Danger of driving with old headlights in Nepal.

As your car gets older, its headlights may be giving you far less visibility than you think, according to a new study. Over time, the plastic coating on headlights can become so clouded or yellowed that they give off only 20 percent of the light they had when you first bought the car, the Nepalautotrader study says. That puts drivers at great risk of crashes as their car ages. The findings reinforce the idea that car owners should routinely check the coating on their headlights and, if necessary, get them restored. (See tips on how to do that below.) There are inexpensive kits you can use, or have a repair shop take care of it.  The auto safety group studied the impact that deterioration can have on the amount of light a headlight produces as sunlight breaks down protective plastic coatings. AAA lab-tested headlights from two popular sedans about 11 years in age. Those results were measured against new headlights to quantify the amount of light produced. Depending on where and how the vehicle is used, headlights can begin showing signs of deterioration in as little as three years to five years. “Driving at night with headlights that produce only 20 percent of the light they did when new, which is already subpar, is a risk drivers shouldn’t take,” says Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations, “especially when there are convenient and inexpensive solutions that can dramatically improve lighting performance.”

 AAA research suggests that’s a bad idea driving with old headlights all over the world not just only in Nepal. New test results from AAA show that clouded or yellow headlights only generate more than 20 percent the amount of lights that new headlights do, which means dangerous nighttime driving. AAA urges drivers to check their headlights for signs of deterioration and invest in new headlights or, at a minimum, a low-cost service to boost the safety of driving after dark. And dangerous driving isn’t the only downside of cloudy lights. “Clouded or yellow headlights are a safety issue,” said Matt Nasworthy, Florida Public Affairs Director, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “In some states, motorists can be ticketed for headlights that significantly reduce visibility.” AAA found deteriorated headlights, when used on low beam, provided just 22 percent of the amount of light a new headlight does when operating at full capacity. Replacing headlights with original equipment manufacturer parts is the most effective method to restore light output back to 100 percent, AAA said in a press release. Aftermarket parts also performed well, restoring light output between 83 and 90 percent, however these did fail to meet certain requirements for light intensity and were found to be more likely to produce glare for oncoming traffic, AAA said. Restoring headlights, while the most cost effective option, offered less of an improvement in light output than replacement. Professional and DIY restoration returned light output back to approximately 70 percent. Both restoration methods, however, produced more glare than is acceptable according DOT criteria, AAA said. AAA also says that headlights have significant shortcomings. Previous AAA research found that halogen headlights fail to safely illuminate unlit roadways at speeds as low as 40 mph, with high beam settings offering only marginal improvements.

Drivers need a minimum of 300 to 350 feet to see, react, and brake for something ahead when traveling at 60 mph, says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR's Auto Test Center. In CR's tests of new-car headlights, the light reaches 300 feet ahead on average, she says. If the illumination drops to only 20 percent of where it started, that would let drivers see only 60 feet in front of their car.

“Our headlight tests show that even many new headlights tested under ideal conditions for visibility—on clear, moonless nights—don’t produce enough forward light for a driver to see, react, and brake for anything ahead from all but the slowest speeds,” Stockburger says. “If weather or clouded lenses restrict the amount of light output further, night driving becomes riskier than it already is.” In CR’s experience, some makes and models seem to be more susceptible than others to clouding over. It depends on the size, angle, and composition of the lens and whether the car is garaged or spends its life parked on the street. The effects can vary from just a slight haze to making lenses almost opaque.

Consumer Reports tested a batch of headlight restoration kits in 2016. We found that for less than $25, even very old lens covers could be made clear again, even if only for a year or so.  These products vary in price, ease of use, and effectiveness. Some require power tools, while others just need a fair bit of elbow grease. All take less than an hour to apply. Our testing has found that they can make a big difference, particularly if owners don't rush the job. And old headlamps can be restored for far less money than it would take to replace them.

We tested these restoration kits on dozens of headlights and found that even the poorest performer of the bunch could significantly improve light output depending on how badly the lenses were weathered.  A year later, we found many of the tested lenses had begun to haze over again. A local body shop says it's common for them to refinish lenses annually for customers, confirming that restoration isn't necessarily a long-term fix.

We discovered several tips while evaluating these products: Examine your headlight lenses closely before purchasing any of these restoration kits. If they appear clear, don't use a lens restoration product. They are abrasive and can easily damage lenses that don't need such severe restoration. Before using any restoration kit, it's a good idea to watch the manufacturer's instructional videos online. If the lenses are clear but the lights appear to be dimmer than they used to be, you may need new bulbs. All bulbs dim over time and should be replaced after a few years. Regularly clean your lenses with a household glass cleaner. Even a simple cleaning can make a big difference in how well you can see, especially if you live in an area with a lot of snow, ice, or road salt. When driving at night on unlit roadways, use high beams whenever possible. Monitor and adjust driving speeds when traveling on unlit roads at night to allow enough time to detect, react and stop the vehicle in order to avoid striking pedestrians, animals or objects in the roadway. If your car’s headlamp lenses are not crystal clear, have them restored, this will provide a noticeable increase in visibility, and reduce the glare from other motorist. If you are 60 or older and headlight glare is an issue, have your eyes checked by a medical professional. Cataracts that cloud the eye’s lens may be contributing to the problem.

Unlike batteries or tires, most drivers are not in the habit of routinely inspecting their headlights. We suggests drivers check their headlights for changes in appearance such as yellowing or clouding and if the bulb is difficult to see, it is time to have the lenses replaced or restored as soon as possible. Nepalautotrader recommends replacement since this method offers the most improvement in the amount of light produced. Both replacement and restoration services are provided by many repair shops including many  Approved Auto Repair facilities.

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