Forefixers: Windshield Wipers

During the thick of rain-and-snow season, your windshield wipers are as important a piece of safety equipment as your brakes or headlights. But cars didn’t always have the means to ensure our vision wasn’t compromised during inclement weather. Here are three of the inventors who brought about the simple yet ingenious tool we use today.

Mary Anderson and her patented design

Mary Anderson

An Alabaman woman by the name of Mary Anderson happened to be visiting New York City in early 1902. NYC is particularly beautiful in the winter, but the views were obscured because snow was covering the trolley windows. Disturbingly, she noticed that the drivers had to periodically get out to clear off the fluffy white stuff by hand, or (yikes!) stick their heads out the side to see.

That’s when Anderson brainstormed a squeegee-inspired device that would feature a spring-loaded arm and a rubber blade attached to the outside of a vehicle, operable via a handle from the interior to move the arm and clear the glass. In other words, it was the world’s first windshield wiper. She filed a patent in 1903, although her invention was too far ahead of its time and wouldn’t see widespread adoption until more than a decade later, when automobile usage began to become widespread and companies began marketing wipers.

Charlotte Bridgwood

Fast-forward to 1917, when another woman, Charlotte Bridgwood, an engineer and president of a small manufacturing company in New York, took Anderson’s idea one step further. Rather than relying on a manual hand crank to use the wiper, Bridgwood came up with an automated design that drew power directly from the vehicle engine.

Called the Electric Storm Windshield Cleaner (what a name!), it utilized a series of rollers instead of blades to perform a similar task. Like Anderson, Bridgwood did not see commercial success with her creation.

Greg Kinnear, playing Robert Kearns | Universal Pictures

Robert Kearns

In 1953, a grisly Champagne cork accident left Robert Kearns with sight in only one eye. Afterwards, the Wayne State University engineering instructor started thinking more critically of how an eyelid works. “God doesn’t have eyelids move continuously. They blink,” he said in a newspaper interview. Kearns then set out to marry that insight with the workings of the windshield wiper.

After years of tinkering in a home laboratory, he secured several patents and then approached the neighboring Ford Motor Company with his masterpiece: an intermittent wiper that would activate at pre-set intervals. Following several meetings, Ford was eventually the initial automaker to roll out a model boasting the technology, and later many would follow. Kearns never received credit or compensation, until the 1990, after a winning a years-long lawsuit against Ford for patent infringement. Kearns had a fascinating life, and his story was turned into a movie, “Flash of Genius,” starring Greg Kinnear.

Do you know of more windshield wiper innovators? Let us know in the comments.

How to Choose Windshield Wipers

Behind the wheel in rainy weather

Source | Jaromír Kavan/Unsplash

When it comes time to choose windshield wipers, the number of options available might surprise you. While wiper blades all share the same function, they don’t all do it in the same way, for the same price, or to the same level of performance. In order to help you choose the best wipers for your budget or circumstance, we’ve highlighted the three main types of windshield wiper blades below, how much you can expect to spend on them, and when they’ll perform the best.

Types of Windshield Wipers

traditional wiper blade

Traditional Wiper Blade:

The traditional wiper blade has been around for decades and is constructed of a steel frame and rubber blade. The frame itself is what attaches to the wiper arm of the vehicle and has pivoting suspension points that help keep the blade planted to the windshield.

Traditional blades can be found on most new cars and are reasonably priced—at under $10 per blade—when it comes time to replace them. Most wiper-blade manufacturers recommend replacing these blades every six months.

Beam wiper blade

Beam Wiper Blades:

If you’re looking to up your window-clearing game, you’ll want to check out the beam blade section. Most wiper-blade manufacturers offer a beam-blade option, and they certainly have their perks. Rather than having a metal structure like a traditional wiper blade, beam blades are made of a solid piece of rubber. This comes in handy when the weather gets nasty. Where snow and ice can clog up the frame and freeze a traditional wiper blade, you can simply slap a beam blade against the windshield to clear it of debris. Beam wiper blades also have a fin or spoiler along the spine of the blade that help keep the wiper placed firmly against the windshield for maximum contact, even at freeway speeds.

The price for this kind of windshield wiper is higher than traditional blades—between $15 and $30 per blade, but they generally last quite a bit longer.

