By Clair Morton
Published: Friday, June 22, 2018
Modern cars are festooned with so many different lights that it’s hard to know when to use them – and even which ones you’ve actually turned on. We take a look at the different types and what symbols to look for on your dash.
DRLs are very common on new vehicles and, as the name suggests, they’re designed to make a car more visible (and therefore safer) when the sun’s up.
They automatically light up when the engine starts, but are illegal to use at night and must be wired so they turn off when the headlights are activated. Don’t confuse them with fog lights, which are quite different.
If your car has them, they should be used in hazardous conditions like fog, dust or heavy rain, as they have a low wide beam that’s handy during poor visibility.
Don’t forget to switch them off when the weather clears up, as they can dazzle other drivers.
Penalty for misusing fog lights: $238 fine, $60 Victims of Crime Levy
Also called low beams or dipped headlights, these should obviously be used to illuminate the road ahead at night.
Also switch them on when driving on country roads during the day and – if your car doesn’t have fog lights – they must be used in hazardous weather conditions that cause reduced visibility. If you fail to do so, you’ll be up for a $238 fine, $60 Victims of Crime levy and one demerit point.
Don’t use these within 200m of another vehicle (in front or behind), as you’ll blind the other driver and could face a $238 fine, a $60 Victims of Crime Levy and one demerit point.
It’s also a good idea to turn them off when going over a hill, as you won’t be able to see oncoming cars.
These are extra, aftermarket lights that you can install on the front of your car and are generally used by motorists who do a lot of country or outback driving.
They must be wired so they only light up when the high beams are on (so the high beam symbol on your dash will illuminate) and you should get advice to make sure they’re installed correctly.
NOTE: The symbols on your dash are mostly universal, but check your car’s owner’s manual to be sure.
What about those bright bluish lights? Are they even legal?
These contentious features are High Intensity Discharge lights – also known as HIDs or xenons.
In recent years they’ve become more widespread – and so have the concerns about their brightness (they’re up to three times brighter than traditional headlights).
They are legal when fitted correctly, but are subject to strict regulations.
First up, they must have a self-levelling mechanism to keep them pointed down towards the road, so if the rear of a car is weighed down by a caravan – or a dozen Christmas hams – the level of the lights will adjust accordingly.
They must also be fitted with washers to clean off any grime, as this causes the beams of light to scatter into the eyes of oncoming motorists.
When fitted by car manufacturers, these lights shouldn’t cause too many issues.
The annoying glare generally comes when people buy aftermarket kits, which usually aren’t self-levelling, don’t have washers and aren’t road legal.
Get caught using these lights illegally and your vehicle could be defected.
RAA’s advice? For driving around town, there’s really no need to change the headlights fitted by the manufacturer.
If you’re keen to light up the night during country or outback drives, it’s best to fit dedicated driving lights to the front of the vehicle.
It’s also important to have the headlight aiming checked from time to time, especially if a globe has been replaced recently. RAA can provide free headlight aiming for members too – just head here for all the details.