Low beam vs. High beam: When should I use them?

It’s a cold, foggy morning. You are struggling to drive safely but cannot see anything, despite turning on your headlights. Try to switch from low beam to high beam setting, and you finally decide to drive using your high beam headlights.

You may agree with me when I say: having your high beams on during a foggy weather situation sounds right… but that’s not true. Remember! High beams and low beams are only suitable for their own situations.

Don’t think it strange. Let me clarify the reason by equipping you with:

  • Differences between low beams and high beams
  • When to use them
  • Some problems with each type

Let’s dive right in.

Low beam vs. high beam – Key differences?

The table below illustrates the primary differences between a low beam and a high beam setting:

differences between low beam and high beam settings
The table indicates apparent differences between low beam and high beam settings

When it comes to low beam and high beam, they play vital roles in lighting your way in the right ways.

While the rays from the low beam point towards the ground, those from the high beam come in another direction. The high beam will light straight along the road in the very long range. On the contrary, the low beam only shines the road in a short range.

Let’s take a look at the image below. Imagine you are going for a stroll with two of your friends on the street and a car is approaching. Even though the car is far away from you for about 100 meters, it still shines the three of you brightly and makes you all blinded. In this case, it means that the car is turning on its high beam.

In another scenario, although you still hear the car driving towards you and it is only away from you for 40 meters, it doesn’t blind you at all. What you and your friends can see is all rays angling towards the road. Now, you can know what beam the car driver is turning on. Yes, that’s the low beam.

low beam high beam difference
Although high beams help you see further than low beams, low beams light your way more brightly in foggy, rainy, or snowy conditions than high beams.

For old cars, drivers have to switch on their low beams in a manual way when they are in locations where the low beam is necessary. Meanwhile, with the developing technology, newer cars have become more “intelligent”. They can detect the environments where there is low light and turn on the low beam automatically. This is different from high beams. You always have to manually switch them on when they are indispensable.

Gone are the days when all of the cars had separate bulbs with separate high beams and low beams. Nowadays, a single bulb in most modern vehicles boasts two filaments – one for low beams and another for high beams. However, I only say “most” because some types of cars (especially for higher-end vehicles or performance vehicles) still own different bulbs for two types of beams. Halogen, LED, and HID headlights have low and high beams. And choosing the best bulb among these three headlight bulbs will make these beams even brighter.  

What are low beams?

Low beams are the headlight settings that light up only a small area ahead of your car, about 40 meters. Despite the limited radiation, they become useful in some cases. Read on to find out those benefits.

Low beam symbol

Once you switch on your low beam headlights, the following symbol will appear on the dashboard:

low beam
The high beam symbol will indicate the rays pointing downwards the ground.

The low beam symbol has its rays pointing downwards. Low beams point towards the ground more than they point forward. It is different from the high beam symbol, as you will see later on in this article.

When to use low beams

They are most suited for driving at night where there is heavy traffic. Driving experts also recommend using a low beam headlight setting in properly lit cities. Also, it would be best if you also don’t use them when traveling on highways without much traffic.

Besides, low beams are ideal for driving in rainy, foggy, or snowy conditions. Ideal? You are likely thinking that I’m wrong because high beams are more appropriate for these situations, which need more light and further illumination. But, I say “No, no, and no”. It’s better to have low beams on.

Believe me! Because they will provide better visibility compared to using high beams. Why? Let’s find the reason below.

What are high beams?

High beams produce a brighter light than low beams. They light up more than 100 meters ahead of your vehicle.

High beam symbol

High beams light at the very far point towards the front than to the ground. This symbol is what you’ll find on your dashboard whenever you switch to a high beam mode. Note the difference between the high beam and low beam symbols:

low beam
The high beam symbol will indicate the rays pointing towards the front.

The symbol has its rays pointing straight as opposed to the low beam symbol illustrated above.

When to use high beams

Regarding high beams, the regulation depends on each state. You are requested to have your high beams dimmed within a specific distance. When your car approaches traffic or follows another car, the distances also differ.

Listed below are some states with their own regulations on high beams. When you drive within these distances when approaching traffic or following another car, remember to switch to low beams.