Hybrid Wiper Blades:

If you like the cost savings of the traditional wiper blade but want to have the all-weather prowess of a beam blade, you’ll want to look into getting yourself a set of hybrid wiper blades. Hybrid blades are constructed like a traditional blade with a steel frame and pivoting suspension points but also have a plastic or rubber protective coating over the frame. This helps keep the cost down and provides protection against the more harsh winter elements. The cost of these blades will usually be right between that of a beam and traditional blade.

All three types of wiper blades are relatively easy to install, but your local Advance Auto Parts store will do it for you for free.

Got any wiper tips? Leave ’em in the comments.

Are You Neglecting Your Windshield Wipers? Here’s How to Make Them Last

Windshield wipers are one of the most commonly replaced items on a car. Coincidentally, they’re also one of the most neglected parts as many DIYers are unsure when to change windshield wiper blades. Wiper blades come in numerous shapes and sizes, and while most vehicles have at least two wipers, many have three or even four.

The general recommendation is that you should replace them every six months—and that’s roughly how long windshield wipers last, but it’s not a rule. In order to maximize the life of your wiper blades, here are some guiding principles on what causes them to fail and how to avoid installation mistakes when it comes time to change them.

Take care in extreme temperatures

If you looked at a graph of when things break or fail on a car, you’d see an upward trend in the bell curve during the times of year when the temperatures are really hot and when they’re really cold.

In summer: Extended periods of extreme heat and exposure to the UV rays of the sun can cause the rubber in wiper blades to become brittle and crack. If you don’t keep an eye on their condition and neglect to change them before the rains come, you’ll get nothing but a blurry mess instead of that satisfying squeegee effect that leaves you with crisp and clear visibility.

In winter: Extreme cold often equals ice, which can really be tough on your blades, especially on those days when your car has been sitting out in the snow or freezing rain all day. If you don’t take the time to scrape your windshield before letting your wipers do the work, the ice can take chunks out of the rubber, which will leave streaks when clearing your field of vision. You wouldn’t be the only one to have had a blade long enough that the rubber part has actually separated from the frame and flaps in the wind like laundry on the line.

Use proper maintenance

The recommendation for changing blades may be every six months, but there are things you can do to get as much as a year or more of life out of your blade.

  • If possible, park in the shade or under cover. If your car is garage kept, it’s likely you’ll get more than six months out of your blades.
  • Clean your windshield regularly. Even if the weather in your area is moderate, a dirty windshield can take its toll on your blades. By keeping the surface clean, you spare the rubber blade from dirt, gravel, and other materials that can cause wear and tear.
  • Don’t use your wipers as ice scrapers. As we mentioned above, using your wipers to scrape your windshield clean is both ineffective and hard on your blades. Even when using de-icer, it will significantly reduce the lifespan of your blades. Keeping an ice scraper handy will help you maintain a clear field of vision and maximize the life of your wipers.

Tips for successful windshield-wiper installation

Installing wiper blades in the right way is just as important as keeping them in good wiping order. There are several types of windshield wipers out there, and some are so similar that you’d never know that you installed the wiper incorrectly until it flies off in the middle of a downpour. Oops.

  • J hooks: The most common wiper blade arm is the J hook. Most people, however, don’t realize that they come in two sizes. Wiper blades typically come with the J hook adapter already in place, but if you don’t have it flipped the right way it won’t stay on the hook for long. By taking the adapter of the blade itself, you can simply install it in reverse to match the other J hook size.
  • Pinch tabs: Pinch tabs come in three different flavors and are found on newer vehicles. Pinch tab wiper blades are typically sold to fit a specific set of vehicles and come with only that right attachment system in places (unless it’s a more universal wiper blade). These usually snap into place with a “heel to toe” motion.
  • Bayonet arms: Most cars with bayonet-type arms are pre-’90s. The bayonet arm is straight, with a small hole for the wiper to secure itself to. Installation is very straightforward, but it can be tough to get off because it gets frozen in place when the plastic gets old and brittle. When this happens, a small flathead pocket screwdriver will be your best friend.
  • Pin arms: Pin arms are similar to the bayonet arm, but instead of the arm having the hole, it’s the wiper blade.

