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Joe's Garage: How to keep your headlights bright

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One of the most important automotive parts not talked about too often are headlights. They are a critical safety feature with the amount of night-time driving that goes on, especially during the winter when people often go back and forth to work in darkness. Here’s what you need to know about them the next time yours go dark.

The most important thing to monitor at all times is moisture build-up. You never want your lenses to be foggy due to condensation; sometimes the result of a broken seal that eventually leads to you losing your bulb. Another big problem is that those headlight lens covers start to show wear, become cloudy, and need to be restored. There are special kits and chemicals available that help restore everything back to original clarity.

As for the individual bulbs, they are pretty traditional and usually don’t offer any telltale signs prior to failure. They just burn out. Back in the old days, these halogen bulbs were very large, where the lenses were a part of the bulb, which made up the entire headlight assembly. Today, most headlights are actually LED, high-intensity, and are way more advanced than the originals. They are very expensive, have tremendous coverage, and provide a lot more light and efficiency. It’s not a simple fix.

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Philips, Pennsylvania and Wagner are some of the really good bulb lines you want to go with. They provide a larger field of light and a better view at night. In other words, the older bulbs gave you a shorter, wider field. The newer ones give you coverage all over the road. It’s a much broader, more powerful light. Also, in your luxury vehicles like Audi, they have LED lights around the headlights. In some newer vehicles, the headlight bulb looks almost like a canister and when you turn your vehicle, the light assembly also turns - a big difference in technology, which has come a long ways in the past decade or so.

Mentioned earlier, these lights can be expensive, as original equipment headlights can run you up to $250. There are cheaper options, as Chinese manufacturers also make replacements. Personally, I wouldn’t use them because they have a tendency to blow out quickly and don’t provide the same light. They have the same configuration and everything, but actual performance really isn’t up to snuff. When you spend that kind of money, you want it to last. You don’t want to buy defective material, spending like $65 to $70, but the bulb blows again. If you buy it twice, it ends up being the same cost as the dealer original once you replace it.

Read: Is the classic round headlamp about to be dimmed?

The last thing… While it seems easy, I would advice to take this repair to a shop. The problem is not that it’s difficult to change the bulb, but that most new cars are more compact and have hidden assemblies. You have to move an air filter canister or other parts to actually get to the bulb. With the more expensive bulbs, you also don’t want to take a chance at blowing them out as well. Normally, when you do electrical work on a vehicle, you’re always supposed to take off the positive battery channel, so there are no shorts or anything. Then, you may have to reset your computer as well. It may take more than one person to change a light bulb in this instance.

Joe Ferrer, is the owner of BS&F Auto Parts in New York City and host of the SPEED original series "Hard Parts: South Bronx" Tuesday nights at 9pm ET on SPEED.