What You Need to Know About Headlights

A Girls Guide To Cars | What You Need To Know About Headlights - Ford F 150 Led Headlights
Ford F-150 LED Headlight, Image: Ford

A handy guide to those lights in front of your car.

Those of a certain age will remember when the only thing that headlights did was change from low beams to high beams by pressing a little button on the floor. That button is gone, replaced by a lever on the steering column, and lights are much more complicated. Adaptive headlights, HID, LED, and cornering lights are some of the technologies you’ll find on today’s cars. And as we head into Daylight Savings Time, and more time behind the wheel in the darker mornings, we will be using them more.

Here’s an explanation of all that fancy jargon.

Adaptive Headlights

Headlights aren’t the static beams of light they were back in the old days. Today, adaptive headlights cast a beam of light that moves as you turn the steering wheel. Turn right and the beams angle right. Turn left and the beams angle left. You can find these on the BMW M235i xDrive.

This lights up where you’re going more quickly than beams that point only where the front of the car is pointed, but they can be disconcerting. We recommend taking your potential new car for a drive at night to see how they work and to be sure you’re comfortable with the process.

Cornering Lights

Cornering lights aren’t technically headlights, but extra lights that serve to extend your periphereal view. Rather than having the headlights swivel, as with adaptive lighting, when you put on your turn signal, the cornering lights turn on and send an extra beam of light in the direction you’re turning. They’re particularly helpful for illuminating a low obstacle like a hydrant or random shrubbery at the end of a driveway.

HID Headlights

High-intensity discharge headlights, also called xenon headlights, use gas instead of a filament. They last longer than traditional headlights, but when they do go, they’re more expensive to replace. The  light quality is better and they are brighter, too, which is great for the driver, but can create a glare issue for oncoming vehicles.

Some cars have only HID low beams, while bi-xenon headlights mean they have both low and high beams provided by the same set of lights.

LED Headlights

LED headlights are slowly taking over for the HID kind. They emit a similar light quality and because they’re small, designers can use a series of them to make interesting shapes that are thin and distinctive. You’ll find these lights gracing the front of the 2017 Audi A4 Premium Plus.

They’re almost as bright as HIDs, but not quite. The plus side is that they don’t need to be replaced like HIDs so you’ll be saving some money in the long run. Watch for LED lights to trickle down to more and more mainstream cars.

Laser Headlights

How could you not want lasers on your car? These are focused beams of light that can reach nearly twice as far as other headlights, so you see any potential problems that much sooner. These are only on higher end cars right now and you can’t get them anywhere in the US. They’re legal in Europe, but outdated laws make them illegal in the US for now.

Nicole Wakelin contributes to The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, and Boldride, and she hosts her own blog, http://www.nicolewakelin.com, where... More about Nicole Wakelin