Sometimes it’s nice to have hands-on help. If that’s more your speed, the folks at your local Advance Auto Parts can help you find the right wiper blades and even install them for you.

Do you install your own windshield wipers? Share your tips.

Our Forefixers: The Lighting Innovators

Just as TV is enjoying a unrivaled era of quality programming, the automotive industry is experiencing a golden age of lighting. Today, manufacturers use everything from halogen to LED technology in order to illuminate the road, brighten the cabin, and make vehicles more visible to other drivers. But early in their history, headlamps were little more than acetylene lanterns (like those used in the early days of mining). Brake lights didn’t even exist.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and learn more about three people who were instrumental in getting auto lighting to where it is now.

James Allison

This American entrepreneur invented the first headlight assembly. Allison was a co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Prest-O-Lite, a company originally specializing in concentrated acetylene gas. The chemical compound was used to fuel portable lamps popular with miners because of its resistance to wind and rain, and for the same reason was adapted for use on vehicles in the late 1880s. A pressurized acetylene-filled canister would feed out to an opening in front of a reflecting mirror, similar to a modern headlight lens housing. Activating a switch inside the cabin caused a spark to ignite the brightly burning gas. Before that, such as on the world’s first production automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, there was simply no formal lighting hardware available.

John Voevodsky

It turns out a psychologist, not an engineer, was responsible for inventing the Center High Mount Stop Lamp—otherwise known as the third brake light—in 1974. Californian John Voevodsky was researching car accidents and set up a study in which a portion of a group of San Francisco city taxis was outfitted with an additional brake light at the base of the back window. At the end of 10 months, they discovered that the cabs sporting the extra bit of equipment had 60.6 percent fewer rear-end collisions than those without. The third brake light was born.

HID headlight

Robert Reiling

While high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights didn’t appear in North America until 1991 via the BMW 7 Series full-size luxury sedan, the first successful example was actually developed in 1962 by a man named Robert Reiling. He improved upon earlier designs and created a reliable gas-discharge lighting system that formed the basis for contemporary HIDs. Two tungsten electrodes inside a bulb produce a powerful electric charge, which interacts with xenon gas and metal salts present to produce plasma, together creating the signature intense light.

Did we miss any vehicle lighting Forefixers? Share what you know in the comments.

Is Your Vehicle Ready for Winter? Here’s a Maintenance Checklist

A snowy city street

Source | David Creixell Mediante/Unsplash

 

If you live in places like say, California, winter driving can be as easy as a Santa Monica breeze. For the rest of us, it pays to be prepared for roads covered in ice, snow, and sleet. So here’s an easy winter car maintenance checklist to help protect your vehicle from the harsh weather ahead .

1. Protect your exterior

Take the time now to scrub away last season’s buildup from your vehicle’s exterior. Then apply a quality car wax to protect against the impending barrage of snow and road salt. Need help getting started? Here’s how to wash and wax like a pro and winterize your vehicle’s exterior.

2. Change your oil

Some of us don’t think about oil when it comes to winter vehicle maintenance. But this can be a good time to switch from conventional to synthetic if you haven’t already (and if it’s appropriate for your car). Cold weather starts can be easier on your engine with a full-synthetic oil. Synthetic flows freer at low temperatures and doesn’t require any time to warm up, providing crucial and immediate protection to the engine’s moving parts.

Not making the switch? Try a synthetic blend. Synthetic blends consist of synthetic oil coupled with naturally occurring conventional oil. Check with your vehicle manufacturer or trusted mechanic for specific recommendations on which oil is right for your vehicle. For more in-depth information on this topic, read up on the debate between synthetic and conventional oil.

3. Maintain your battery

Summer’s heat takes a toll on batteries. That weakness is bound to show up on the first really cold morning, when your car won’t start because of a dead battery. Really, it’s why batteries tend to fail in winter. So test your battery and charging system, and replace the battery if it’s weak.

A fresh battery is your best defense against cold weather, but it isn’t a guarantee. If you live in an especially cold climate or use your vehicle infrequently, you may want to keep your battery attached to a maintainer or trickle charger. That’s because your battery is working harder in cold weather and it will gradually lose power over time if it isn’t in use. You can also disconnect the battery from the vehicle to prevent power draws.

