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you & your car

2013 Nissan Frontier

I have some questions about headlights. I know most of this has changed on new cars with "auto settings" but up until recently, the following was true:

1.) You could leave the lights on and kill the battery after turning the car off and walking away. Why?

2.)Two switch settings for the headlights: A) 'parking' lights where everything came on but the headlights, then B) everything and now also the headlights. Why?

I have tried to rationalize No. 1 through some sort of safety concern but for every person who may have had a need to keep the headlights on without the key there has probably been thousands who have been left stranded by a dead battery. This was in the days before cellphones, too. I can't make sense of No. 2, except for maybe at drive-in theatres.

My 2001 VW doesn't have "parking lights" and I haven't read of any complaints by professional car reviewers on this. How did these two modes come into being in the first place? Have either been mandated by safety legislation at any point? – Marcus

I think a definitive answer will prove illusive.

The answer to question No. 1 is almost certainly due to complexity and cost – it was easier and less expensive to wire the lights separate from the ignition, either on or off.

Question No. 2 is more difficult because automotive lighting laws vary from one jurisdiction to another and passenger vehicles built in one plant are exported to several markets.

In North America, many regulations pertinent to the auto industry have been standardized, including those regarding emissions, fuel consumption, safety issues and lighting. One exception is the requirement that vehicles sold in or exported to Canada must be equipped with Daytime Running Lights (DRLs). It is my assumption that this is where regulations regarding parking lights became muddled or got lost.

Transport Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (C.R.C., c. 1038) Lighting Systems and Retroreflective Devices (Standard 108) covers this area. The latest revision to this technical standards document was published in July, 2011, with a mandatory compliance date of Jan. 9, 2012. Under Section 5.1 – Required Motor Vehicle Lighting Equipment and 5.5 Special Wiring Requirements, the only reference to parking lights is that two are required. "On the front – 1 on each side of the vertical centerline, at the same height, and as far apart as practicable." There is reference to the allowed intensity of a "parking lamp" and the fact that, when they are activated, the side-marker, license plate and taillights must be as well.

Protecting fog lights

I own a recent model Nissan Frontier pickup with fog lights installed down below the headlamps (pretty much under the grille). They are vulnerable to rocks and gravel on winter roads. To replace them is a major headache and expense – up to $300 for parts and labour. The worst thing is that you can get them replaced, and two days later they're shattered again. I've asked both the dealer and parts stores about any sort of aftermarket plastic protector cap (I would gladly put caps on that would have to be removed manually when needed). But, there does not seem to be anything out there. There is a product that enables you to put a protective piece of plastic film over the glass lamp, and this helps a bit but not enough. I've started making note of shattered fog lights as I walk across parking lots. They're not uncommon, and not just on Nissans. Any suggestions? I can't afford to keep putting a large amount of money into something that will likely get broken again and again. – Karl in Kamloops, B.C.

The problem is that these are not true fog lights, but auxiliary lights put there by designers to look like fog lights. You need to locate a screen-type protective layer that can be placed in front of, but not on the light itself.

Look in aftermarket outlets like Canadian Tire, NAPA and places that deal in high-performance parts. You may be lucky enough to find something of the correct size to use, and a way to fasten them. As you have discovered, plastic caps and films that fasten to the light itself will do little to protect the glass surface.

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