver training is great, but unless you make it mandatory–good luck with that–passive features are going to be far more effective in reducing deaths/injuries.

    • 0 avatar
      210delray

      The driver training issue has been hashed out many times before. It’s easy to train people to drive, but we haven’t found the magic bullet to keep people from crashing.

      Just a simple example — I’m in the right lane, light turns yellow, and I stop without drama for the red light. In the left lane, a dump truck farther behind me but going much faster doesn’t even attempt to slow down, blows the red light AND a Subaru behind the dump truck uses said truck as “interference” to also run the red. Most 6-year-olds know that red means stop, so it’s not a matter of “training.”

      This is the same intersection where a friend at work was seriously injured by a 4Runner that blew the same light in the same direction. He was hit on the driver side and was severely (and permanently) injured. Good thing for him he was in his ’04 Camry with side airbags. In his earlier cars (’97 Civic hatchback and especially Ford Festiva), he would not have survived.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    My IS300 headlights are the best I’ve ever had. They are HID and really do a phenomenal job. For those keeping track I have dropped it off finally for my mom to start using.

    The worst I’ve had was my 97 Audi A6. They were flat out dangerous. Here’s a picture if it works:
    http://i.ebayimg.com/images/i/272116474050-0-1/s-l1000.jpg
    Low beams were tiny projectors with even tinier fog lights right below them in the same housing.

    Driving in the rain was like driving without any lights. I was caught in a blizzard one night and I couldn’t go over 10 mph because I couldn’t see the road. I don’t know how they were legal to be used on public roads.

  • avatar
    PeugeotHound

    In the 70’s and 80’s I always removed the sealed beams from my Volvo 145 and 242GT and replaced them with illegal Eurol H4 inserts. Cibie and Helle –fantastic at the time. The HID’s on my ’16 VW Touareg are fantastic.

    That said, it’s amazing to me how many Americans don’t even know they have high beams. I do a lot of late night driving on back roads and at high speed on dark rural highways and it amazing me how may people doodle along with just their low beams on — too lazy perhaps to flick a steering column stalk for oncoming traffic.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Given that crash test ratings are now different flavors of good, this is a rating that would make a difference in my buying decision.

    I’ve always had lousy eye sight requiring a huge correction, and night vision suffers because of that. For me, I would take this rating into consideration when considering the purchase of a vehicle. Heck, if I have to do extensive driving, same will apply to rentals.

    Every poor and marginal vehicle on that list is no longer under consideration for me for purchase.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I agree. Headlights are incredibly important, and obviously manufacturers haven’t had an incentive to implement them properly. Shedding light (heh!) on their performance is overdue.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        You Captiva the Axiom of the situation, Hombre. Time to March over there at a fast Tempo and issue a Citation to these Brats. Get them to Aspire to greater Acclaim, never resting on their Laurels.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      My vision is excellent, but I’d still strongly value headlight ratings during a vehicle purchase. It’s almost hard to believe how bad the headlights are on some vehicles. It’s like no engineering went into them at all.

  • avatar

    In my limited experience, my two 76/77 Chenille’s with the quad rectangle lights, if you put good halogen sealed beams in all 4 positions, could light the road up for a good distance and reflect signs for a quarter mile or more. Granted still the USDOT spec bulbs but were much better than the factory incandescent bulbs which were akin to waving a birthday candle in a dark football stadium.

    Then I got my 86 Pontiac 6000-STE – first car I owned with composite lights, it had 9004s in all 4 positions! low beams were ok, not better than what I had on the 76, the brights were meh, and only got a bit better when I rigged the high beam filiament on the low beam position to come on when the brights were turned on.

    My 95 Explorer with 9007s just flat sucked.

    my 04 Buick Rendezvous actually does a pretty decent job lighting the road up, no idea whats in it, I know factory bulbs though.

    Mom’s 92 LeSabre had great lights as well.

    Not impressed with Sis’s string of 3 series head lights (or the cars for that matter), her husbands MDX is much better.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    What are their concerns as far as headlight performance on the 5 -6 year old vehicles? I see plenty of plastic headlight lens that are smoked over or yellow. Why no concern there as to longevity? If they start out clear and get a poor rating , what is their score after 5-6 years? Shouldn’t there be some sort of requirement? Glass rather than plastic seems a better choic. IMO

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Glass is not allowed because we care about pedestrian safety more than the ability of the driver to see at night. Gotta love government regulations . . .