4. Ensure your visibility

Windshield Wipers on an icy windshield

Being able to see where you’re going is always a top priority, but in winter it becomes especially important. Your first stop is to make sure all of your lights are working. If your headlights or tail lights are dim or yellow, replace the bulbs and clean your lenses.

We also recommend that you replace windshield wipers with winter blades in climates where snow and ice can be expected, and fill the windshield washer tank with a deicing fluid. It’ll help you out on those cold mornings.

5. Inspect your tires

Traction is key here. Take a look at your tires. If the treads don’t have sufficient depth, get a new set. You’ll need the best traction possible for dealing with treacherous roadway conditions. Depending on where you live, you may want to invest in snow tires. Not sure which tire type is best for you? Read about your tire options.

Temperatures aren’t the only thing going down in winter. For every 10-degree drop in air pressure, it’s estimated that tire pressure decreases by one pound. Under inflated tires wear faster, hurt fuel economy, and can reduce handling and traction. So keep your tires at the correct inflation.

6. Check your antifreeze

The name says it all. Antifreeze is one of the most important winter chemicals, because the liquid in an engine’s cooling system is composed of equal parts water and antifreeze. Depending on the brand, either ethylene glycol or propylene glycol in the antifreeze prevents that water from freezing, expanding, and causing damage to the engine.

Use an antifreeze tester or take the vehicle to your mechanic to measure the antifreeze’s strength. This test indicates the lowest ambient temperature to which the engine is protected from freezing. Also check the coolant reservoir level to make sure it’s filled to the proper level. Top off your antifreeze or flush the radiator if it’s time to replace it.

7. Clean your fuel injector

Cold temps can cause performance issues related to a vehicle’s fuel system. Using a fuel injector cleaner prevents some problems from cropping up. Add it to the gas tank during a routine fill up, to clean the injectors, which can help restore lost power and eliminate rough idling and hard starts.

Water that may be present in the fuel system can also become a problem in the winter when temperatures drop low enough for it to freeze. A good way to avoid fuel-line and system freeze up is by choosing a fuel-injector cleaner such as HEET. It’s designed to be a fuel-system antifreeze and remove water from the fuel system.

8. Do your diesel diligence

If you have a diesel vehicle, remember that diesel fuel lines tend to “gel” up in the winter time. Use a product like Diesel 911 to avoid this common problem.

Also keep an eye on your diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) levels. On many passenger and commercial diesel vehicles, a dedicated tank contains DEF which is automatically metered and sprayed into the emissions system. Many vehicles have built in warnings and alerts to prevent DEF levels from being exhausted. They’ll also perform at significantly restricted levels, or not at all, if DEF runs out.

9. Grab your de-icing chemicals

This may be one of our favorite winter car maintenance tips, because it’s inexpensive, requires zero mechanical experience, and prevents headaches. After all, you can’t drive your vehicle in the winter if you can’t unlock the doors or see out the window. That’s why lock deicers and windshield deicing fluid are must-have winter chemicals.

Lock de-icer thaws and lubricates door locks, as well as other types of locks, helping prevent damage. We’ve already discussed windshield de-icers above, which can be added to the windshield washer fluid tank. These products work together to prevent hassles and frozen fingers.

10. Inspect your radiator cap and thermostat

While it’s a simple and inexpensive part, the radiator cap plays a critically important role in your heating and cooling system. Your radiator cap keeps the antifreeze in your vehicle where it should be. A leaking radiator cap can cause the engine to overheat and allow antifreeze to leak, neither of which are good scenarios for winter-weather driving. Take a close look around the radiator cap for signs of leaking fluid. To be on the safe side, if the vehicle radiator cap is several years old, replace it with a new one. The five bucks you invest is well worth the peace of mind and performance you get in return.

Another inexpensive, yet critically important component of your vehicle heating and cooling system is the thermostat. If it’s not functioning properly, you might find yourself without heat. That’s because thermostats can fail, particularly if the coolant hasn’t been changed regularly and corrosion has appeared. Change the thermostat, and improve your odds of having a warm interior all winter long.

