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(Olga Milkina/iStockphoto)
(Olga Milkina/iStockphoto)

You & Your Car

Shedding light on dirty low beams Add to ...

I just bought a 2005 Subaru Legacy GT wagon and love it. But my low beams are actually quite dangerous. In pitch black and on rural roads, the amount of clear viewing is extremely limited. Yet the high beams are fine. Should I be moving to some kind of HID lighting? Next step is to check their positioning, but I doubt that will provide a solution. – John

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This is one of my pet issues. It is such a dangerous situation and I’m disappointed regulators in Ottawa haven’t addressed it.

Your Subaru is no different than the vast majority of cars rolling off assembly lines for sale in North America. The headlights meet current, antiquated regulations but much better lighting is widely available on more expensive high-end vehicles, like the HID units you mention. However switching from conventional headlights to HID units is all but impossible – and very expensive.

HID (high-intensity discharge) lights operate on a different principle requiring unique electrical components and fixtures. European regulations call for HID lighting systems to come with self-cleaning and self-leveling systems to minimize glare for oncoming motorists. No such rules apply here and the few replacement units available, at pricing starting at about $200 per side, do not have these significant safety features.

My suggestion is for a two-part partial solution – clean the lenses and swap bulbs.

A close look at the lenses on your headlights will probably show them to be foggy or clouded caused by the constant bombardment from everything from sand, salt and other road debris over the years.

There are a number of cleaning compounds available to clean your lights – mild abrasives that polish the surface of the lens, restoring much of its original transparency. Two that come to mind at about $25 are made by Meguiar’s and Mothers. They can be found at most automotive parts outlets or at Canadian Tire.

While there, pick up a pair of replacement bulbs for those newly polished lights. The ones I am familiar with are GE Nighthawk and Sylvania Silverstar. In both cases they will cost you about $25 per light and provide up to 30 per cent more illumination without creating an unsafe glare for oncoming vehicles.

Automatic-on lights

I drive a Ford Escort wagon, so I don’t know much about new stuff, but recently in Europe I had a Mercedes diesel rental, and the lights come on automatically when needed. Isn't that how new cars are going to be equipped now? – Anita in Toronto

Not necessarily.

Automotive lighting is one of the areas covered by federal regulations. In Canada – but not the United States – these regulations call for all vehicles to display Daytime Running Lights or DRLs as they are known, to be displayed when the vehicle is in gear or in motion.

First developed and used in Scandinavian countries where research has shown them to save lives, DRLs are created in a variety of ways. The actual regulations call for less light than low beams and while some manufacturers use the low-beam bulb, others use the high beams at part power and still others use bright parking lights.

The other system you might be referring to is the one where the lights come on when there is insufficient natural lighting – at dusk, in heavy fog or rain. These are more complicated and expensive – but standard equipment on many new vehicles, especially those wearing higher price tags.

While an excellent idea, I doubt we’ll see industry-wide penetration until called for by regulations. And with the silly negative attitude Americans have toward DRLs, I don’t see the rules changing in the near term despite the proven safety advantages.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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