How to make my headlights brighter

With summer solstice well and truly behind us, it’ll only be a matter of weeks before we are once again considering a candle-lit commute. If you are lucky enough to drive your classic car regularly, no doubt you will be driving after dark on more than one occasion over the winter, which may leave you asking “how to make my headlights brighter”… Read on for some great tips.

Start simple…

Just as you would with a car window, if you clean it you can see out more clearly. The same applies to headlights! Make sure they don’t get left out next time the bucket and sponge are in action. They are especially easy to forget if you have pop-up headlamps or headlamp stone guards in place.

Get rid of the fog

If your plastic headlamps have a permanent state of fogginess, then you’ll need some elbow grease and rubbing compound to remove the tarnishing. If you are feeling particularly thrifty you can give it a go with some toothpaste! Better results, as you would expect, are likely with a headlamp restoration kit.

Rusty Reflectors

Have a closer look inside your headlamp. If the silver reflector cone that surrounds the bulb is corroded, you’ll be compromising the light emitted by your headlamps. On some older lights, such as VW Beetle headlamps, you can separate the lens from the reflector to either clean it, repair and repaint or simply buy a new headlamp reflector. On sealed beam units it is probably time to source a new headlamp to replace it.

Adjusting your headlamps aim

This is the motoring equivalent of a lazy eye… Make sure your headlamp adjusters have been set to point in the right direction. One pointing up and the other aiming down isn’t going to give the best road coverage come nightfall.

How to adjust the aim of your headlamps

All cars are different, and there are plenty of model-specific guides to show you how to do this properly. In short, you’ll need to park on level ground and up close to your garage door, or a wall. Flick your headlamps on (not high beam) and mark the centre-point of the headlamp beam for both sides on the wall or door.  Hopefully, these are both level with each other. Reverse the car back about 25ft, and repeat the exercise, the headlamps should produce a rectangular pattern aimed towards this centre-point, with a diagonal beam heading from the centre-point up and left for RHD cars and up and right for LHD cars.  If they don’t do this, then whip out a screwdriver and adjust the headlamps accordingly.

Fit new headlamp bulbs

Elderly or mix-matched light bulbs aren’t going to be doing you any favours when it comes to driving at night time. A standard replacement headlamp bulb should be sufficient, but you will probably be aware of more powerful versions on the market too. Just as you would at home, you can fit a higher wattage bulb to produce more light.

What’s the difference between incandescent, halogen, LED and Xenon bulbs? Let us explain.

Incandescent Vehicle Headlamp Bulbs

These are the most basic of light bulbs and they work by electricity passing through a tungsten filament wire, which operates inside a vacuum. These are typically found on earlier cars, including those with 6v headlamp bulbs and most aircooled vehicles up to 1973. The good news for owners of these older vehicles is you can fit a Halogen upgrade bulb, which has the same fitment, but with more modern lighting technology inside.

Halogen Headlamp Bulbs

Most car headlamp bulbs contain filaments made of Halogen gas and Tungsten and these operate when the gas inside is heated up. This is a much more efficient method of producing light, hence its popularity within the automotive industry.

LED Headlamp bulbs aren’t road legal.

LED replacement headlamp bulbs are available for most applications these days and are more efficient as they don’t rely on a heat transfer. However, due to a lack of legislation surrounding the retrospective fitment of LED bulbs into a headlamp unit designed for halogen bulbs, they cannot be E marked and don’t carry the British Standard Mark. This means they are not considered road legal in the UK, and we do not offer them for sale.

Xenon HID Headlamps

High-Intensity Discharge headlamps were first developed by Hella and Bosch in 1992, as an option for the BMW 7 series. If you are lucky enough to have them fitted to your more modern vehicle you’ll know they work fantastically.  In simple terms, HID bulbs work with an electrical arc, rather than a glowing filament. You may also hear them referred to as Xenon headlamps, due to their use of Xenon gas which is used to speed up the ‘run-up time’ from the metal-halide lamps inside. This speed is in comparison to other metal-halide bulbs, like those used in street lighting for example, which relies on Argon gas that takes minutes to reach full potential.

You only need to take a look on eBay to discover cheap HID conversion kits for sale, aimed at vehicles that never had this option from the factory. What’s the catch? Well, they are illegal! In summary, you must have a headlamp washing system in place and some kind of self-levelling set up to avoid dazzling oncoming road users, not to mention the correctly marked headlight units to avoid an MOT failure or a tug from the local traffic police.

Upgrading your headlamp wiring

Getting the right amount of current to your headlamp bulbs will ensure their most efficient performance. Sadly on many older cars, wiring has become corroded, brittle and lost some of its conductivity, meaning not all the power is transferred from the headlamp switch to the bulbs. There is a way around this though. Fitting a headlamp wiring loom upgrade will direct power straight from your battery to you headlamps. Using relays, your headlamp switch still controls 100% of the operation, but without handling the load required by the headlamps at the same time.

One of our 5* customer reviews says “Absolutely excellent quality and brought my headlight voltage up from 12.2 to 14v. They’re much brighter and it took minutes to fit.”

Fitting Spotlights or Fog lights for extra lighting power!

If you like the idea of playing ‘Rally Driver’ down country lanes at night or just like the utilitarian look that a bevvy of lights on a bar brings, you could fit additional lights to the front of your car.  The difference between Spot Lights and Fog Lights is the pattern of light that they generate. Spotlights or driving lamps aim further down the road and should be used as a supplement to your main beam. Fog lights project directly in front of the car to assist when driving in poor visibility conditions. Neither should be used without the headlamps on.

Hopefully, this will help you see and drive a little better in the dark this winter.


Heritage Parts Centre delivers quality parts for VW and Porsche enthusiasts worldwide. Check out our car parts website here and follow our fun with #driveheritage on social media.

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