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How to check Exterior Car Lights

Exterior Car Lights Are For Seeing And Being Seen

Your exterior car lights help you to see what’s in front of you. They also help others around you to see you. You want to make sure that your lights are all working. There are some easy methods that you can check your vehicle’s lights during your regular daily driving.

Why I Drive With My Full Lighting System On

I am a firm advocate in having my full lighting system on all the time. This came from an experience in my early driving days.

I was on a two-lane main highway in the country on a beautiful, hot, sunny, summer day. It was one of those times where there was a slight shimmer over the road from the heat.

I pulled out to by-pass a truck on what seemed like a flat stretch of road with a broken centerline. As I pulled up beside the truck, I saw a car suddenly appear, rising out of the road and coming right at me.

I braked hard and managed to pull in behind the truck, the nose of my car just under the truck bed. I narrowly avoided a collision.

What I realized was that the car had been in a slight dip in the road ahead, hidden by the heat shimmer rising from the road. I would have seen the vehicle if its headlights had been on.

I have driven with my full lighting system on all the time ever since. It is a safer way to drive.

I realize that the ‘running lights’ on many of today’s cars try to address this problem. They also create another problem.

What happens is that a driver can see the lights shining out the front of his car, along with some of his dashboard lights. He naturally assumes his lights are on. What he doesn’t see is that he has no rear lights.

NOTE: If you cannot see your full dashboard display, turn on your lights!

Tricks I use to check my lights.

I back into parking spaces and reflection on surfaces behind me to check my brake, signal, and tail lights.

Yes, I operate the signals and brakes (with the vehicle in Park) while I have the advantage of a clear reflection. I try to do this once a day.

When I can, I check my headlights’ reflections on the vehicle in front of me at a stoplight. I will also push the signal arm slightly once in each direction to confirm my signal lights respond.

Do this once only in each direction, or the driver behind you will think you are turning at the last minute.

Another sign that my car lights may not be adequately set is when an oncoming driver flashes his lights at me. That signal from an oncoming car means I either have my high beams on or there’s radar ahead. I immediately check to see if my high beams are on. Then I check my speed.

With many cars, signal lights will operate faster when one of the bulbs is burned out. The change of speed of the signal will get your attention. Check your signal bulbs at the first opportunity.

CAUTION: Do not hold the signal light lever while turning since you can break the unit’s return arm. You can continue to drive with the return mechanism failed, but you will need to manually return the signal arm.

This can result in inadvertently driving with your signal light on.

We each understand how frustrating that can be when we expect the car in front of us to turn at the next street. No? OK. The next street. No? Turn already!


They were driving with overly bright car lights like those aftermarket ‘fog lamps’ that can blind oncoming drivers.

When bright headlights are coming my way, especially on a country road at night, I force myself to look at the right shoulder of the road to stay as close to the right as possible, and I do not need to look at the oncoming car.

Remember that drivers will generally steer to the direction in which they are looking. Inexperienced oncoming drivers could end up in an accident…

…with the ‘fog lamps’.

Such bright lights are unnecessary in an urban driving environment and can be extremely dangerous, particularly at night on a two-lane country highway, as mentioned above.

Save those lamps for off-roading!

I have heard that bulbs will burn out faster when the car lights are used all the time. First, I say I would sooner buy a few more bulbs than deal with an accident.

I buy high-quality headlight bulbs for their light coverage of the road. I look for bulbs covering the center of the road and to the right, past the shoulder. That is the part of the road I need to see.

These headlight bulbs say on the package they are guaranteed for a year (no hours of use count). I get at least a year out of my bulbs every time. My other car lights last much longer.

Similarly, I signal all my lane changes and turns and use my four-way flasher whenever I pull over to stop or for an emergency vehicle. My flasher units also last for years.

The only indication I have ever seen for bulbs that burn out quickly is when you buy solely on price. That was the way to do things in the cab industry, and bulbs were always being replaced.

When doing an exterior check of car lights, look for any new scratches or other car damage. Look also for deposits from feathered flyers, which can damage the paint and can be very unsightly to riders other than you, depending on its location.

It is also a good time to scan for leaks and a quick visual check of the tires.

Now you know all your car lights are working and you’re looking good.

That gives you all the more reason to…