A little bit of history behind today’s headlights

Let there be light – even for cars. In case you were wondering, the 1880s set a shred of light over drivers when the headlights (or wannabe headlights) were invented, around the same time the automobile was created. They were simple lamps, called carbine or acetylene lamps, which had brightened up the 19th century by producing and burning acetylene. Sounds pretty safe to drive around with a small & smokey flame nearby, right? 

Apart from being a potential fire hazard, this early type of headlights did not provide enough light output. The construction of these headlights or ‘headlamps’ consisted of a lantern with a reflecting mirror that sent an unfocused, scattered forward light.

Moreover, the gas resulting from dripping water on calcium carbide came with a few side effects: toxic substances (caustic lime) were produced, and the lantern glass often developed a furry look due to the build-up of lime inside, so they required ongoing maintenance and cleaning.

Despite their practicality, low pricing, ease of installation, the combination of poor range, lens contamination from the water splashes, and toxic built-up, this form of headlights was very far from the version we have today.

Luckily for us, Columbia from the Electric Vehicle Company took a step forward in 1989 and tried to take electric headlights to the next level. However, since they required more energy than they produced, the project was abandoned and resurrected a couple of years later, when the first system to offer bright electric lights was Pockley Automobile Electric Lighting Syndicate in 1904; they offered lights powered by an eight-volt battery.

It wasn’t until 1912 that Cadillac introduced a Delco electrical ignition and lighting systems – the beginning of today’s high powered vehicle electrical systems that made the 1915s invention of the first headlight possible,

The evolution of headlights follows a similar path to automobiles. The more popular cars have become, the more electric headlights have become mainstream. In 1912, Cadillac created automobiles with the very first modern electric system.

In 1915, Massachusetts became the first state to require electric headlamps on all motor vehicles. Soon after, others followed suit, including New York in 1916 and New Jersey in 1917. By decade’s end, engineers had debuted a handful of glare-reduction methods for automobile headlamps.

After decades of performing as nothing more practical than a novelty toy for the wealthy, automobiles began to shed their image as novelties. This decade introduced several new features, including interior-mount controls and running boards, which helped make them look more practical for the end-user. In addition, by this stage, when headlight requirements were passed into law, benefits were now readily apparent beyond industry insiders and within society at large.

Now that we’ve seen a bit from the longstanding history of car lights, what are headlights nowadays?

To put it simply, headlights are the part of your car that illuminate the road in front of you. They’re called headlights because they’re located on either side of your vehicle’s grille and in front of its hood. They help you see in dark conditions and also alert other drivers to your presence on the road. Without them, it would be difficult to drive at night or in inclement weather conditions.

The lights are powered by the car’s battery. They use light-emitting diodes (LEDs), halogen, or tungsten bulbs to produce the light that you see. The bulbs have a filament made of tungsten or halogen, and when an electric current passes through it, it glows. A reflector inside the headlights reflects this light back through your car’s lens so you can see what’s in front of you clearly at night.

The shape and size of these parts vary from one type of headlight to another. For example:

Halogen headlights have a smaller bulb than older models because they don’t contain mercury as previous generations did; however, their larger reflectors help compensate for this difference.

LED headlights are smaller than other types because they don’t need as much space for heat dissipation since LEDs don’t generate much heat themselves; their small size means that manufacturers can fit more units into each headlight housing without sacrificing quality or brightness levels too much (though some people still prefer traditional incandescent/halogen bulbs).

The different types of headlights include:

  • Main headlights, which are the same as low beams or dipped headlights. These are used for driving at night during bad weather and to avoid blinding other drivers. A typical beam pattern is flat and wide, but it can also be shaped to provide more light in some areas than others.
  • High beams or bright headlights are similar to main headlights, but they’re much brighter and emit light further down the road. This makes them dangerous if you use them too often because they could potentially blind other drivers (or even animals). If you have high beams, it’s best to only use them when necessary—for example, if there’s no one else around or if there’s an oncoming car approaching from a great distance away.
  • LED (light-emitting diode) lights are becoming increasingly popular due to their brightness, durability, energy efficiency, and ease of installation compared with other options such as halogen bulbs or xenon bulbs (more on those later). LEDs feature a small chip that emits light when the current passes through it; this type of lighting has been used safely throughout history in everything from flashlights all the way up through consumer electronics like smartphones today!

So… what’s the difference between headlights and fog lights?

Since you’ve reached this point in this article, you surely have noticed a lot of similarities between headlights and fog lights. Both can be used, in some scenarios, during inclement weather conditions, tend to be made of similar materials, and, ultimately, have the same goal: to illuminate the road.

First of all, position matters. Headlights are light bulbs attached to the front of a car—as opposed to fog lights, which are mounted lower and provide less illumination.