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      re: plastic lens yellowing. Those $30 kits to remove the opaque surface layer really work. Make sure the kit uses 3M products. After the first step it looks like step two is the remove and toss the lamp assemblies, but after all the steps, the lenses look like new. I suspect longevity of the fix will vary from car to car, depending on how much the manufacturer cheaped out on the lens plastic.

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        I would add there is a blue coral headlight lens sealing spray that you should apply after every wash that will keep them from re-yellowing once you’ve de-glazed them once. This is assuming you care enough to wash your car at least once a month.

    • 0 avatar
      92golf

      Could be wrong but I was under the impression that part of the reason for the manufacturers going to plastic over glass was for weight reduction and ultimately fuel economy.

      I know, you wouldn’t think it was much of a weight saving but they’re probably cheaper to manufacture as well.

      All incremental pluses for a manufacturer.

      • 0 avatar
        210delray

        Plastic saves cost and weight, and therefore improves fuel economy incrementally. Also plastic is more resistant to breakage. I don’t believe federal regulations prohibit the use of glass, but there is no way mfrs will go back to it.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I prefer plastic lenses. In my part of the world broken glass headlamps from rocks was always a huge problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      They can’t test longevity on a new car in any useful way.

      Plastic does not automatically yellow just because it’s plastic, is the thing.

      (And to echo comments above, I’ve had glass lenses – they get destroyed far too easily.

      Well-made plastic is good and lasts.

      My SuperDuty’s lenses are about a decade old [it’s an ’07, so it was made in ’06, probably] – and are crystal clear. I’m 99.9% sure they’re poly.)

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        Sigivald

        While they can’t directly test longevity, manufacturers can select a grade of plastic that has an appropriate history behind it. Within a family of plastics, different additives and blends yield different results for different applications and projected lifetimes. Car companies could select what’s on your SuperDuty, for example, instead of trying to save a penny here and there.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        AFAIK all plastic headlamp housings are clear polycarbonate with a hardcoat. the hardcoat should also bring UV protection with it. If you see a not-that-old car with yellowing headlamp lenses, they probably skimped on the UV protection.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Driving my old MY04 BMW 325i at night was pretty bad. Halogen through some filmy headlight covers was no treat. I thought my night vision was just horrible.

    The replacement, a MY08 Scion XB, was a real step-up. I can see!

    Current car, a halogen lit Cooper Clubman is passable.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Halogen headlights can be just as good as HIDs or LEDs. It just depends on the design. The halogen e-codes in my old passat were as good as anything. The newer ML and GLs also work well halogen or HID. Without blinding oncoming traffic they illuminate the road to the point that high beams only add illumination of trees and other objects higher up. I do agree that many new lights are terrible. The Cruze in particular has awful headlights.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I don’t understand the nostalgia for sealed beams. They were truly terrible.

    That said, quality of the various types of replaceable-bulb units since has been very variable, with some of them even worse than sealed beams. My own experiences are like this:

    1987 Taurus — large plastic reflectors — low beams pretty good, high beams excellent

    1989 Taurus — slightly smaller plastic reflectors than the 1987 — low beams acceptable, high beams acceptable

    2003 TSX – HID projector low beams, small reflector high beams — low beams very good on flat ground but with a blindingly sharp cutoff that made them dicey in hilly areas, high beams basically useless

    2006 Civic – small plastic reflectors for both beams — both beams marginal

    2009 G8 – halogen projector low beam, large plastic reflector high beam – low beams acceptable, high beams marginal

    2008 LS460 – very large HID projector low beam, large halogen projector high beam — low beams the best I’ve ever used, high beams marginal

    2013 Forester — large HID reflector low beam, very small halogen reflector high beam — low beams acceptable to good (but somewhat blinding to oncoming drivers — I get flashed often), high beams marginal

    • 0 avatar
      amancuso

      Sealed beam glass units were awful. I had them on my ’88 Grand Am. The Halogens with the optic plates on my ’97 BMW 3 series are great. Halogens on our 2014 Jetta are very acceptable, however the halogens on my ’16 Golf GTI were atrocious. I replaced them with aftermarket replica projector units using the standard H7 bulb. Vast improvement.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “With the IIHS now breathing down their necks over headlights, expect automakers to frantically upgrade their badly performing models before next year to avoid embarrassment.”

    They’ll have to lobby for liberalized FMVSS lighting standards first. Manufacturer lobbying is the only reason we’re not still using 7″ round incandescent bulbs from 1920.

