Car light guide: types of lights and when to use them

Car light guide: types of lights and when to use them

How much do you really know about the lights on your car? If you don’t know much, don’t panic! This guide is here to help.

Car lights are not necessarily considered to be the most important topic when it comes to driving, but knowing what each one is for and when to use them is basic knowledge that could save you from getting into an accident. They are indispensable for road safety and motorists need to maintain these lights responsibly. To learn more on how to maintain car lights, check out our blog articles and tips, such as this article on how to restore the intensity of your headlights.

Dipped headlights

Dipped headlights

Dipped headlights, also known as low beam headlights, are the lights that motorists tend to use the most. They are located at the front of the car and are tilted at a downward angle towards the road to increase visibility without dazzling other drivers or cyclists. These lights are not as bright as full beam headlights, but they are still bright enough to illuminate the road ahead of you. You can usually turn them on with a switch on a dashboard dial or indicator stalk. A lot of new vehicles come with running lights which don’t require human input. They switch on automatically when the engine is on to ensure that the car remains visible during the day.

When to use them:

  • i When driving in the dark/at night.
  • i When visibility is “seriously reduced”, for example, due to bad weather.

Visibility is considered seriously low when motorists are able to see less than 100m ahead of the vehicle. Broken headlights put the driver and everyone else on the road at risk, particularly when driving in the dark as the other cars will not be able to see the vehicle. If you are caught driving with a broken bulb by the police in the UK, you could be fined around £60, receive penalty points, receive a Vehicle Defect Rectification Notice, or even have the car taken off the road.

Full beam/high beam headlights

These are the brightest lights on a car, designed for helping the driver to see much further when driving in the dark. They are angled higher than dipped headlights, which is why they are sometimes called high beam headlights. The switch for these lights is normally located next to the one for the low beam headlights.

Full beam headlights

Knowing when to use these lights is vitally important because if they are used inappropriately, it could cause a serious accident. Full beam headlights are only supposed to be used when driving on unlit roads at night. They must be turned off when you encounter oncoming traffic, drive on left-turning bends or are driving behind another vehicle as the lights could dazzle the other people on the road and cause a collision. The full beam lights are therefore not to be used instead of dipped headlights if one of the headlights gets damaged.

Fog lights

Fog lights

Fog lights are specifically designed for increasing visibility in foggy or misty weather conditions. Unlike beam headlights, these lights are not reflected by fog. They are installed lower down on the vehicle, usually under the front bumper. The majority of modern cars have two sets of fog lights, one for the front and one for the rear of the vehicle. The front ones are usually green and the rear ones are usually amber coloured.

According to the Highway Code, they are strictly for visibility purposes only and should only be used when you can’t see further than 100m. Drivers must switch the lights off as soon as visibility improves to avoid dazzling other road users. You should also note that fog lights could also overpower the brake lights because they are brighter than the standard tail lights.



Sidelights, also known as parking lights, are located at the front corners of the vehicle. They aren’t as bright as headlights and are occasionally used by motorists to maintain visibility when it is not dark enough to use the headlights. When the sidelights are turned on, the tail lights are often activated at the same time, as well as the rear number plate light.

The Highway Code states that motorists are required to use their parking lights when they are parked on a road with a speed limit of more than 30mph. They should also be used when the car is parked in a foggy area as this will ensure that your vehicle is visible to other motorists. The lights can be left on without draining the vehicle’s battery. It is not necessary to switch them on if the speed limit is 30mph or below and the car is facing the flow of traffic or parked in an official parking bay.

Tail lights

Tail lights are the small red lights at the back of the vehicle. Unlike other lights, these do not have to be manually switched on and off, as they will turn on/off automatically whenever the headlights are switched on/off. They help the motorist driving behind the vehicle to see it and determine how far away it is.

Brake lights

The brake lights might be confused with the tail components as they are located next to each other at the rear and are both red. The lights will automatically light up whenever you apply your brakes to let other motorists know that your vehicle is slowing down. This gives them enough time to slow down as well to avoid a collision or tailgating. For safety reasons, it is important to check and maintain the lights regularly. If you caught driving without working brake lights, you could face fines and/or penalties.


All licensed drivers should have a solid understanding of what indicator lights are for and how to use them. Each vehicle has four indicators which are located on all four corners of the vehicle, next to the headlights.They are used to show other drivers which direction you intend to turn when you are turning onto a different road, changing lanes, or pulling over, for example. The lights are turned on/off using the indicator stalk. They should switch off by themselves once you have turned the car. Unfortunately, drivers often make the avoidable mistake of indicating too soon or too late.

Hazard lights

Car hazard lights are the same lights that are used as the indicators. As the name suggests, they are used to warn other drivers of potential hazards, such as obstructions or dangerous road conditions. There is usually a button on the dashboard which activates the lights. It can be identified by the distinctive triangle warning symbol.

The lights are supposed to be used when the vehicle is stationary, to warn others that the car will temporarily obstruct the road. This is useful when you are forced to stop, or have had an accident or broken down. It is also possible to use them to warn others about an obstruction up ahead when you are driving on the motorway.


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