Headlights tend to be mounted higher on your vehicle than fog lights (to allow space for your hood), and they also have a narrower angle of light output. In short: they shine further ahead while still illuminating much of the area around them. 

Fog lights illuminate what’s right in front of you—they’re great for spotting hazards at low speeds or on tight roads or trails where visibility is limited.

Second, lighting angle: Fog lights shine at a wider angle than do headlights, which helps them cast light on objects closer to you.

Fog lights are mounted below your headlights. They shine downward rather than forward, like flashlights with their beams pointed at the ground.

Headlights have a narrower beam angle, so they illuminate less space in front of your vehicle than fog lights. Because they illuminate less space and don’t point down as far as fog lights do (because they’re mounted higher), headlights are more like spotlights that focus on objects in front of you—not floodlights or wide-angle lenses that cast light on everything around you.

In other words: Fog lights help you see better when visibility is bad because of heavy rain, snow, fog, and mist; whereas headlights help you see at night or during poor weather conditions such as snowstorms or rain showers where there isn’t enough light for regular daytime driving conditions but not necessarily enough darkness for nighttime driving conditions either.

In addition, the fog lights’ lower placement and wider angles help them cut through fog and snow, and rain.

The fog lights’ lower placement and wider angles help them cut through the fog, as well as snow and rain. They’re not meant for use in dusty conditions, though—they don’t have the same kind of dirt-attracting properties as headlights. And they certainly shouldn’t be used during bright daylight hours when you need to see far into the distance. 

Fog lights are also placed higher up on a vehicle than headlights to shine below the car’s hoodline without being blocked by it. The angle at which they cast their beams makes them ideal for illuminating around corners, like at intersections where visibility is limited by parked cars or obstructions on either side of your own lane.

On top of that, each state has its own legal requirements for the fog lights’ exact placement.

In Arkansas, “Any motor vehicle may be equipped with not more than two (2) fog lamps mounted on the front at a height not less than twelve inches (12″) nor more than thirty inches (30″) above the level surface upon which the vehicle stands.” (Arkansas Code Title 27. Transportation § 27-36-214. Spot, fog, passing lamps, https://codes.findlaw.com/ar/title-27-transportation/ar-code-sect-27-36-214.html )

Moreover, both headlights and fog lights have different law requirements regarding their usage.

  • Headlights are mandatory: the law requires you to have two functioning headlights to be used whether it is dark outside, most commonly, from sunset to sunrise. The specific of that timing requirement depends on the state. For example, in Georgia, headlights are required from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunset, and high beams must be turned on when it is raining, or there is limited visibility.
  • Fog Lights are auxiliary: you are not obliged by the law to equip your car with fog lights. However, similarly, the legal requirements around fog lights depend on the state. For example, it is only legal to use fog lights in Florida during poor weather conditions. However, if visibility is impaired, you cannot use fog lights if other vehicles are on the road.

Headlights vs. Fog Lights: Are fog lights actually worth it?

Fog is definitely a natural form of precipitation, so it makes sense to use fog lights in fog, snow, sleet, and rain—but not clear weather. Headlights can be used in all weather conditions because they’re designed to focus on faraway objects and illuminate them with light. Fog lights are designed to illuminate close-to-the-car objects such as signs on highways or small animals that might run onto the road (just kidding about the second one).

Fog lights are like headlights’ little sisters if you think about it. They shine a wider beam than their big brothers, helping you see more of the road ahead when visibility is limited by fog or rain. Fog lights are also lower to the ground than the headlamps on your vehicle and have a warmer tint (typically yellow). This helps keep glare from precipitation out of your eyes to safely navigate through driving conditions where visibility is low.

If we were comparing headlights and fog lights on a scale of 1-10 (1 being no improvement in visibility and 10 being “you can see clearly now”), an environment with no fog would produce an 8/10 score on improved visibility with headlamps alone. With a pair of fog lights added? That number jumps up to 9/10! In some scenarios, that difference can really be significant for your safety.

Suppose you have a vehicle with high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights. In that case, fog lights may not be necessary because the HID lighting system produces enough light to illuminate your surroundings without creating glare from oncoming traffic.

If you live in a city where there is not much street lighting, fog lights become more important because they allow drivers to accurately gauge how far away an object is while driving at night. This can be especially helpful when merging onto highways or interstate highways that lack adequate lighting along their edges so that motorists can determine whether it’s safe to merge into traffic or if they should wait until they reach brighter areas before doing so.

To wrap it up, headlights are mandatory and non-negotiable for your vehicle, and they can be used in similar conditions as fog lamps. However, it may be best to think of fog lights as complementary features for your car.