From illuminating dark roads and increasing visibility in low light to warning other drivers about an upcoming hazard. There’s no doubt that car headlights are fundamental to road safety. Most drivers know how to switch between dipped and full beam headlights. However many don’t know the full extent of their car’s capabilities.

A good understanding of what types of car headlights your vehicle has and how to use them is an important part of being a safe driver. Want to know more about how to navigate your way around the dashboard? Read on as we explore the different types of car headlights and their impact on safety.

Types of car headlights

Dipped headlights

The most commonly used types of car headlights, dipped beams are angled towards the ground and light up the road in front of you. Brighter than sidelights, they tend not to be as dazzling as full beam mode. Usually, dipped headlights are operated by a switch on the dashboard or twist function on the indicator rod. It’s also worth noting that many modern cars are equipped with the technology to activate dipped headlights without driver input.

UK Highway Code states that drivers must “use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced” and you’re unable to see more than 100 metres ahead. As well as the dark hours between sunset and sunrise, dipped headlights should also be used in gloomy weather that reduces visibility.

Full beam headlights

The brightest type of car headlight, full beams feature a higher angle that lights up more of the road. Depending on your car make and model, full beams can use either the same or a different set of bulbs to dipped headlights.

Be cautious when using your full beams, as UK Highway Code states you must not “use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users. This includes pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.” They’re generally switched on when driving on unlit stretches of road. Furthermore, they should be turned off when approaching other traffic.

Daytime running lights (DRLs)

Featured in most newer models, daytime running lights are activated with the engine and remain lit throughout your drive. They were standardised in the wake of studies suggesting that vehicles with permanent daylights increase safety and visibility on the road. You don’t need to do anything to activate DRLs, making them one of the easiest and most hassle-free safety enhancers out there. 

Fog lights

Designed to cut through haze and mist, fog lights can drastically increase safety in challenging driving conditions. They’re generally installed at the front and rear of the car, with colour coded switches (green for the front and amber for the back). In most cars you’ll turn on your fog lights by activating dipped mode, then twisting or pressing the fog light switch. The symbol is usually a half moon next to a vertical wavy line interspersed with three horizontal lines.

Hazard warning lights

Visible from all corners of your car, hazard warning lights activate all four indicators at the same time. As such, they are designed to alert other drivers of your stationary position. The amber lights blink in unison and warn other drivers that a hazard is ahead. Scenarios where you might activate this type of car headlight include breaking down on the side of the highway or stopping for a crash. Easy to find, the hazard lights switch is usually identifiable by the red triangle shape.


All drivers should be familiar with the ins and outs of indicators. These blinking amber lights let other drivers know your intentions and prepare accordingly. As well as basic corners, don’t forget to indicate when you’re travelling through a roundabout, changing lanes, overtaking and merging.

Brake lights

Like indicators, brake lights are used to alert other drivers of your intentions. They’re activated when you apply the brakes and light up the red bulbs near your taillights. Brake lights should be working at all times, or you risk penalty notices, fines and even points on your licence. 

Sidelights/parking lights

Usually located in the front headlamp unit, sidelights are typically powered by 5W bulbs and are not as bright as your standard headlights. Instead of illuminating the road, these low-powered types of car headlights are designed to increase the visibility of your car. In the UK, sidelights should be switched on when parking your car on roads with speed limits of more than 30mph.

Different types of car headlight bulbs

Car headlight technology is continually advancing, with manufacturers championing energy efficient and eco-friendly bulbs. Today, most new models are powered by three types of bulbs. These are halogen, light emitting diodes (LED) and xenon/high intensity discharge (HID).

Halogen bulbs use a tungsten filament and a mix of gases, usually nitrogen and argon, to create light. While they’re popular, they’re not as bright or inefficient as other options.

LED bulbs, short for light emitting diodes, offer incredible energy efficiency and produce very little heat. They reach full illumination up to 250 times faster than halogen bulbs. For this reason, they are ideal for time-sensitive lights such as brakes and indicators. 

Xenon headlights are a popular choice for luxury cars, using metals and heat gases to create a bright blue or white glow. While the brightness and range of the light is impressive, xenon bulbs can dazzle other drivers and create glare.

Get intuitive with your car headlights

While best-selling models like the 1995 Ford Fiesta were state-of-the-art at the time, technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since then. New cars are designed to make the driving experience as intuitive as possible. For example, user-friendly dashboards and automatic sensor technology that activates many of the different types of car headlights for you.

Sliding behind the wheel of a nearly new 2020 model, you’ll be impressed by five-star safety features. For instance, flashing brake lights are now common, as is an auto high beam function that automatically dips your headlights when oncoming traffic is detected. Furthermore, ultra-efficient LED daytime running lights increase visibility 24/7. It’s not just Ford that’s setting new standards for headlight safety, with other manufacturers also championing smart headlight technology.

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