What should you know about dipped headlights?

Susan Fernandez February 02 2022

What are dipped headlights?

Your car is equipped with dipped headlights as an additional feature of your car's lighting system, allowing you to switch between high and low beams. Dipped headlights should be used when following another vehicle or traveling at a speed which means other vehicles can be overtaken safely.

Your dipped headlights tell other drivers that you're not traveling at full beam and they shouldn't do the same (and potentially dazzle you). It also ensures that they can see you more easily; dipping your lights will make sure your car is visible in someone's rearview mirror for example.

Such headlights are called dipped because they are dipped below the main beam. The direction of such headlights is adjusted by the driver. Dipped headlights are also angled in a downward direction to make it easier for other drivers to see you.

It is important that you remember to dip your headlights during the day too, especially in dull weather or if there are low-hanging trees that may obscure your vision.

When should you dip your headlights?

You should dip your headlights in either of these situations:

  • When another road user is coming towards you and there isn't enough room for them to pass you safely without switching on their main beam.
  • You want to overtake another vehicle or are traveling alongside a slower-moving vehicle.

Your dipped headlights are used in conjunction with your main headlight beams. Dipped headlights should only be used when you're traveling at 30mph or below, following another car, or when there are not too many pedestrians around. If you need to switch on your low beam when driving over 30mph, this could distract other drivers and it may be worth stopping if possible so you can switch between high and low beam safely.

Moreover, when using dipped headlights you must remember not to strike pedestrians or any oncoming vehicles.

Depending on the state where you drive, some traffic authorities have different rules governing the usage of dipped headlights. For example in California, they are required to be used when following another car but any driver cruising on a country road at 55 mph or above is considered to be driving inappropriately if their headlights are not on a high beam.

Finally, people use dipped headlights during such weather conditions as heavy rain or thick fog, when the main beam of light is not powerful enough to penetrate these conditions.

What are the benefits of using dipped beam headlights?

Dipped headlights offer improved visibility due to their low beam and they're also easier on the eyes. They provide just enough light for you to cruise along safely without overwhelming other motorists, pedestrians, and road users - particularly at night or in poor weather conditions.

LED lights boost safety and reduce your car's running costs by using less petrol or electricity. If you don't want to invest in replacements right away, you can always get a pair of driving lights and fit them temporarily until your new ones arrive. This is a popular modification but bears in mind that it does increase power consumption so your battery will drain faster if they're left on when the ignition is off.

Why do some cars have their headlights on all the time?

Some cars (especially those with tinted glass) may keep their lights on as a safety feature; this is so they can be seen more easily and avoid an accident. If you're having problems with your dipped headlights staying on all the time, make sure there's nothing covering the sensor (usually located near the windscreen). You could also try switching between high and low beams manually by flicking the switch up and down.

Also, make sure you check which lights (lamps) on your car come on when the dipped headlights are activated. These may include:

  • High beam indicator lamps
  • Parking lights/indicators

If these lights aren't coming on when you switch your headlights to dip, they may need replacing. This is because there's a separate circuit in the wiring loom for such functions and if one of these bulbs blows, this will stop other bulbs from working properly too. You can replace them individually but it could prove expensive so we recommend taking the car to a garage and getting all such lights changed at once.

When should a driver switch between the full beam and dipped lights?

The difference between full beam and dipped lights is that the full beam allows you to see further down the road but doesn't help with lighting up the area close by. Dipped lights will help you to see what's immediately in front of you, which can make your driving safer.

  1. If there are pedestrians or cyclists around, use dipped headlights (unless they tell you not to).
  2. When following another vehicle at night, switch on your low beams when it has passed and dip them again once it has moved ahead. This means that other drivers won't be blinded as they approach your car. Similarly, you should always dip your headlights if another car approaches from behind (apart from if it's an emergency vehicle; these must always have their lights turned on).
  3. If a car overtakes you, dip your headlights when it's done so.
  4. If another road user has indicated for you to give way, switch on your dipped lights while doing so. Don't forget to switch them off again once you've passed or allowed this other car through.
  5. If there's heavy rain or thick fog and the main beam isn't powerful enough to penetrate it, use the dipped beams instead (a high beam should not be necessary).

Is it possible to use dipped light as daytime running light (DRL)?

DRL is used in countries where dipped lights are supposed to be used during the day. It is possible but you will need to do some changes on your car wiring system because the main beam has a separate circuit in the wiring loom.

DRLs can have many different designs and shapes, but they are always similar in performance to their respective standard headlights. Electric lamps are almost always used for DRLs, but there are some exceptions.