Do you have winter prep and maintenance tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

101 Series: Top 5 DIY Projects to Tackle Yourself

When major things go wrong with our cars, most of us bite the bullet and consult a trusted mechanic. But there are many car problems you can fix on your own, which saves you money. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. Read on for five simple ways to get that DIY ball rolling.

father_son_work_under_hood

1. Headlight Restoration

If your car is more than a few years old, chances are its headlight lenses could use some TLC, particularly if you deal with inclement weather on a regular basis. You’ll notice cloudiness on the plastic lens surface and maybe some yellowing. Fortunately, a number of reputable brands sell headlight restoration kits that can make those lenses look new again. Don’t get intimidated if your kit requires a power drill, by the way. That’s just because you may need more power to get that crud off than a human arm can muster. The job may take an hour or two to do properly, but there’s nothing tricky about it. Check out this video to get started.

For an even less expensive option that’s as easy as brushing your teeth, try this easy home remedy.

2. Headlight Replacement

Repair jobs under the hood don’t get much simpler than this one. Consult your owner’s manual or speak to an Advance Auto Parts Team Member to locate the correct headlight replacement parts. Then, take a look at this handy, step-by-step tutorial and this video.

As with any job that involves disassembly or removal, remember the order in which you take things apart. If you have to remove your headlight assembly, for example, you may end up unscrewing and pulling out a number of pieces. Remember how to put everything back together.

3. Replace Your Wipers

This is actually a simpler job than headlight replacement, because you don’t even have to pop the hood. Windshield wiper blades typically just snap into place. Replacing them is as easy as flipping the wiper shafts up off the windshield, popping the old blades off, and snapping the new ones on. Your owner’s manual should have specific information about the removal and replacement process. For help choosing new wiper blades talk to your Advance Auto Parts Team Member.

4. Replenish Your Fluids

Fluids are the lifeblood of an internal combustion engine. Without enough motor oil, the engine will wear down more quickly and may even seize. Without enough power steering fluid, the pump, bearings and other parts are in imminent danger. Without enough brake fluid…well, you get the point. Bottom line, it’s crucial to make sure that all fluids are always up to spec. To do it yourself, just check your owner’s manual for the location of each fluid reservoir or dipstick, and make a habit of inspecting those fluid levels. You can also read these handy guides to maintaining your vehicle’s motor oil and other essential fluids.

5. Wash and Wax Your Ride

Ever find yourself shaking your head at the price of a car wash? It definitely costs more than you’d pay to do it yourself. So why not get up close and personal with your car’s finish? There’s a whole world of at-home detailing products to explore. With the money you save, you can spend time doing something you really enjoy.

You may have to spend a little time to conquer these five projects. In the end, however, you save money and possibly the time and hassle of having your vehicle at the shop. Plus, you’ve gained the confidence to tackle the next project and a fuller knowledge of your vehicle’s maintenance.

What basic DIY projects do you tackle on your vehicle? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment.

A behind-the-scenes look at windshield wipers

When it starts to rain, you automatically turn on your wipers (or if you’re fancy, they turn on for you). It happens without a second thought. The earliest drivers, though, couldn’t do that, because wipers didn’t yet exist. It wasn’t until November 10, 1903 that a woman from Birmingham, Alabama named Mary Anderson received a patent for a “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice, or sleet from the windows.”

In other words, windshield wipers.

Windshield wipersWindshield wiper history

History Channel provides more of the backstory of this amazing invention. Anderson was riding a streetcar in New York City, but the driver couldn’t see through his windshield. The windshield was split so that the driver could open it and manually clean off rain, sleet or snow, but passengers shivered and/or got wet in the process.

Anderson knew there had to be a better way and so she devised a set of wooden and rubber wipers operated by a lever located by the steering wheel. This activated a spring loaded arm that cleared off the windshield. These wipers could be removed and used only when necessary.

People laughed at the notion, figuring that these wipers would distract drivers and cause accidents. Anderson tried selling her creation to a manufacturing company who refused, seeing no practical value in a device that cleaned car windows. By 1913, these wipers were found on most cars, but the inventor didn’t profit.

More windshield wiper history: in 1917, Charlotte Bridgewood invented another version of wipers, but she didn’t make any money from her invention, either.

Modern day windshield wipers

It’s hard to imagine not having wipers on your car, and today’s drivers realize that wipers help to prevent accidents rather than causing them.

Editor’s note: When you buy windshield wipers from Advance Auto Parts, our Team Members will install them free (most vehicles, most locations). Find a store.

