Driver's are overlooking a huge safety risk by neglecting their cars' headlights: AAA

car headlightsReuters/Chris Keane

  • AAA investigated degraded car headlights and found that they can greatly reduce the amount of light projected at night.
  • Repairs range from less than $100 for a DIY job to around $450 for a full replacement with original equipment.
  • AAA recommends that driver's routinely examine their headlights for signs of degradation.


Car owners routinely worry about everything from check engine lights to squeaky brakes, but they could be overlooking a more serious, silent problem.

AAA investigated the culprit: headlights that are past their prime.

"New research from AAA reveals that clouded or yellowed headlights generate only 20 percent of the amount of light that new headlights do, leading to dangerous nighttime driving conditions," AAA said in a statement.

"This decrease is caused by sunlight damage to protective plastic coatings, resulting in discoloration that considerably diminishes the headlight's ability to provide adequate light on dark roadways. With 50 percent of crashes occurring at night, AAA urges drivers to check their headlights for signs of deterioration and invest in new headlights or, at a minimum, a low-cost service to boost the safety of driving after dark."

Many people are already disadvantaged when it comes to their subpar headlights.

"Walk through any parking lot and it is evident that deteriorated headlights are a problem for most vehicle owners," Greg Brannon, AAA's director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations, said in a statement. "Headlights on the road in the US, even when new, don't produce a sufficient amount of lighting, so any reduction in performance is a real safety issue."

New is best, but refurbished is better than nothing

Deteriorated HeadlightAAA

The best solution is a complete headlight upgrade; AAA estimated that it would cost about $430 to replace degraded headlights with top-quality original equipment, restoring 100% of functionality. Cheaper, aftermarket headlights would run about $230 for certified units and roughly $200 for non-certified, again at the upper end, and would return 80%-90% of original capability.

But even sub-$100 refurbishments, either professionally handled or done by the owner, would bring back 70% of a headlight's illuminating power.

I've personally owned quite a few cars and have seen the headlights degrade literally in front on my own eyes. My 2011 Prius is due for at least a refurbishment, in fact. Given that I drive brand-new vehicles all the time, I can witness the difference between headlights that perform as advertised and ones that don't - and the difference can be dramatic.

"Unlike batteries or tires, most drivers are not in the habit of routinely inspecting their headlights," AAA said.

The organization "suggests drivers check their headlights for changes in appearance such as yellowing or clouding and if the bulb is difficult to see, it is time to have the lenses replaced or restored as soon as possible."

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