Check Your Lights And Prevent A Ticket

by Don Elliott on August 24, 2012

My friend Ben stopped by the other day to complain about a ticket he received for malfunctioning brake lights. Even though the lack of brake lights is a serious safety issue, Ben’s complaint was that he had no way of knowing that his brake lights were out and therefore should only have received a warning on the condition that he get the lights fixed as soon as possible.

He learned a good lesson about the lights on his car. Some lights are less critical than others, but without a regular car maintenance check, you may be driving a car that could be hazardous yourself and other drivers. Most good automotive repair shops perform some kind of check when your car is in their shop for other reasons. Some could argue that they are campaigning for extra work, but it sounds like smart business to me. A simple check of the lights, fluids, high wear items like wiper blades and tires, and scheduled routine maintenance could have prevented my friend’s ticket if caught at his last oil change.

Regarding Ben’s brake light problem, a burned out light bulb would not likely have generated the stop. In his case, a broken wire at the brake light switch, located at the top of the brake pedal, caused all three brake lights to malfunction. The brake light switch itself could also have malfunctioned causing the same problem. On most cars, replacing the brake light switch is not a difficult job, particularly for a trained auto shop technician.

A regular check of all of your cars lights is a good idea. Having a helper makes the job much easier.

Here’s a quick list of the lights that should be checked.

Brake lights – Since 1986, American cars all have three lights that provide a simultaneous glow when the brakes are applied; at the left and right edge of the tail lamps and higher central high mount lamp usually in the rear window or higher on certain trucks and vans.

Tail lights – Tail lights or lamps are dimmer than the brake lights and are designed to be on when the headlights or parking lights are lit.

Turn Signals – These lights have to be checked at four or more locations around the car, obviously at each corner, front and rear, and more recently on the outside mirror. On the front corners of newer cars, there is also a light that provides a clear non-flashing illumination to light the area of the turn. Usually, the turn signal will click faster or slower to alert the driver that there is a burned out bulb at one of these points.

Headlights – There are several bulbs that make up the headlight cluster including the low beam light, the high beam light, daytime running lights and fog lights. It is difficult to recognize when the daytime running lights are not lit unless you have someone check them while the car is running. On some cars, the daytime running lights do not come on until the car is in gear. When replacing halogen headlights, be careful not to touch the bulb with your fingers. Oily residue from your skin can cause the bulb to burn out prematurely.

Parking lights – On the front of the car, there are several bulbs, usually amber, that surround the headlights. With the headlights on, it should be obvious if there are any that need to be replaced.

Back up or reversing lights – These are white or amber lights that illuminate when the car is in reverse, providing light for backing up or to warn pedestrians that the car is moving backwards. There are usually at least two lamps that need to be checked.

Rear license plate lamp – Believe it or not, it is a violation to drive without a light that makes it possible to read your license plate in the dark. Many car owners and auto repair shops miss checking the license plate lamp during a routine maintenance check.

Replacing these safety lights is not a difficult job for the do-it-yourselfer. Your neighborhood auto parts retailer or automotive repair shop can help to choose the right bulb for your car and offer some advice on how to do the replacement. Take their advice when they offer a little package of bulb grease to help the new bulb slip in more easily and assure a good connection after replacement.

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