How to Use Car Headlights

Headlights are not only an important safety component on your vehicle, but also a feature that you are legally obligated to use. Failure to use your headlights while driving at night comes with an expensive ticket, and you can even get a fix-it ticket if any of your lights aren’t operating properly.

Headlights are designed to give you maximum visibility while driving your vehicle. They light the road in front of you when it is dark out, and can even be used to improve visibility during adverse weather conditions. Just as importantly, headlights make your vehicle visible to oncoming traffic, which is vital for your safety on the road.

To utilize your headlights, you’ll first have to turn them on. This process alters slightly depending on the exact make and model of your car; but, for the most part, headlight operation is pretty similar in every vehicle. Using your headlights is remarkably easy, and will only take you a few seconds.

Part 1 of 4: Identify the headlight components

Step 1: Find the headlight controls. The headlight controls are almost always positioned in one of two places.

The first place that you may find the controls is on one of the levers that protrudes from either side of the steering column. The second likely location is on the dashboard, to the left of the steering wheel.

In the event that your headlight controls are not in one of these two places, you should find them somewhere on the dashboard, control center, or steering wheel.

  • Tip: The headlights are usually accompanied by a symbol of an upside-down light bulb, or a sun. Look for this symbol to help you find the headlights in your car.

Step 2: Determine the meaning of the headlight symbols. In order to use the correct headlight setting, you’ll need to identify the different headlight symbols.

Your headlights will automatically be turned to the off setting, which is usually a symbol of an empty circle, or the word “off.” There will also be a symbol of two lights facing opposite directions, which indicates the parking lights or daytime lights. Finally, there will be a symbol of a large light facing left (this looks like the letter “D” with lines protruding from it), which indicates the main headlights.

If your vehicle is equipped with automatic headlights, they will be indicated with the word “auto,” or the letter “A” enclosed in an upside-down headlight.

  • Tip: If your vehicle has fog lights, the symbol will be near the main headlight controls, but not in line with the other controls. The fog lights are indicated by a symbol similar to the headlight symbol, but with the light angled downward.

Part 2 of 4: Using the headlights

Step 1: Turn the headlights on. Rotate the headlight switch until it is on the setting that you wish to use. Each setting has a notch to make it clear that the switch is in the right place.

hand turning headlight switch

  • Tip: When you rotate the headlight switch to the automatic setting, then the headlights will automatically turn on or turn off depending on the current light levels outside the vehicle.

Step 2: Turn the headlights off. After you are done driving, be sure to turn off the headlights. To do so, simply rotate the headlight switch back to the original “off” position.

  • Warning: If you leave your headlights on after turning off your vehicle, the battery will begin to drain. There is a limited amount of time that your lights can stay on before the battery dies. To help you avoid this, your vehicle will chime when the lights are turned on but the ignition is off.

Part 3 of 4: Using the high beams and the fog lights

Step 1: Turn on the high beams. The high beam lights provide extra light when it is very dark out.

To turn on the high beams, push the turn signal lever forward, or pull it towards you (this depends on your car), until it locks into place. Return the lever to its original position to turn off the high beams.

When the high beam lights are turned on, a blue symbol similar to the headlight symbol will illuminate on the instrument panel.

drivers point of view at night

  • Warning: While the high beams increase your visibility, they result in an intense glare that decreases visibility for your surroundings. Always turn off your high beams when there is oncoming traffic, or when you are directly behind another vehicle.

fog light switch

Step 2: Turn on the fog lights. The fog lights can be used in addition to the headlights to increase visibility in foggy, misty, or rainy weather.

To turn on the fog lights, rotate the fog light switch, or press the fog light button (this depends on your car). This switch or button is located directly next to the headlight controls.

Part 4 of 4: Maintaining your headlights

person inspecting headlight

Step 1: Check the operation of your headlights. To ensure safety and avoid fix-it tickets, you should frequently check to make sure that all of your lights work.

The best way to do this is to have an acquaintance stand in front of your vehicle while you switch between the different headlight settings. Make sure that they check both front lights.

If you do not have someone to help you with this task, you can park your vehicle in front of a solid wall, and view the reflection of your lights as you change the settings.

Step 2: Be aware of headlight warnings. If there is a failure in your headlight system, a warning light will usually illuminate on the control panel.

This light is often a flashing headlight indicator, a headlight indicator with an “X” through it, or a headlight indicator with an exclamation point next to it. When you notice a headlight warning light you should contact a certified mechanic, such as one from YourMechanic, to come inspect the system as soon as possible.

side by side gauge

  • Tips: If you notice that a headlight symbol has illuminated on the instrument panel, make sure it is a warning light, and not the high beam indicator.

Using your headlights is very simple. After a few times of driving your car, turning the headlights on and off will become second nature. Remember to regularly inspect your headlights for proper operation, and clean your headlights to ensure the best visibility while you drive. If you have any issues with your headlights not working properly, a certified mechanic from YourMechanic can come to you and diagnose the problem.


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