  • avatar
    Perc

    Ah, headlights. One of my favourite Car Bore™ discussion topics.

    To me, it’s a no-brainer to spend the money on the best headlights available when you’re buying a new car. Anyone who buys something like a 3 series with halogens should have their head examined. Thankfully, very few do here in Finland these days. Most cars larger and more expensive than a Golf have xenons or LEDs.

    That said, not all xenons are good. A couple of years ago I spent a good six hours in the passenger seat of a Passat and I couldn’t see shit. It was the middle of december when everything is dark and wet. It was a rental car with barely five figures on the odometer and the optional xenon package. The low beam was criminally bad and the high beam barely made a difference at all. What’s puzzling is that my Skoda of the same generation has excellent headlights in comparison. Two cars almost in the same price range, by the same manufacturer.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      You Finns are keen on driving, though (and education, and English skills). And you’ve got much more driver training from the start. Top Gear taught me this. Si-soo!

      I’d love to know how much more you all end up paying than an American for a comparable Golf, though.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Looking at used RX450h right now and it is very difficult to find them with the LED headlights. Evidently people are too cheap to see in front of them. But everyone had the cash to buy the navigation system and ventilated seats!

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        You gotta have the ventilated seats, they’re the new “heated seats”.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Practically every RX has them. Although, sadly, the real trump card of four ventilated seats, which is a rare option on the LS that is on mine, isn’t available on the RX. The hardest things to find on a used RX, in this order:

          – Radar cruise
          – Heads-up display
          – Mark Levinson stereo
          – Luxury package (semi-aniline leather, auto smog sensor, thigh extender, LED headlights)

          I’ve never seen a single used RXh with all four. There are about ten in the whole country, out of something like 300 low-mile AWD 2013-15 RXh on sale, with three of the four.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    I wonder what Daniel Stern has to say about this. He campaigned for better lighting over a decade ago. Strangely, things seem to have actually gotten worse.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Do wiper performance next.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Old cars have such SLOOOOW wipers even on highest setting, to speak nothing of blade performance. The difference between my two cars is shocking. Driving along in heavy rain in old Cadillac, and I think good grief I need more speeds on these wipers.

      Then, the M, just WOOSH like a sword across the screen.

      • 0 avatar
        06V66speed

        Corey D, do you think that’s because of wiper motors slowing with age, or just the newer cars being designed to move at a faster rate?

        I also didn’t take you as a Cadillac man. Lol

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          My inclination would just be the slower designed speed of an older car. It’s not as though it’s a weak/erratic wipe or they don’t respond properly – just too leisurely.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            And I’ve just become one since November, ha. The right Cadillac had to present itself.

            And if the later STS4 had a nice interior befitting the exterior, I’d have one now.

          • 0 avatar
            06V66speed

            I’ve got a soft spot for the older broughams. Carriage roofs and everything. Dig it.

            I would imagine your Cadillac is a much newer model than the big RWD broughams. Lol

            And gotcha on the wipers moving slower. We always those keep premium, silicone blades on our cars. (Yeah, the expensive ones… sigh.)

            There are some things folks can skimp on when it comes to cars, but tires and wiper blades are two that I would never cheap out on.

            Wipers, you could potentially sway me to buy the cheapies.

            Tires… not a chance. And TireRack FTW (I like the customer reviews)

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            It’s newer than ye olde, but still relatively brougham, still considered big? No landau!

            https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B38ULhHiIa2Id1JjS3lHYnRsNGc&usp=sharing

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Nice car, well cleaned! I missed that set.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Thanks. The paint on the front bumper bothers me, haven’t decided what/if to do with it yet. Put a rear wreath on the back since the photos, and got the one needed matching center cap.

          • 0 avatar
            06V66speed

            She’s a clean one. With the good ol’ 4.9L too, of course :)

            FWD brougham still counts as brougham.

            I’ve been having a hankering as of late for one of those late 80’s Sixty Specials. There’s just something about an extended length Caddy. Plus, the monsters in my house would love riding in the back.

            Alas, very nice Sir.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            That’s a tall order, those downsized but lengthened 60’s are about as common as the Chrysler Executive from a similar time, ha.

            My favorite is the 93-only C-Body Sixty Special. But those weren’t longer, just a different interior than the Deville (button tufted), real walnut wood, fender skirts, and dual rear vanity mirrors.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            All hail the mighty 4.9.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            It’s really a very smooth engine, especially for the age and when it was designed.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Part of the issue with old car wiper performance is that old windshields accumulate hard-to-dislodge film, hairline scratches, and pits, all of which make it worse.

