Headlights vs. Taillights
Auto Parts,  Cars

Headlights vs. Taillights: What’s the difference?

You can find headlights on nearly everything on or near the road. It is a part of your vehicle that you cannot go without. These sets of lights help you see at night in areas that are not well-lighted or lighted at all. You can even find headlights on some lawnmowers if cutting grass takes longer than you expected. 

Headlights and taillights are not only different in use but also bulb shape, size, and function. It depends on the type of car or vehicle you have, but most work the same way.

While headlights and taillights are typically associated with motor vehicles, you may also find headlights and taillights on off-road or other kinds of vehicles. They make things a bit easier to see, and they make you easier to see. However, in some cases and in some places, you can get tickets if one is ever out in the vehicle you drive.


White Mercedes Benz Car headlights

In the front of your vehicle, there are two lights. In some areas, they are called headlamps; other areas call them headlights. No matter where you are from, they are meant to make the night brighter and safer for you to see in front of you. They also let the cars in front of you know you’re there.

Types of Headlights

There are several types of headlights. Depending on the make of your vehicle and what type of headlights it may have, or it may be able to be interchanged with, there are different types of headlights that need to be taken into consideration. This can include cost, installation, brightness, and more. 



Projector lights are high-performance lights originally found and available only on luxury vehicles. They are meant to make the roads brighter at greater distances. They use high-intensity discharge (HID) and Light-emitting diode (LED). With this combination, it is unsafe to use traditional reflector housing as the traditional reflectors have no specific direction on where the light goes. This can cause a loss of sight to other drivers on the road, which can pose a serious safety issue for you and the other drivers. 



Halo lights are one of the highest sought headlights due to their appealing looks and excellent visibility that it provides on the roads. It allows a vehicle to have that slick custom look. Generally, projector headlights include Halo and LED capabilities. There are several types of Halo headlights, so be sure to do your research before purchasing them outright. 



HID (high-intensity discharge) lights are also known as Xenon lights, known after the gasses that are inside the bulb. These headlights give off a “cool” or blue tint. The HID headlights are typically three times brighter than halogen. However, due to it creating gases inside the bulb, it does not take a lot of voltage to keep running. This makes it easier on your battery system. They are created to be able to be focused and prevent glare on oncoming traffic. 



LED (light-emitting diode) lights are most known for their 90% more energy efficiency. LEDs convert electric power into the light but do not create a whole bunch of heat.  They also come in different shapes besides just the standard headlight bulb shape. It is known to be used for headlights and taillights. This allows a cool, uniform look from front to back on nearly any vehicle. With the way LED lights work, they are typically known to last longer and are brighter and clearer. In the case of the headlights, this allows you to be able to see longer and clearer. 



When we think of a “laser light”, it is not usually in combination with a headlight. Laser lights are legal in Europe but not in the US. I found one light on Amazon.com that could be laser but for an off-road vehicle.

With the combination of lasers, a set of mirrors, and a bit of focus, you can get a bright white light for a headlight. The laser lights also allow different shapes and designs while performing well. “Laser lights can produce 1,000 times the intensity of LEDs, but consume only half as much power.” (blog.theretrofitsource.com)



Standard headlights consist of a forward-facing bulb in a reflective case. Earlier vehicles had standard headlights that looked similar to your normal house light bulb. They are just like the normal bulb as they are heated and run by electricity. These types of bulbs are being replaced by energy-efficient bulbs. The standard headlights are not as bright or durable. 

Be Aware

Always be conscious of your lights and whether they are on high or low beams. This can affect other drivers on the road as well as yourself. If your bright lights are on, you may be able to see quite well; the individual in the other lane may not be able to see due to the brightness of your lights.

Also, make sure the position of your headlights is where they need to be as well. This can also affect other people who are sharing the road with you. Your safety is as important as their safety. Putting others at risk also potentially puts yourself at risk as well. 

The History of the Headlights

The headlight history came in the most obvious of ways with carriage lamps. The first horseless carriage actually used carriage lamps as well. Carriage lamps typically consisted of candles or even lanterns. Headlamps were originally fueled by acetylene or oil from around the eighteen hundreds.

These lamps were very popular as they were able to be resistant to wind and rain, which allowed not only more but also safer travel at night. However, the first electric ones were introduced in 1898 in a Columbia Electric car. 

The use of these lamps did not stick as some conditions and challenges posed against the continuous use and manufacturing of these electric lamps. In 1908 electrical headlamps became standard; then 1912, Cadillac (GM) integrated their vehicles with an electrical ignition and lighting system. It was not until 1940 that a sealed version came to be. Then in 1957, the ability to have different-shaped headlights came to be. 


Taillights are located at the rear of any vehicle. They are there to indicate where you are as opposed to other drivers. It is hard and nearly impossible to see another vehicle when it is very dark. However, taillights help locate you and help others not to hit you. They also help in the case of weather and passing. Make sure all of your taillights are in proper order. In some places, you can get a ticket for not having working lights. 

Types of Taillights

Taillights are mostly standard, other than the few that are involved with LED, HID, and Halogen lights. It is important to know which bulbs properly fit your vehicle. You also still have to ensure that the voltage is the right fit. 



LED taillights give approximately three times more brightness than standard taillights. This helps it to be brighter for other drivers to see. Especially when it comes to harsh weather where visibility tends to falter, they can also help you be seen from further distances at night by other drivers. Many emergency vehicles run off of LED and smaller vehicles such as motorcycles. They are more durable, safer, and brighter. 



