Fog lights: the automotive equivalent of a mullet. You know, business in the front, party in the back. They’re kind of unnecessary for most drivers who live in places that don’t get lots of foggy weather. But when it’s rainy and foggy, they sure do come in handy!
But we’ve all been there: it’s nighttime, raining, and the road ahead looks like it’s engulfed in a thick blanket of pea soup. You can’t see two feet in front of your vehicle. What do you do? Should you turn on your high beams or use the fog lights? To answer this question, let’s talk about headlights and why fog lights are even a thing.
But first, what are headlights?
Headlights are a critical component of any vehicle, both from a safety standpoint but also from a legal perspective. Also called “headlamps”, they come in two different types:
- Low Beams illuminate the area directly ahead of you on dark roads and streets, delivering lights in a small area. The light is focused for a short-range, so that it doesn’t reflect off of shiny objects such as pavement or other cars. That means fewer blinding reflections in your own eyes and the eyes of other drivers;
- High Beams function similarly to low beams but shine farther ahead into more open areas. The purpose is similar: so that drivers can see far enough down the road to avoid obstacles or collisions, even when visibility is low due to darkness or foggy weather conditions like rain or snowfall;
- Bright low beams and bright high beams allow you to see farther down the road while maintaining a comfortable driving experience.
They are often used with other lights to make your car more visible and safer on the road, such as fog lights, turn signals and high beams.
In some vehicles, it’s possible for one light assembly to contain both low beams, and high beams in a single unit; this is called quad halogen lighting. In these cases, even if you press your high beam button twice—once for each set of headlights—you won’t actually activate them because both sets already contain one set of high-powered bulbs that can’t be turned off individually (hence why they’re called “quads”).
When should you use your headlights?
To answer that question, you need to know the difference between low beams and high beams. Are you ready for this? The term “low beam” is used when you need to see further ahead but still have enough light so that other drivers can see your vehicle behind them.
However, when it comes to high beams, they allow more light than low beams do, so they make it easier for drivers to see things further away at any given time.
There are some situations where driving low-beams instead would be beneficial:
- It’s raining outside (even if not heavily);
- You’re about pass through areas such as mountain passes or rural areas where there aren’t many streetlights nearby, so night driving becomes more difficult because everything becomes darker than average during these circumstances (it’s akin to losing contrast due to the lack of visibility);
When should you use your low beam headlights?
When driving at night, your headlights should be on. When it’s dark out, of course, you want to see as far as possible so that you can avoid hitting something or someone—this includes deer, dogs, children playing in the street, and other obstacles that might pop up while you’re driving. If there is a lot of rain or fog outside your vehicle (or if there is snow on the road), use your high beams to help illuminate the path ahead.
As such, low beam headlights can and should be used in a variety of situations, even when streetlights offer enough visibility, such as:
After sunrise & before sunset
you may have been taught that it’s only necessary to turn your lights on at dusk and dawn, but there is no reason not to use them all day long. After all, if others can clearly see you and what’s around you (including signs), then you will be more aware of potential dangers and avoid any accidents.
The human eye is not yet accustomed to the dim light, and headlights will help you see others when they are in close proximity. Using low beams headlight at these times also lets other drivers know that you are there.
Inclement weather conditions
Includes snow, sleet, rain, fog, dust, and snow. According to the California Headlights law, low-beam lights are to be used in any weather condition in which you cannot clearly see another vehicle/ driver on the highway from 1000 feet.
Mountain and rural roads
When driving through mountainous areas where visibility may be limited due to topography, switch over to low beams so that other drivers can see what’s coming up ahead before they get too close. You might also want to turn off or reduce brightness when approaching cars from behind because they may not expect such bright light coming toward them in their rearview mirrors!
Whether you are driving in the rain, snow, or foggy conditions, it is essential to have your car’s headlights on. Just like with the driver’s side law, the rationale behind these laws is primarily safety. In California, for example, if your windshield wipers are turned on during adverse weather conditions, then you must switch on your lights.
The laws of your state may dictate when it is legal to use your headlights, and some even mandate it. Always check your local regulations and obey them for your own safety and for the protection of others on the road.
What are fog lights?
The word “fog” refers to any atmospheric condition where visibility is poor due to natural causes such as fog and mist (as opposed to fog created by pollution).