Everything You Need to Know About Replacing Headlights

Dodge Plymouth headlights

Dodge Plymouth headlights, Source | Flickr

Headlights are one of those essentials that you don’t think about until they’re gone…or fading fast. When the road ahead becomes unclear, you can have more questions than answers. So, we’ll take a look at what you need to know when it comes to replacing your headlight bulbs.

Why you should replace headlights

There’s the obvious fact: dimming or burned out headlight bulbs mean you can’t see the road and other drivers can’t see you. It’s a recipe for danger. It can mean a costly ticket from your local authorities if you don’t get them fixed. Besides, there are plenty of options for improved visibility these days, including LED and Xenon bulbs. Even changing out your old halogen headlights for newer models can provide 30 percent brighter light and up to 25 percent more down-road visibility. So why tolerate yellow, inadequate, or uneven lighting?

When to replace your headlights

As a rule of thumb, if one bulb’s gone or fading, the other won’t be far behind. So replace both bulbs at the same time. For many vehicles these days, one bulb serves for both high and low beams. In older models, however, two separate headlight bulbs were used on both sides. Either replace both bulbs or all four bulbs at the same time for a consistent field-of-vision down-road. Consult your owner’s manual for the specific needs for your vehicle.

Pro Tip: Replace both headlights at the same time for improved visibility. It’s also important to note when one headlight bulb fails, the other usually isn’t far behind.

Sylvania HID headlight

HID headlight from Sylvania

What kinds of headlights are available?

Vehicles come standard with a specific type of headlight. Common types include halogen, LED, and Xenon (or HID). Most vehicles come with halogen headlights. Here are the differences between them:

  • Halogen: Halogen headlights use a tungsten-halogen filament mixed with halogen gas to generate a much brighter light than conventional headlights.
  • LED: LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) have an advantage over halogen in that they draw less power to operate, run cooler than halogen lights, and last longer. That said, they will cost you more.
  • Xenon/HID: Instead of using a heated filament, Xenon lights or HID (high-intensity discharge) headlights use gas. Xenon lights are brighter, have a lower operating temperature, and last longer. But replacing HID headlights will set you back a pretty penny compared to other options and may require professional installation.

 

How do I know which type of headlights are right for my vehicle?

Check your owner’s manual if you aren’t certain which type of headlight your vehicle uses. You can also ask for help from an Advance Auto Parts Team Member.

The three main factors in selecting new headlights are:

  • Brightness
  • Whiteness (or color temperature)
  • Price

Halogen light bulbs come standard on most vehicles, but increasingly carmakers are turning to Xenon and LED bulbs for improved visibility. Consult your owner’s manual for the specific type of replacement bulbs you can use for your vehicle. Then select the bulbs that will give you the best visibility and value for your needs.

You can also consider upgrading your headlights to Xenon, if they don’t come standard on your vehicle. Xenon lights have a distinctive white or bluish-white glow and are regarded as the ultimate in visibility and luxury. You’ll need to install a Xenon conversion kit, however, which will take a few hours and several hundred dollars. The bulbs themselves cost quite a bit more, as well. But the difference in illumination can be dramatic.

Are all halogen headlights alike?

No. Halogen lights can emit either white or blue beams. Generally speaking, the whiter the beam, the brighter the light. An increase in brightness improves night-driving vision and helps other drivers see you better. Headlights with a whiter color temperature emit a beam that more closely resembles natural light. Besides brightness, increased whiteness has also been shown to improve driver visibility—and your visibility to other drivers.

When should I change my headlights?

We recommend replacing headlights regularly, especially since new headlight technology, such as that found in LED bulbs, shines more light down the road and off to the sides. This gives you more time to react to potential hazards.

How to tell which type of headlight configuration you have

1950 Mercury sealed beam headlights1950 Mercury sealed beam headlight, Source | Flickr

There are two primary configurations of headlights: sealed beams and capsules.

Sealed Beams:

  • Common on cars 10 years old and older
  • Mount directly to the front of the car
  • Seldom used today except on some large trucks and SUVs

Capsules:

  • Common on most newer cars
  • Plug into the car’s headlight socket assembly
  • Relatively simple to replace

How to change headlights

Changing out your headlight bulbs is easier than it looks, so why leave it up to a mechanic? You’ll likely get a better quality product than the standard bulbs used by a shop and save money on labor too.