StateWhen approaching traffic
When following another vehicle
Alabama
500 feet
200 feet
Alaska
500 feet
500 feet
Arizona500 feet200 feet
Arkansas
500 feet
200 feet
Colorado
500 feet
200 feet
Connecticut
500 feet
300 feet
Delaware
500 feet
200 feet
District of Columbia
500 feet
300 feet
Florida
500 feet
300 feet
Georgia
500 feet

200 feet
Idaho
500 feet
200 feet
Illinois
500 feet
300 feet
Indiana
500 feet
200 feet
Iowa
1000 feet
400 feet
Kentucky
500 feet
200 feet
Louisiana
500 feet
200 feet
Maine
500 feet
300 feet
Maryland
500 feet
300 feet
Massachusetts
500 feet
200 feet
Michigan
1000 feet
200 feet
Minnesota
1000 feet
200 feet
Missouri
500 feet
300 feet
Montana
1000 feet
500 feet
Nevada
500 feet
300 feet
New Mexico
500 feet
200 feet
New York
500 feet
200 feet
North Dakota
500 feet
300 feet
Oklahoma
1000 feet
600 feet
Oregon
500 feet
350 feet 
Pennsylvania
500 feet
300 feet
Rhode Island
500 feet
 200 feet
South Carolina
500 feet
 200 feet
Tennessee
500 feet
500 feet
Texas
500 feet
300 feet
Utah
500 feet
300 feet
Virginia
500 feet
200 feet
West Virginia
500 feet
200 feet
Wisconsin
500 feet
500 feet

It is recommended that you use high beams where there are few other vehicles on the road. High beams can light up to 100 meters ahead of your vehicle. When approaching another vehicle, you need to switch to a low beam to avoid blinding other drivers. Low beams should also be best used in low-traffic areas, e.g., rural areas and small roads.

It’s true that:

Roads can be the most ruthless places on earth. You’ve probably come across an arrogant driver who does not want to switch to a low beam as you approach each other. You can handle such drivers by avoiding looking at their vehicles directly – they’ll blind you. One way is that you can look toward the right edge of your lane.

Now, you may be wondering:

“If a high beam produces more light than a low beam, why shouldn’t I use it when driving in dense foggy, rainy, or snowy conditions?”

Here’s why:

Fog is made of cloud particles. Now, because high beams produce a lot of light pointed forward, the cloud particles will reflect the light. The light then reflects at you, creating a glare. Rain and snow will also happen in similar situations. Therefore, all you need to do when driving under those conditions is to turn on your low beams for your safety.

Why your low beam doesn’t work while your high beam does

Now, there are some occasions that you’ll find your low beams stop working. Here are the reasons why that may happen:

  • Your headlight’s socket may be corroded – This means that it blocks a significant amount of light produced by your bulb. You can use a contact cleaner to do away with this condition. It is available in auto parts shops. However, if the corrosion is dense, you can use a small wire brush to scrape it off.
  • Compromised headlight wiring – check and replace it.
  • Broken headlight switches – The best way to solve this problem is by replacing them.
  • Bad fuse or relay – You need to replace the bad fuse or relay to get your vehicle going again.
  • Worn-out headlights – all headlights require replacement after a significant amount of usage over time.

Why your high beam doesn’t work while your low beam does

At times, you’ll find out that your low beams fail to work. Let’s find the reasons below:

  • Blown bulb – all bulbs eventually get blown. They have a working lifespan of up to 1000 hours. Once your bulb blows out, you’ll need to replace it.
  • Blown fuse – The high beam fuse may get blown, which will undoubtedly affect your high beam functionality. You should replace the blown fuse. It’ll last longer and serve you better.
  • Faulty relay – There is no other way to solve this problem apart from replacing it with an original part.
  • Wiring issues – They may be due to corroded wires. It’s time to have them replaced.
  • Using the wrong type of bulb for your headlight certainly brings high beam problems. You’ll not be able to see clearly. Therefore, you need to use the right type of bulb for better visibility.

Final thoughts

Both the low and high beam settings in your car are essential, especially when you know where and when to use either of them correctly.

How you choose to use either of the two settings is up to you – but it comes with a responsibility. Safety should be the primary responsibility of any driver. You need to ensure that both the high and low beams are functioning correctly.

Remember to engage the low beam setting when approaching on-coming traffic. Do not let your laziness make fellow travelers irritated.

1 thought on “Low beam vs. High beam: When should I use them?”

  1. Very nice, thanks for sharing with us. Enjoy every bit of your blog. Really looking forward to reading more.

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