/ Motoring

Are both your car headlights working?

It’s still dark and dull outside, and so driving conditions aren’t all that great. Being visible on the road is not just important, it’s a legal requirement. So are both of your car headlights working?

On 27 January we reported that, according to government figures, nearly half of MOT failures last year would have been avoidable had the vehicle owner carried out a few basic visual checks in advance. And of those checks, simple lighting faults accounted for one in five of these cases.

While headlight failures may seem like just a minor inconvenience for some, it’s an irritation of mine. And based on the evidence I’ve seen while driving lately, it’s a problem that seems to be frequently slipping through the net. So I think it’s time to shine a light on the issue.

Under the spotlight

Now, you’d probably notice if both your car headlights were out, especially if you drive at night. But only losing one headlight might pass you by. Well-lit streets can hide the effect from the driver. Some may even be aware, but don’t see the issue as serious enough to deal with it straight away.

But vehicles with only one working light will appear to be considerably smaller than they actually are when viewed head-on and in mirrors by other drivers – you can end up believing that you have a motorbike in your vicinity, when in fact it’s a full-sized car or van.

In some cases the one working light will itself be obscured, leading the driver to assume there are no other vehicles around them at all, which could have serious consequences when it comes to turning, braking and changing lanes.

Not to mention the issues that could arise from any unfortunate collisions. If a headlight being out was the cause of the accident, how could you prove that the faulty headlight was broken before impact?

The fact is that driving without working headlights is an MOT failure, and it’s a failure for a reason – when visibility is poor it’s fundamentally dangerous for other drivers as well as pedestrians.

Here’s a bright idea

Now changing a car bulb can be an easy task on some car models, and a little trickier for others. A replacement bulb will usually cost you less than £5, and you may have to pay a further £5 to £10 if you require someone to fit it for you. But, all in all, I think it’s a pretty fair price to pay, that far outweighs the risk of not being seen on the road.

The number of vehicles I’ve spotted lately with partially or fully blown headlights on one side has been quite alarming, and I find it hard to believe that this problem could be localised (south London, for those wondering).

So, have you checked your headlights recently? And, have you, like me, noticed an increase in cars with their headlights out? Why do you think this is?


I blame the car manufactures for their design that make it so difficult on modern cars to fix faulty lights. I carry spare bulbs and can if pressed change a bulb on some of my cars but its not a roadside fix. I’ve been driving a Merc for a few weeks with only one dipped beam (but compensated with foglight) due to a faulty ballast and that is a nightmare to source the part and fit. Not happy with the situation but needs must.

R.A.Jordan says:
22 February 2016

I agree that headlight failures are a problem, my offside dimmed light failed and I had to get the garage to change it, I was informed by the garage that if it had been the nearside then the battery would have to be removed to replace the bulb. I carry a spare set of bulbs, but there is no way I cold change the bulb if they blew whilst on a journey. The car manufacturers should bear this in mind when they design a new model


Now drive Citroen C3 picasso bulbs are easy to change but last car a Citron C3 they were a bugger to change, one side needed the air hoses disconnected even you could not see what you were doing.
Could see in the back of the headlamp shell with torch and mirror or feel with hand but not both at same time.

A. Hardie says:
22 February 2016

My VW Up! Owners Manual gives detailed information on how to replace the various bulbs. However there is no specification for the actual bulbs required. Not exactly convenient as you have to remove the rear light cluster before you can remove a bulb to see what is required for a replacement.
On another tack, I am irritated by the many drivers who switch on front and rear fog lights when driving conditions do not warrant it. It doesn’t make them any more visible, rear fog lights cause unnecessary dazzle and why waste fuel.


It is illegal to drive with front or front and rear fog lights when the conditions do not require them.


My car, a Renault Modus, is so designed and constructed that the front of the car has to be dismantled in order to change a headlight bulb. On the occasions when a bulb has blown I have had to take the car to a garage for it to be replaced: the cost of changing the bulb being several times the cost of the replacement bulb itself.

One irony of this is that in France one is required to carry spare bulbs and to replace them at the first opportunity. Yet a French company designs and produces a vehicle where compliance with this requirement is virtually impossible.


That’s history. 🙁 As I posted earlier, there is no longer a requirement to carry spare bulbs in France or most other European countries, though I expect many residents and visitors still do.

When I first became aware of the problem I contacted a manufacturer and got a polite but unhelpful reply. It was the same when I contacted manufacturers about models with excessively bright LED brake lights.


And years ago small and mid-range Renaults and Citroëns used to be quite utilitarian with bolt-on parts that were easily changed.


That is an absurd situation and one can only wonder how the EU and their friends the car manufacturers got away with an essentially anti-consumer and anti-safety design.

I have been interested since around 2005 when I read a couple travelling to the Continent had to go to a Volvo garage to get the lights switched for Continental driving at a mere £75.


A friend of mine needed a new headlamp bulb for his Renault Modus, when he realised that he could not fit the bulb himself he contacted the local Renault dealer, they wanted £150 to change the bulb.
He found a non franchised garage to change the bulb for £80. Its mad.

graeme says:
23 March 2016

I believe you could even get ‘Haynes Manuals’.

David Russell says:
22 February 2016

Yes it is a growing problem. I regularly do a 30 mile journey at night on main roads through rural un-light areas. I have been counting recently and between 5-10% of cars have only one headlight. It is also clear that some of these drivers (with dip beam failure lights) realise they have a problem because they do not dip their headlights until flashed.
I have talked about this with friends and from my own experience it is far easier to change a bulb that manufacturers or often garages claim. Having to take out the battery, with all the consequential issues, is often one quoted but is frequently not required. False claims by garages that the whole headlight unit has to be replaced is also one I have heard of twice recently. Yes sometimes headlight bulb replacement can be difficult and expensive but some garages are abusing this occasional problem to lift prices enormously.


Youtube is a great source of information on how to do things yourself.