HID, again also called Xenon, taillights are used on many vehicles to catch the attention of drivers even during the day. They also have a very intense, stronger light than the standard lights. These are also used by motorcyclists as well to capture one’s attention when on the roads both day and night. 



Halogen taillight bulbs again use less energy, which allows them to burn cooler, making it easier on your vehicle battery. They are bright and able to be seen from a good distance. Typically, most taillights come with Halogen taillights and often come with most vehicles. 

The History of the Taillights 

Taillights, along with brake lights, were brought in around 1915. However, it was not until 1993 that the LED taillights were installed. However, the specific reason why they are red actually came from the way they ran trains throughout our history. In a time of carriages, most lamps were white and yellow. So, “go” started as white, green meant “caution,” and red meant “stop.” However, a lens dropped a light one night, causing the light to be white, and the train went on instead of stopping. Therefore, we now have green, yellow, and red, which is why a warning is set in our taillights as a red light. 

Taillights VS Brake Lights 

Do not confuse your taillights with your brake lights. Brake lights are a completely different system and only come on when the brake pedal is pushed. Brake lights being out can also cause you to get a ticket in some areas. Taillights should come on automatically when the headlights come on. If your headlights are automatic, then your taillights are also automatic; if they are manual, they will come on when you turn them on. 


Car mechanic checking a car

Maintenance is important in every vehicle. It will help your vehicle last longer and strong. Everything needs to be frequently checked from top to bottom, front to back. All lights (headlights, taillights, and blinkers) need to be checked along with fluids (oil, transmission, brake (or clutch), and any other fluids that may be involved with your vehicle. Proper maintenance ensures that you are able to catch things that start going wrong early to prevent much larger things from happening. 


microfiber clean headlight

Clean your headlights regularly. They can get extremely dirty with dirt, oil from the road, insects, and chemicals that can come from other vehicles. It is recommended that you use a microfiber cloth and do not use anything harsh that could scratch the cover of your headlights. 


Damaged and blurred headlight

Clouding or yellowing can cause a headlight not to shine as brightly and can cause safety issues. The smallest things, such as oil and chemicals from your own car and other cars, can cause this to happen to headlights. Typically, the sunlight bears down on the plastics of the headlights. If cleaning and detailing do not help solve the problem, replacing them may need to be done. 

Check Brightness

check headlight brightness

Typically if a headlight starts dimming, it is because it is close to going out or not getting enough power to shine as bright as it should. You can do this as a walk around your vehicle or shine your lights onto the side of a building, your home, or even your garage. 


Check It is important that you check the position of your headlights. It is easy for headlights to be bobbled out of place. If they are not positioned correctly, they can cause safety and vision issues. Again, you can shine your lights onto the side of a building, home, or garage.

Typically, if they are aligned correctly, they are even, and in some cases, in a “v” or “check mark” shape. You do not want a large dark spot between your headlights. Low beams at approximately twenty feet should be thigh-high. High beams at approximately fifty feet should be thigh-high. Always seek a professional if you do not know what you are doing. 

Bulb Replacement

When replacing a bulb, it is recommended to replace both of them, not just the dead one. If one bulb has gone out, it is a rule of thumb that the other one is sure to follow shortly after. It is difficult to just drive with one functioning headlight. Again, if you do not know what you are doing, it is suggested that you see a professional. Check with your local part store. They may be willing to change your bulb if you don’t know what you are doing. 

A Hint from a Mechanic

When handling bulbs, wear gloves (latex is fine) and wipe the bulb when taking it out of the package. This way, the oils from your hands do not stick to the bulb; this can cause premature failure. 

Be sure to get the correct bulb. Most stores have a series of letters and numbers per bulb that fit the vehicle’s make and model. This also is helpful so that you do not get the wrong size bulb for your vehicle. Also, check the voltage and other information to ensure that you are getting the right one. You do not want to get a high overheating bulb for a casing that may cause damage. 

Saving Money

If you keep up with proper maintenance and stick with what is meant for your vehicle, you will save money. Maintenance is often not kept up, and it leaks into larger problems that cost more money. If your headlights start blowing frequently or lights begin to malfunction frequently, there may be an electrical problem. If that electrical problem is not cared for, then it could cause an electrical fire or cause a surge in the car. This can also put a strain on your battery and your alternator. 


There are many ways to customize your headlights and taillights. However, use caution when shopping around and gathering information. There are some things you need to be aware of. Not only do you need to be knowledgeable of your voltage and electrical side of things, but also what fits your vehicle. Also, some use tinted covers and lights. However, some of them can be tinted too dark. This can cause an issue as other drivers may have a difficult time seeing you if your tint is too dark. It is better to be safe than cool. 


It is important to be aware of the safety importance of fully functioning lights, headlights, and taillights. In some areas, there is a specific time before sunset and after sunrise; between these times, your headlights are to be on. These lights help you to travel at night safely.

Wildlife travel roads all the time, including inside city limits. Some people travel at night. For others to see you and you to see them, your headlights must be fully functioning and in working order. 

Your taillights show where you are. They are used as a depth perception of other drivers behind you. This way, they know where you are, but they can keep from hitting you if they travel faster than you.

They can also help if someone is trying to pass another driver behind you to see if they have enough room to slide between you and the driver behind you. 

Remember Who It Affects

No matter where you come in, whether you came in with headlamps or you are coming in with lasers, it is important to know that the lighting of vehicles is constantly changing. With lights being able to be integrated throughout an entire vehicle, there is really no end to the constant growth. We find ways to add more light to our lives. Always put safety first, as it could affect you, your family, another driver, or their family.