Read our step-by-step guides on how to change headlights and how to aim and adjust headlights to get started. Even if you aren’t interested in changing out the headlights yourself, you’ll still get a better value if you purchase the bulbs and ask you mechanic to install them for you.

What to do when replacing your headlights isn’t enough

If your headlight lenses are cloudy or dirty, the fanciest headlight bulbs in the world won’t make a difference. You’ll need to remove the film and grime on your lenses that occurs naturally over time. You can use a headlight restoration kit or a few tried-and-true home remedies. Either way, cleaning your headlights shouldn’t take more than an hour or two and could save you from hazardous nighttime driving.

Changing out your headlights is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure a safer driving experience.

Have you changed or adjusted your own headlights lately? Have you tried upgrading to LED or Xenon bulbs? Share your advice.

How to Clean Car Headlights

You may not think about cleaning your headlights except for doing a quick wipe when you’re washing your car. That’s an important step; however, it’s necessary to take your headlight cleaning a little further, especially when they look foggy. Having dirty headlights filled with buildup can make your lights look dim, potentially placing you at risk for accidents. You may even get ticketed by a highway patrol officer if he or she feels your lights are dulled enough to pose a risk to you or others on the road.

Fortunately, cleaning your foggy car headlights can be as easy as brushing your teeth. Here’s how to do it.

Headlights of a Bloomington Mustang

Difficulty

Good for beginners – A new DIYer will be able to complete the project

 

Estimated time required

1-2 hours

 

What you’ll need

  • soft, dry cloth
  • rubbing alcohol
  • sandpaper: 400, 1200 and 1500 grit
  • spray bottle filled with water

 

The toothpaste method

It may seem strange to use toothpaste to clean your headlights, but it works. Just make sure you’re using regular white toothpaste. Mint paste or those that are designed for whitening or other special purposes can damage your headlights.

Step 1: Take the plain white toothpaste and squeeze it onto a soft, dry cloth. Wipe your headlight lens in circular motions in small sections until the dulling grime is removed. Don’t try to cover a large area. Instead take on small portions of the bulbs and concentrate on them until you get a clean shine.

Step 3: Rinse the area with water and wipe with a clean, wet cloth. You can then apply some polish specially designed for headlights if you wish.

The lasting clean method

You can also use sandpaper to clean headlights and do what is known as a “lasting clean” method. This will not only clean your headlights, but prevent them from becoming dirty again in the near future.

Step 1: Clean your lenses twice with rubbing alcohol and then wipe with either paper towels or a clean, dry cloth towel.

Step 2: Use a spritzer bottle of water to “wet sand” your headlights. Do this thoroughly with the 400-grit sandpaper. You will likely begin to see the factory coating come off of the lights. Keep on sanding until the coating is completely removed.

Step 3: Then, you will have to eliminate any scratches left behind by the 400-grit sandpaper by using the 1200- and 1500-grit paper. If your car headlight bulbs have an interior texture (you will know because you won’t be able to see the light bulb inside), then you can usually finish the job with the 1200-grit paper.

Step 4: Finally, wipe them off with more dry paper towels or a clean, dry cloth.

Complete headlight restoration may require a little more than a home remedy can offer. Try a headlight restoration kit if you’re stumped, and watch our videos to help you tackle the job.

How to Stay Safe on Winter Roads

car stranded on side of road in winter

Winter brings cold, snow, and long, dark nights—the perfect recipe for messy road conditions. While the best advice in the worst of weather is to stay home by the fire and drink some hot chocolate, we know that isn’t always possible. If, you know, you have to get to work or buy groceries, here are a few simple guidelines to make sure you’re safely driving in snow.