If you have ever driven through a heavy downpour and noticed that your own windshield wipers obscured everything beyond about 10 feet, you’ve experienced one type of fog: precipitation-induced water vapor in the air reduces visibility from raindrops on your windshield. Fog may also occur without precipitation; this kind of “dry” fog occurs when temperature inversion traps warm air near the ground while cold air hovers around it like an invisible blanket.
Fog lights are often used during heavy rain and snow when visibility is reduced by precipitation on the windshield, and headlights aren’t effective at illuminating the road ahead. Fog lights are also commonly used during foggy weather when visibility is impeded by thick clouds of moisture in the air that makes it difficult for regular headlights to penetrate. Depending on the circumstances, they can be used as a supplement or alternative to headlights.
Finally (and perhaps most importantly), fog lights are useful for illuminating darker roads without causing glare for other drivers around you; if you’re driving late at night and want to see better without blinding others nearby with bright beams from both sides, using one pair of fog lights instead might actually make your trip safer than using two pairs side-by-side!
If you want to know more about fog lights, check out our article here.
Low Beam Headlights vs. Fog Lights
As you can probably see by now, low beams and fog lights seem to be used in pretty similar conditions.
However, low beam headlights should be used in normal driving conditions but can be used during an array of adverse weather conditions. They have a beam that is angled to not shine into an oncoming vehicle’s driver’s eyes while still illuminating the road ahead.
Fog lights are used to illuminate the road below the glare of the headlamps, which is particularly useful on foggy nights. Fog lamps can also be helpful in heavy rain and dusty conditions where visibility is poor enough that it is safe to use them.
Fog lamps are also useful for heavy rain and dusty conditions. They can help illuminate the road in front of you, so you can see where you’re going better than if there was no light at all. However, they should not be used as a replacement for headlights, as this is dangerous; fog lights are meant only to supplement normal driving conditions when visibility is poor or limited.
Moreover, both headlamps and fog lamps can be used for better driver visibility at night.
Fog Lamps vs. Low Beams: The Operational Differences
Fog lights are more intense than low beams. The light is focused into a beam that can be seen for long distances and beamed directly at the road in front of you, so you have better visibility on foggy or rainy days. Because they’re brighter and more focused, fog lights don’t blind other drivers as much as regular headlights do—a big win for those of us who cling stubbornly to the belief that we should never drive while texting while drunk while texting while driving with our arms out the window waving at our moms because she just passed by on her way home from work.
Position & Light Pattern
Fog lights (or fog lamps) are mounted below the headlights and are aimed lower than your main beams. They have a smaller light pattern than your headlights, but they’re brighter and more visible to other drivers. When appropriately used, fog lights can help illuminate what you need to see while driving in inclement weather conditions—and they won’t blind oncoming traffic as low beam headlights would.
Fog lamps can also improve visibility at night if your vehicle’s headlights aren’t very bright because they’re aimed downward instead of horizontally, as other headlamps do during regular driving conditions.
The law around both headlamps and fog lights depends on the country of reference. However, the consensus across jurisdictions is that while headlamps (low and high beams) are mandatory, fog lights are auxiliary equipment.
As such, fog lights are engineered to do one thing and one thing only: shine light where it’s needed most, as they are designed to complement standard headlights.
Use low beam headlights and fog lights appropriately, depending on the conditions.
If you’re driving on a foggy night and someone is using their low beam headlights, it’s like they’re staring directly into your soul. Maybe not literally, but that’s how I feel about it.
- When there’s no fog, use your low beam headlights;
- When there is fog, use your fog lights;
- If you’re driving in heavy rain, you shouldn’t turn on either of these lights because they’ll just reflect off all that water on the road and make it harder for other drivers to see you (and vice versa);
- Don’t use both at the same time! That would be like us trying to have both a lightsaber and a lightsaber—it just doesn’t make sense! (See what I did there?) We can’t have our cake and eat it too; we can only choose one or the other.
The only time it’s okay to use both simultaneously is if you’re driving through a tunnel because then neither one provides enough illumination by itself. Otherwise, stick with what works best depending on the conditions—your vision will thank me later!
So… should you stick with your standard low beams or use fog lights? There are not one but TWO right answers to this question:
- If you have fog lights, use them! They’re there for a reason.
- If you don’t have fog lights, don’t worry about it. Just make sure your low beams are working correctly and keep driving safely.