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A guide to using your car lights

A guide to using your car lights

Not sure when to use fog lights or wondering when hazard warning lights are needed? And what exactly are dipped headlights? We’ve got your car light questions answered in our helpful guide.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
3
minute read
posted 15 JANUARY 2020

Headlights – dipped, full and side

Your headlights on the front of your car have a few settings to familiarise yourself with, especially if you’re new to driving:

  • Full beam/main beam - This setting is the most powerful, and it’s normally only used on unlit roads where you need to see as far ahead as possible. Because this light can dazzle oncoming road users, the law states you need to dip your main beams whenever someone – whether it’s a driver, pedestrian or horse rider – is coming towards you.
  • Dipped headlights - Confusingly, ‘dipped’ headlights are actually the default headlights you’d normally use at night. They’re called dipped because the main beam is angled downwards, to prevent dazzling other road users.
  • Sidelights - The sidelight function is usually a dimmer version of your dipped headlights. You’ll use this setting when you’re driving in the daytime and want extra visibility – on an overcast or rainy day, for example.

Legally, you need to keep at least your sidelights and your rear number plate illumination lights (usually activated automatically, along with your sidelights), lit at night. For more tips on driving safely, take a look at our checklist.

Indicators and rear lights

Indicators
Located on the front and back outer corners of your car, your indicators tell other road users when you’re planning to turn left or right.

Brake and rear lights
Your brake lights and rear lights, often sharing the same bulb assembly, are the red ones at the back of the car. Brake lights come on whenever you use the footbrake, warning anyone behind you that you’re slowing down. The rear lights come on along with your headlights or sidelights and add visibility in dark or overcast conditions.

When to use hazard warning lights

According to the Highway Code, you should only use hazard lights when your vehicle is stationary and causing an obstruction. For example, if you’ve broken down on the hard shoulder.

The exception is if you’re on a motorway or unrestricted dual carriageway, when you can use your hazards, briefly, to warn people behind you of an obstruction or traffic jam up ahead.

Why? Well, hazard lights make use of your indicator bulbs. So if you use them while in motion, it could prevent you from signalling effectively.

When to use your fog lights

The fog lights may be a sub-setting of the headlights in your car, or they could be a separate lamp altogether. Whichever applies to you, it’s important to know when to switch them on and when to turn them off again.

You don’t legally have to use fog lights, although they’re a helpful way to boost your visibility. You do legally have to turn them off as soon as visibility improves, however. This avoids dazzling oncoming road users. The brightness of rear fog lights can obscure your brake lights, which is another reason to turn them off as soon as they’re no longer needed.

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