So, using dipped light instead of a daytime running light is possible, but you need to do some changes on your car wiring system. Such changes include:

  • The low beam must turn on when the engine starts (you can't go running without keys).
  • You must get rid of low beam automatic switching.
  • You have to use a separate switch for DRLs, so they won't be used when you want them switched off.
  • If you're going to do this modification yourself, it's highly recommended that you get a wiring diagram from a service workshop and follow it precisely or hire an automotive electrician for this job.

Can you use dipped headlights instead of fog lights?

While this is permitted, the beam patterns are different so don't expect to get the same results. Fog lights produce a shorter, wider distribution of light with a reduced range than dipped beams, meaning they can be used by themselves or in combination with standard headlamps depending on what the weather's doing.

Whether you need headlights that give off an intense white color or ones that are designed for foggy conditions - there's an aftermarket option to suit all needs. For ordinary road use, krypton gas-discharge bulbs are more popular because they offer improved performance and illumination over halogen lamps at a similar price point.

What bulbs will fit the dipped beam headlights construction?

LED, halogen, incandescent, or filament bulbs can all be used. However, not just any bulb will fit in the housing, you need to pick the right one for your car otherwise it may not fit, or worse - it might damage other parts of your vehicle. Bulbs that are too powerful may cause glare problems for other motorists, so keep this in mind when shopping around.

You should always check with your dealer before buying replacement lamps as they'll know which ones are compatible with your car model and year.

Is there a limit on how bright dipped headlights can be?

Yes, there's an EU regulation limiting the maximum power of the main beam to four times that of the dipped beam (i.e. 25 watts). The only vehicles exempt from this rule are those with an upper limit of four times that of the dipped beam (i.e. 100 watts).

There's a variety of bulbs on the market from different manufacturers, each boasting different wattages and light outputs. Some vehicles, especially older models, may only be fitted with halogen lamps at 4 to 5 watts. If you want to upgrade your headlights for better performance or simply to make them brighter, it's advisable to look for ones with good ratings as there are no specific rules governing headlamp specifications in terms of power output and luminous intensity.

The normal color temperature is between 2800-3000K which replicates daylight and thus produces a crisp white light - some car enthusiasts prefer this tint as it puts less strain on the eyes and improves visibility.

What color should my car's dipped headlights be?

The standard color is white but remember that you can change the color of your headlamp lenses. Because there are no clear guidelines, manufacturers are free to produce them in any hue they please - this means you can have yours painted in ice blue, chameleon green or ruby red if you so wish.

On the other hand, if you want to keep things simple then black is probably the best choice as it won't stand out too much and blend in nicely with the light's surroundings. That is why when you choose aftermarket bulbs and their type, you have to keep in mind the certain brightness level and color temperature of a headlight.

Does using dipped headlights void my car warranty?

The type of headlights fitted as standard on your vehicle has been rigorously tested to ensure they conform to all legal requirements for road use. Modifying your car's lighting system can affect its performance and safety, so it isn't advisable to do without consulting the manufacturer first.

It is always best practice to buy aftermarket bulbs from an automotive parts specialist or dealer who will be able to advise you whether your particular make and model is suitable for the upgrade or not, along with any other potential problems that may arise from making changes.

Many reputable retailers offer a guarantee on their products, which should put your mind at ease if anything goes wrong.

How long do car headlights last?

The expected lifespan of your vehicle's headlights depends on how it's used and how often. Obviously, driving in heavy rain or snow will shorten their life expectancy, just like leaving the car parked in the scorching sun for prolonged periods of time.

Headlights are generally made from glass and plastic which can become brittle over time due to exposure to heat and cold - this is why they should be inspected every year to make sure they're still fit for purpose. If you notice any cracks or other damage then it's important you get them repaired before driving at night as this could pose a serious threat to yourself, other road users, and pedestrians.


How do I maintain my car's dipped headlights?

Car headlight lenses are highly susceptible to corrosion that may affect their performance. To prevent dirt from building up on your vehicle's lights, wipe them down with a soft damp cloth after washing your car.

Don't use harsh abrasives or scourers as these can cause irreparable damage to the headlamp lenses - if any dirt gets trapped between the glass and plastic then it's best to get your lights professionally cleaned before using them at night.

When you drive past another vehicle in the opposite direction with dipped headlights on, you must dip your own headlight beams until safely past each other - failure to do this could result in an on-the-spot fine.

Even if you are driving behind another car or motorcycle with dipped headlights on, you should avoid switching on your high beam unless absolutely necessary; otherwise you'll dazzle the oncoming driver and may cause a collision.