        Here’s the dal20402 Patented Formula for excellent wiper performance… which is something we in the Land of Drizzle think about a lot… that works even on a beat-to-crap 1987 Taurus:

        1) If you can get them for your car, use factory wiper blades, and get factory rubber refills to replenish them every six months to a year depending on your weather. Aftermarket wiper blades rarely distribute the pressure as evenly.

        2) Clean the windshield thoroughly, using some elbow grease, with a two-step process. The first step: rubbing alcohol with a cloth. The second step: dry, printed newspaper.

        3) Apply Rain-X to the windshield, two applications.

        4) Repeat 2) and 3) every three months during rainy times of year.

        5) Every time you wash the car, use your sponge or mitt to wipe the blades along both edges. You’ll be horrified by the black crap you get on your mitt that way, but it’s no more abrasive than any other dirt and will wash off. Keeping the blades clean will REALLY help them perform.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I’m sure it needs new blades as well, cause the ones on there have been there since at -least- 2010 and squeak a little. I like your cleaning tips though.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Six years? Get yourself a set of refills (if blades already OEM) or new OEM blades, stat!

            Since it was a Sacramento car that never saw rain, the LS had the original blades and rubber from 2008 on it. They did not work well (to put it mildly). A $12 set of refills later and they’re perfect.

            The Legend has crappy aftermarket blades that aren’t that old, so after a cleaning and RainX they work more or less OK, but I’ve been meaning to replace them. You just inspired me to order a set of new old stock OEM blades.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I’ll do it this weekend. I wish I had checked what refills were on my GS, those were just excellent.

          • 0 avatar
            Sigivald

            Every year, put on new blades.

            More often if you have lots of streaking/wear (depends on local conditions).

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Just to be clear, blades (the metal part with feet) can last indefinitely, but refills (the rubber part) should be replaced every year. Most OEM blades allow you to replace only the rubber. Most aftermarket blades require you to replace the whole blade, a nice racket.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Derp, didn’t know that. They’ve got to be OEM blades, if they do the special tuck-down thing when you turn them off, and still fit under the hood.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Not necessarily. Aftermarket aren’t necessarily taller than OEM. But usually they’ll look cheaper and have an aftermarket manufacturer’s name stamped or molded into them.

        • 0 avatar
          SC5door

          I just used the RainX Deep clean windshield kit that comes with a clay bar and did all the windows. Works like a charm.

        • 0 avatar
          Russycle

          I bought some RainX blades recently. Not cheap, but man they work well.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          dal20402 – I knew a fellow that swore by newspapers for cleaning windows. You are only the second fellow I’ve ever encountered to mention it.

          • 0 avatar
            wolfinator

            I too use newspapers. All of dal’s steps make sense to me – I’ve done most of them, particularly RainX and newspapers.

            Pretty much anything glass is best cleaned with newspapers.

            For windows and such, I like “Invisible Glass”. I’m not sure why it works like magic, but it does. No streaks, stuff really does look clear.

            Here in the Pacific NW, I’ve found dal’s experience of wiper longevity to be spot on – under our duty cycle, wipers last about 6 months, maybe a year if you baby them. I suspect most people on the road are using wipers that do about half the job they did when new.

  • avatar
    RS

    No trucks tested? Recent Chevy Silverado’s have an issue. The headlights on my 2014 Ram are decent. Not sure about others.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    I went through a stage where I would splurge on expensive light bulbs. I really dug the PIAA intense white/ hyper white (or whatever they call them) bulbs, they look so clean. And (at least I thought) they seemed brighter.

    But alas, they would burn out waaaaay to quick.

    I one time actually removed the gross halogen lamps out of my ’99 poverty-spec’d XJ and put in clear composite lamps, complete with the hole predrilled for… “city lights” (if that’s what they were called…?). Hey, I was only 19, so don’t be too hard on me. Lol

    I now keeps ’em stock. Even if they are that dingy yellow. Meh.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Some vehicles have such bright and strong lights that they blind other drivers, there has to be some kind of compromise between TOO much and not enough headlight brightness.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Our 2005 MINI’s headlights are terrible and I didn’t opt for the upgrade on the clubman we just ordered. Definitely second guessing that choice since BMW shows up at the bottom of the list. By the time I add the $1000 LED upgrade, I’m probably just as well off getting the fully loaded package versus the a la carte selections we made to try to minimize the amount of crap that will break down the line.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    I’d say that a poor showing of LED’s would be because of them using a reflector instead of a projection.

