The Meaning of External Car Lights

They are there for others to see you as well as for you to see others.


How often do you consider car illumination, aside from the times when an approaching car blinds you with its lights? (For those among you who do not utilize turn signals, “not often enough” is the response.) An overview of the common bulbs and diodes found in contemporary cars is provided here, along with information on when to use them and how to switch them on.



The market is filled with a wide variety of headlight options. Halogen light bulbs were the norm for many years. They function by heating a filament, just like an incandescent household light bulb, to produce the yellowish light that many older cars use to navigate the road. Although they need a lot of energy to produce, they are inexpensive.


A Nissan GT-R with HID headlights.


Xenon lights, also referred to as high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlights, function similarly to commercial fluorescent tubes in that they generate light by passing energy through xenon gas. Although they are more costly to create than halogen lights, they use less energy and provide a brighter, whiter light.


Acura TLX headlights with LEDs.


Compared to HID headlights, light-emitting-diode (LED) headlights are more efficient, durable, and small. LEDs are popular among automotive designers because of their small size, which makes it possible to create complex distinctive headlight designs.


BMW 8 Series headlights with lasers.


Headlights using lasers are even more efficient. They work by using mirrors to concentrate blue laser light into a yellow phosphorus-filled lens, which, when hit by the blue lasers, produces brilliant white light. Laser lights were intended to be the next big thing in the mid-2010s, but discourse about them has slowed down, probably because LED technology has advanced and made them superfluous.


Every headlight on your car needs to have a low beam and a high beam setting, regardless of the type.


Dim Lights

How to activate them: Turn the “On” or “Auto” setting by twisting the dash knob or the steering column stalk.


Low-beams should be on from dusk till dawn in order to light up a small portion of the road ahead of you, usually 200 to 300 feet.


When to use them: In dimly lit areas or when vision is poor, such as in the rain, snow, or fog. Certain roadways in some states mandate headlights to be on at all times during the day. Keep an eye out for signage designating these roads.


Elevated Beams

To activate them, either pull back or push forward on the light stalk, depending on the car.


The usage of high-beams, often known as brights, is subject to state-specific regulations and can extend up to 500 feet. State rules also specify when you can flash your high beams at another car to alert them to an impending danger or to remind them to dim their headlights.


When to use them: At night, on a street with little lighting, when there is no chance that you would blind oncoming traffic or cars in front of you


Brake lights and taillights


Three-series BMW taillights.

There are three uses for the red lights on the back of the car. They have the brighter brake lights that activate when you depress the brake pedal, the tail lights that light up in tandem with your headlights to help other drivers see you, and the rear turn signals (explained later). This lets other cars know that you are stopped or slowing down.


Running Lights for the Day


A Kia Sportage with daytime running lights.

How to activate them: When you start the car or put it in drive, they immediately switch on.


Daytime running lights (DRLs) function as implied by their name. They are automatic, dimmer than headlights, and turn on when the automobile does. When you turn on the headlights, they usually turn off. During the day, they are used to increase your car’s visibility to other drivers. While some automobiles have the ability to switch off your DRLs, some do not.


When to utilize them: During the day


Lights in the fog


How to activate them: usually by rotating the headlight stalk to reveal an icon with a lens and a wavy line crossed by three horizontal lines, or by pushing an icon on the dash.


To improve visibility on the road through a layer of fog, fog lights are mounted low on the front of the vehicle. In the United States, fog lights are not legally necessary, and since LED headlights can now light up the same area, fog lights are often left off of new models.


When to utilize them: During mist


Signal Turns

How to activate them: To turn right or left, click the stalk located to the left of the steering wheel.


Since driving requires vision, headlights are undoubtedly the most vital lights on an automobile. However, it also involves informing other drivers of your intentions. You can alert other drivers to your intention to change lanes or turn at a junction by utilizing blinking light elements, which are typically housed within the head- and taillight housings.


When to utilize them: Whenever you are going to turn or change lanes.


Side Marker Lights

Turning them on involves using the headlights.


These little lights, which are red in the back and amber in the front, are meant to make your car more visible to oncoming traffic, such as when you’re backing out of a dimly lighted driveway. Their distinct colors instantly indicate which way the vehicle is facing, and they must be positioned as close to the ends as feasible to show the vehicle’s length.


Use them in dimly lit areas.


Lamps for identification

Turning them on involves using the headlights.


The same amber light that is seen on the roof of heavy-duty pickup trucks with two rear wheels also powers the three tiny amber lights located in the hood scoop of a Ram 1500 TRX and the top of the grille of a Ford F-150 Raptor. According to federal requirements, every vehicle wider than 80 inches must have these lights.


When to utilize them: For intense labor (dualie) or intense play (Raptor, TRX).


Blind-Spot Observers


How to activate them: Until you disable the BSM setting, they are operational.


Every year, more new cars are equipped with blind-spot monitors as standard equipment. When an automobile approaches your car or approaches from behind, these systems alert you by using radar, ultrasonic sensors, and/or cameras to turn on a light in your peripheral vision, commonly in the side mirror or A-pillar. The light will flash and an in-car alarm will sound if the driver signals a lane change in the direction of the hazard.


Use these anytime you want to switch lanes.


Danger Signals

To activate them, press the red triangle button located in the dashboard’s center.


All four turn signals glow simultaneously on emergency flashers, also known as hazardous lights, to warn other drivers of a potentially dangerous scenario. When you pull over on the side of the road, you give other cars an opportunity to give you plenty of space to pass.


When to utilize them: If you have to pull over in an odd or potentially hazardous place (like the shoulder of the road).


Cuddle Lamps

How to activate them: By default, they are turned on.


Puddle lamps are typically integrated into the side-mirror housings and are used to light up the area next to the car when the driver approaches a car that has proximity-key entry or when they unlock the doors using the key fob. Automakers have been using these practical small flourishes to project their logos onto the ground, like little Bat-signals, and they have taken on a stylistic purpose in recent years.


When to utilize them: At night, when approaching your car.

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