Defensive driving

Studies have shown that fatal crashes are 14 percent more likely to occur right after the first major snowstorm of the season. That’s because drivers are re-learning how to drive in snow and slush. Even if you’ve lived in the snow belt your entire life, other motorists on the road with you may be experiencing a learning curve. So it’s still a good idea to to remind yourself of these tips before getting behind the wheel:

  • Slow down and go easy on the brakes. Quick or panic braking may cause the wheels to lock, causing a skid. Gentle on-and-off use of brakes allows the tires to grip.
  • Stay alert
  • Use your headlights. Even if you can see just fine, it’s more important that other drivers can see you.
  • Keep a safe distance. Leave room between your car and the vehicle ahead of you.
  • Use the middle lane. You’ll avoid slush on the roadside
  • Follow tracks. Take advantage of the tracks in the snow made by other vehicles
  • Take care on bridges. They freeze faster than roadways and can be icy.

Finally, use extra caution at nighttime. Forty-nine-percent of fatal accidents occur after dark.

De-icing and snow removal

Visibility is always important, especially in bad weather. Sheets of snow and ice on your car can break loose as your vehicle warms, obscuring your view. So take the time to remove accumulation from your vehicle’s hood, roof, windshield, and windows before you hit the road. If you don’t have the luxury of parking your vehicle in a garage, here a few tried-and-true methods for removing snow and ice:

  • I’m-in-no-hurry method: Turn front and rear defrosters on high. After 10-15 minutes, use a snow brush or other snow removal tool to remove snow and ice.
  • I’m-running-late method: After turning on your defrosters, use a de-icer product like the Prestone Windshield De-Icer with Scraper. This product melts ice much faster than just a defroster, and helps reduce dangerous refreeze. This is a great product because it also contains a built-in ice-scraper to clear icy windshields and headlights.
  • I-need-to-be-there-yesterday method: The night before snow is predicted, cover your windshield with a towel, tarp, or sturdy sheet of cardboard. All you have to do is simply remove the cover and store it for next time. Or park with your windshield facing into the sun, and hope for a bright day.

Windshield wipers and fluid upkeep

View of winter road through a windshield

Source | Oliur Rahman, Unsplash

Once your windshield is defrosted and clean, you’ll need to keep it that way so the road ahead is clearly visible. Swap out your windshield fluid for an all-weather windshield washer fluid that resists freezing and helps clear road spray more easily. You’ll also want to check your front and rear windshield wipers. At the first signs of cracking, splitting, or streaking, replace them with a new pair.

New, clean headlights

In addition to driving with more awareness during the evening hours, headlights can go a long way in helping you avoid accidents. Changing out your old halogen headlights for newer models can provide 30 percent brighter light and up to 25 percent more down-road visibility. You’ll spot obstacles or hazardous road conditions more quickly, which gives you more time to react and improves your odds of avoiding an accident.

You can replace your headlights in less than an hour. If, however, you find that your headlights or taillights are still foggy or dim, you may also want to consider cleaning your headlights with one of a few simple methods.

Tire options

Tires are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to avoiding accidents in winter. Pay attention to tread depth with this handy tool and replace your tires as needed. Here are a few options for improving traction on wintry roads.

Snow tires

If you live in an area that sees frequent or heavy snow fall, then you probably already own a set of snow tires. Tire makers optimize their tire and tread compounds based on what type of tire they’re building. With snow tires, the tire’s rubber and chemical compounds are designed for maximum performance in freezing temperatures and on ice and snow. In addition to rubber compounds that are designed for winter performance, these winter or snow tires also feature tread designs that maximize stopping and steering ability on snow, slush, and ice. Snow tires are more expensive than regular tires, and, more often than not, the manufacturers recommend mounting them on separate rims.

Snow tires with studs

For areas where ice-covered roads or packed-snow conditions dominate the winter travel season, drivers might want to consider using snow tires with studs. The studs are metal pins that protrude from the surface of the snow tires and “bite” into ice and packed snow. Studs are noisy on dry roads, however, and performance and handling can suffer.

Tire chains

If snow is an occasional happening in your area and you frequently see ice, consider investing in a pair of tire chains. Sized to fit your vehicle’s tires, you install tire chains without raising the vehicle or even moving it, making them an excellent resource to keep in the vehicle and install when bad weather strikes. Remove tire chains as soon as you’re out of the snow and ice, as they limit your top speed and can damage the road surface.

 

Perhaps the best advice of all for driving during winter weather is to slow down. Clean windshields and snow tires are not an excuse for driving too fast on bad roads. So take your time. The hot cocoa will be waiting when you get back.

Do you have winter driving tips to share? Leave a comment.