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Short of stopping the vehicle and having the bulbs removed for inspection, there is little that can be done about ultra-bright headlights. (Stockbyte/Getty Images)
Short of stopping the vehicle and having the bulbs removed for inspection, there is little that can be done about ultra-bright headlights. (Stockbyte/Getty Images)

You & Your Car

Turning a blind eye to bright headlights Add to ...

How can the bright white/blue headlights on some cars be legal? They are worse than normal headlights on high-beam. – John

This has become a major issue as consumers try to duplicate HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlights with cheap, brighter bulbs.

Modern headlights are comprised of a case, reflector, lens and bulb. The bulb is the source of the light, which is gathered by and reflected off the mirror-like rear portion of the case – aimed forward through the lens, which is usually etched to direct the light.

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Tungsten bulbs were replaced by brighter and whiter halogen bulbs, which run cooler, use less energy and last two to three times longer. The change from tungsten to halogen merely changed the amount and colour of light.

The most recent update has been Xenon HID lighting. The name comes from Xenon, the source of the light and the High Intensity Discharge necessary to ignite those gasses. Instead of using 12 volts of direct current across the metal element causing a tungsten or halogen bulb to glow, Xenon lights use 25,000 to 28,000 volts of alternating current (AC) to ignite a mixture of gas and metallic salts. This high-voltage comes from an electronic ballast or starter module that transforms DC to AC and kicks it up a notch.

This brighter, whiter light is then projected unto a reflector which gathers and directs the light through a clear lens like a normal headlight. But this reflector is optically-engineered to not only gather the light, but to focus it. Instead of having the lens direct the light, the Xenon light actually projects it in an exact focus – thus the common term projector units.

Xenon lights also require a complex automatic self-leveling system to ensure the bright light does not get in the eyes of approaching drivers. Herein lies the rub – and the source of your complaint.

As has always been the case since the second motor vehicle was produced, there are those who want to update, change or otherwise personalize their vehicle. This ranges from stripes and spoilers to wheels and headlights.

The best way to emulate the HID lights of an expensive vehicle is to use a cheap aftermarket bright blue bulb. But replacing the standard bulb with a more powerful one does not constitute Xenon lighting – only a poorly controlled source of very bright light through a lens that has not been designed for it.

Most of these bulbs do not meet regulatory standards and are thus illegal. But short of stopping the vehicle and having the bulbs removed for inspection, there is little that can be done about it.

Lighting is a federal regulation but I believe enforcement is a provincial or local issue. If you know of a particular vehicle you could complain to local law enforcement. Doing so to the government is preaching to the converted – there are already regulations in place.

Tire age

I just noticed that the Michelin Pilot Alpins tires installed on my car on Dec. 30, 2011, have the following four last digits: 3008(2), 4908(1), 2009(1). Has the dealership sold me tires made in 2008 and 2009? Can they legally do it? How does it affect the tire life and what recourse do I have? – Manoj

It would appear the tires were made in 2008 and 2009, but it is not as big a problem as you think.

Tire manufacturers have to produce tires well in advance of the season in order to ensure they are distributed across the globe in time. For example, right now, in the spring of 2012, they may be starting to manufacture summer tires to be sold more than a year from now, in 2013.

Dealers preparing for the current (2012) spring/summer season are being asked by manufacturers what they will need for the spring/summer 2013 season. In the case of your tires, those produced in 2008-09 were destined for sale in 2010 and later. They were produced during the period late summer 2008 through to the spring of 2009. They would have been produced to the same specifications, so I would not worry about any differences in performance.

As for age? Tire life is generally expected to be five to seven years. That range is expected to cover the variance in manufacture date. It is all but impossible for distributors and dealers to keep tires sorted according to manufacturing dates.

Having said that, yours do cover a fairly wide spread. Can they legally do it? Yes. How does it affect tire life? Barely. What recourse do you have? None beyond pointing out your concern to the dealer, and asking for consideration, perhaps in some sort of extended warranty.

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