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AAA: hazy headlights reduce visibility by 80 percent

Research from AAA looked at how driver visibility changed, and how much it costs to replace or repair the headlight.

New research from AAA found a driver’s visibility can drop by 80 percent when a car’s headlights are hazy or cloudy from deterioration.

The study looked at two lines of questioning: how is light output impacted by deteriorated headlights, and how much can it cost to repair or replace the headlight.

Headlights are key safety features on cars, especially when driving at night. While headlights typically have a protective coating, prolonged exposure to sunlight can damage the lens, leading to a cloudy, yellowed, foggy headlamp. Salt and sand that kicks up from roadways can also damage the coating.

The research found headlights can start showing signs of deterioration as early as three, but more commonly five, years old.

According to AAA Northern New England, the average car on Maine roads is 12 years old.

Research found these hazy headlights only produce 22 percent of the light output than new, original headlights.

According to AAA Northern New England manager of public affairs Pat Moody, 50 percent of crashes occur at night. The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office reports that crashes increase in winter months, when drivers in Maine typically commute in the evenings with no or little sunlight.

“Driving at night is challenging enough as it is. When you can’t see far down the road because your headlights are diminished, that puts, not only yourself, but other road users at risk as well,” said Moody. “I was surprised to see that this is a maintenance item. It’s something that needs to be looked at and addressed on a regular basis.”

At Duval’s Service Center in South Portland, four out of the eight cars in the shop had headlights that needed attention.

“People come in all the time asking us to replace the bulb with brighter bulbs, but generally it’s not a situation where the bulb is defective or dim. It’s that the lens isn’t clear enough. The light’s just not getting through,” said Erik Lowell, a service advisor at Duval’s.

Lowell said they cannot allow cars with these headlights to pass a state inspection.

“When it comes to state inspections, They’re looking at everything that could impact the vehicles ability to and the motorists ability to have a safe vehicle,” said Moody. “The other challenge with that is that we found out that it’s hard to determine that light output Based on the state inspection standards. It’s hard to judge.”

AAA’s research found that restoration kits, which typically include sandpaper and solution to fix the headlight can cost, on average, $21 and restore the light output to about 70 percent. Having a professional do it for you can cost about $77, on average.

The research also found that replacing the light completely can improve light output even more.

A non-certified aftermarket headlamp assembly gets the light back to about 83 percent, and can cost between $104-$190, according to AAA. A certified replacement improves output to 90 percent, and can cost anywhere from $131 to $259.

Replacing the headlamp completely with the original equipment manufacturer’s part restores the output to 100 percent, but can cost between $331 and $427.

While the do-it-yourself version is the cheapest, not all kits are created equal, according to service technicians and Moody. Sanding the lens too vigorously can damage it further, and different kits come with different sandpapers. Some require the sandpaper to be attached to a drill for quick buffing.

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