    I have a halogen projector and haven’t found any faults in it–other than the white LED running light strip above it which looks ugly. I could have bought the one with the “Ultimate” package, but replacing an entire headlight assembly if it fails isn’t my cup of tea.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    My main peeve is being blinded by oncoming traffic. Most people I see drive with their high beams on because the lows are terrible, but never deactivate them.

    I think my highs, also known as driving beams, are wonderful, but my lows are meh. I think carmakers expect their customers to flip between high/driving beams and lows, but the customers can’t be bothered. Consequently, manufacturers think they’ve provided the goods and drivers think they’re being screwed.

    • 0 avatar

      Aha ! There are two positions for the brain dead..more light and less light. If you have a car with crap lighting, and you aren’t a “driver”, you of course assume that More light is better than Less Light. The rest of us just get glare.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I’m not a big fan of LED lighting in comparison to halogen. The reason for this is it seems that LED doesn’t cover a large enough spectrum of visible light. This could be the reason for BMW’s stance.

    At work my guys have to perform “white light inspections”. You can see the difference in the quality of lighting between the now used LED vs Halogen. Halogen provides a better light. I can’t comment too much on HIDs.

    Here it’s legal to use driving and spot lights on vehicles. So, poorer quality headlights are not a great an issue in most driving unless in a heavily urbanised area. Urbanised areas tend to have better street lighting to the point you will sometimes see a vehicle at night with no headlights on.

    If the lighting is poorer, then use your high beams if it doesn’t affect any oncoming traffic.

    As the article pointed out, you can witness the difference in lighting quality between different makes and models, with vehicle cost not a huge driver in this area.

    I’m a little surprised at how poorly the more prestigious vehicles tend to perform.

  • avatar
    Edgy36-39

    Two thoughts – one, kind of ironic since antiquated sealed beam laws kept headlights in North America so bad for so long. If the IIHA thinks they are bad now, how bad were headlights in the early 1990s?

    Two, I can’t believe HID headlights aren’t more common in 2016. At the very least people should know to look for a projector design, not reflector. Maybe more press on this will make people more aware.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      This shows that style of light doesn’t guarantee good output. Some of the LED, HID, and projector lights were rated poor.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the cheap reflector designs were worse than sealed beams. I’d love to see the results of the same tests with an H6024 or H6054-equipped car. Bet they outperform the bottom 25%, at least.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Your ultra bright headlights are probably dangerous to the rest of us – 28CL.

  • avatar
    pragmatist

    These are with NEW lights.

    After a few years when the crap plastic gets milky, they’re much, much worse. All the tech in the world won’t make up for poor lenses.

    Please, please, automakers… give us back our glass lights again. 25 year old glass lenses are almost as clear as new ones.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Glass isn’t immune to the fogging. I’ve had glass fog lights go opaque from sand and dirt on the road. I remember it happening with an R53 MINI GP. Can’t remember if I have the problem on other cars. I’ll have to take a look.

  • avatar
    stuki

    They should have looked at pickup trucks…. With no load in the back, their high beams become low beams, and their low beams puddle lamps. And, true to their 3 tons for 199/month pricing, the lamps are of the wax-candle power variety to begin with. And the reflectors carryovers from the 50s.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I wish we had lighting regulations the same as or similar to Europe. They take glare and headlight performance seriously.

  • avatar
    SSJeep

    The worst headlights I had seen were on a Lincoln Mark VIII that I owned some time ago. They were barely better than DRLs.

    The best headlights I used were on my Toyota Tundra 5.7. They were halogens, but were very powerful. They illuminated the road like the eyes of God on low beam. High beam was searing and could easily illuminate 200 feet ahead. I miss those headlights.

  • avatar
    Thabo

    Got a chance to see the BMW seven series laser lights in action at 250km/h on a BMW test vehicle on the way to Dresden. Very, very impressive and the way part of them moves to read passing signs is creepy. Now I’m sure all of us tootling along at 90Mph here in the US will never need such bright lights and I had no idea what the poor bastards on the other side of the road saw but these were the most impressive thing about the new seven – oh and also the way the car can move out of a parking space without anyone being inside while being controlled from your keychain remote!

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