Car care: Make sure your lights work

By Jack Biddle

It's probably a long time since you checked all your car's lights are operating properly

Taking care of a car's lights is an important part of regular maintenance. Picture / Getty Images
Taking care of a car's lights is an important part of regular maintenance. Picture / Getty Images

Can you do me a favour once you have finished reading this weekend's edition of Driven?

Make the effort to do a walk around your vehicle to check the operation of all the driving lights, including indicators and stop lights. In addition, if you own a trailer or caravan, then make the time to do all the same checks to that as well.

While it's a mandatory check at time of a Warrant of Fitness inspection, bulbs can fail at any time without warning or a trailer/caravan wiring harness and/or connector can suffer damage or connection issues rendering one or all of the lights useless.

The law states a vehicle's headlights must not dazzle, confuse or distract other road users and judging by the statistics provided by the NZ Transport Agency recently it would suggest headlight alignment, or drivers not dipping their lights for oncoming traffic, is definitely one of the many causes of driver distraction resulting in accidents.

If you have had the experience of politely dipping your lights to oncoming traffic only to receive an unwelcomed high beam "flash" back, or are having trouble seeing the road ahead clearly at night, then it may well be your headlights are not aligned correctly.

Alignment can be altered by the smallest of impacts or damage around the panels or trim that surround the headlights themselves which may not be considered worthy of sending to a panel beater for repair.

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Or even after a panel repair, it's always a good idea to ask the panel shop whether or not they have checked headlight alignment.

Headlights can also suffer if the surface starts to develop a frosted or discoloured look. The surface itself should be very clean looking with the bulb clearly visible. A cleaning agent with a slightly abrasive compound can make a world of difference to the performance of the headlights especially on the open road where street lighting is limited.

Most of the car accessory stores such as Repco or Supercheap have products specially designed for headlight refurbishment which are worth a go if your headlights are showing signs of discolouration or you have failed a Warrant of Fitness for this reason.

Moisture entering the headlight is another reason for performance to fall below par which can be created by a crack in the headlight or a sealing issue of some sort.

Vehicle dismantlers are often a good source for good used parts such as headlights, if the genuine product is out of reach financially. Stop lights are also something owners often take for granted but vitally important so following traffic know that the vehicle ahead is slowing or, in a worst case scenario, is braking suddenly to avoid a potential accident.

They are an easy check if your vehicle is garaged or backed against a wall. At night, simply pump the brake pedal and look in the rear vision mirror; you should see the red light reflection bounce off the door/wall as you apply the brakes.

Tail lights are also just as important as front illumination. I was involved in helping sort out a major car accident some years ago when one vehicle drove into the back of another which had stalled at the traffic lights and didn't have any rear lights showing at the time of impact.

The driver had turned the lights off to help save battery power as they were attempting to restart the engine. What didn't help matters was it was a dark/dull winter night with little street lighting and the stalled vehicle was painted a very dark colour, making it almost impossible for following traffic to see it.

So, a few easy DIY checks can make drivers and their passengers a lot safer on the road.
Equally important, it can also reduce the risk of driver distraction for other road users.

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- NZ Herald

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