Motorway traffic

When to use car lights: The complete guide

Headlights and car lights have a lot more uses than to see at night. It’s very important to understand when, how and why you should use the different lights on a car to ensure that yourself and other motorists keep safe on the road.

Before looking at when to use them, this is the breakdown of the different car lights:

  • Headlights: Full Beam and Dipped Beam
  • Sidelights: Normal lights to be seen by during the day, but not bright enough to be seen by at night
  • Driving lights: Some cars have a constant low light that cannot be turned off
  • Rear Fog light: Can be a single or double red light
  • Front Fog light: Smaller white lights set lower on the front bumper

Driving lights

It is important to know that driving lights and sidelights are not suitable after dark. Once it gets dark, or even on a very dull day, regular headlights and sidelights should also be used. These are the first position on most headlight switches. While you can be seen with driving lights in general daytime conditions, they’re not bright enough as soon as the lighting changes.

Using your lights at night

The primary use of car headlights is based on darkness. But darkness can be subjective and there are a number of factors at play. Firstly, what one person considers dark, another may think is still quite light. This means when one person turns on their main headlights, another may feel side lights are still fine. The key is to make sure you are seen as well being able to see the road, so if in doubt, turn on the main headlights.

Traffic in snow

It’s vital that you use your headlights when it is dark

Using your lights when there’s fog

How much fog makes it officially foggy? At what point is it right to turn on your fog lights? All cars will have a rear fog light and the button shows a lamp with a wiggly line in front of it. Some cars will also have front fog lights. As a general rule, the front fog light button will have the light pointing the same way as it does on the headlight switch.

The Highway Code states you should use your rear fog light if you cannot see more than 100m beyond your car. The best way to measure this is to use the car in front; if you are struggling to see their rear lights, then turn your fog lights on. It is important to remember though that it is illegal to use fog lights when it is not needed.

Using your lights in wet weather

In the UK we see our fair share of rain and storms! Falling rain and spray from standing water both affect visibility. The simple rule of thumb when it comes to using lights in bad weather is to turn on your main lights. There are some cases of motorway spray where it is so bad that you may need to use the rear fog light. As mentioned above, if you can’t see the car in front of you, then the car behind can’t see you – and then it’s time to turn on your main lights.

Wet windscreen

It’s important to use your lights correctly in tricky driving conditions such as wet weather

Using your lights for heavy loads

Most cars will have a small dial next to the lights that actually changes their angle if the car is heavily loaded or towing. The car will lean back and point up, so normal lights could dazzle drivers. Get a friend to help test this and set them up correctly if this will apply to you.

Using automatic lights

A lot of newer cars have automatic headlights. They use a sensor to automatically turn on the lights when it gets dark. They do vary in sensitivity so it is important to quickly check that your lights are on if you feel it is getting dark. The dashboard symbol will come on as usual so you can tell when they turn on. You can always override them too, and turn your lights on manually.

Using your lights when going abroad

In many countries, it is actually illegal to turn off your lights completely so check online before you drive and make sure you follow the local rules.

Find out more

The Motability Scheme enables you to exchange all or part of your mobility allowance for leasing a car, scooter or powered wheelchair. As part of this lease, you have access to breakdown cover, servicing, repairs, and even insurance, so it truly is worry-free! Take a look at our car search tool to see the full range of vehicles available on the Scheme and use our eligibility checker to find out if you can join.

Related articles

Reporting a car fault to a dealer or workshop

Winter tyres: what you need to know

How to demist your car windows fast

From the Motability Scheme


Related articles

Popular articles