By Carter Jung:
As we draw closer to winter, days are rapidly becoming shorter. For many of us, late afternoon commutes that used to bask in the glow of the sun are now coated in the darkness of evening. To help you drive safer, here are eight illuminating tips for motoring after hours.
- Squeegee windshield. A dirty, streaky windshield may be an eyesore during the day, but at night, oncoming vehicles' headlights can exacerbate glare, reducing outward visibility. The next time you fill up at a Shell station, put the squeegees to use and clean the front glass. In addition, wipe down the inside of your car’s windshield, as well as the side mirrors, and side and rear windows.
- Clean headlights. As obvious as it may sound, headlights are extremely important for night driving. So much so, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) started to test and rate vehicles headlight performance earlier this year. After you’re done squeegeeing your windshield, inspect your headlights and clean them as necessary. We recommend spraying glass cleaner onto a microfiber towel to wipe down the lens. A general rule regarding headlight usage is to turn them on an hour before dusk and keep them on an hour after dawn.
- Headlight restoration. If your headlights are still hazy after you’ve cleaned them, it might be time to escalate matters. Unfortunately, modern plastic headlight lenses are prone to clouding due to the damaging UV rays from the sun. While you can purchase new headlights from the dealer, you can save money by going DIY with a headlight restoration kit. There are loads of options, but they all require sanding and polishing (read: elbow grease) to remove the damaged layer. Make sure the restoration kit includes a sealant, otherwise your hard work will quickly go to waste.
- Replace bulbs. Inspect all headlights, daytime running lights, turn signals, and brake lights, and replace as necessary. Remember to wear gloves when working with bulbs to prevent oil from your hands making contact with the glass. This can shorten the life of the bulb.
- Aim headlights. Over time, your headlights can misalign, sending crucial light to areas of the road where it’s not needed or dangerous to oncoming motorists. To adjust the headlights on your own, you will need access to level ground, a wall or garage with at least 25 feet of travel, tools, and masking tape or chalk. Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for the location of the adjustment screws or bolts, as well as the recommended distance from a wall to inspect the lights.
- Reduce cabin lights. Lower the brightness of your vehicle’s dash and instrument panel. If your car is equipped with an LCD infotainment screen, make sure to switch it to night mode and reduce its brightness. The same goes for a smartphone attached to a windshield mount. Reducing cabin lights can prevent reflective glare on your windshield and help your eyes adjust to a dark road.
- Fog lamps. If you live in a climate that’s prone to fog, consider adding fog lamps to your vehicle. Auxiliary lights can help illuminate murky nights. Whether or not you have fog lamps, remember to avoid using high beams in foggy conditions. Instead rely on your low beams for improved visibility.
- Slow down. You can only react to what you see and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), your low-beam headlights allow you to spot objects 160 feet in front of you. The same study estimates that a vehicle traveling at a speed of 40 mph requires 189 feet of stopping distance, 29 more than you can visibly see with a headlight. At 60 mph, the stopping distance increases to 359 feet, more than double the illumination distance of your headlights.