A Ford Mustang or Corvette is the dream of many a car fan, and that includes the European side of the Atlantic as well. Ideally with original US headlights of course. But that will cause licensing problems. Different rules apply to lights, and there are good reasons for that.

The problem always occurs if someone imports an American car or buys it from a US soldier in Europe; in the latter case even if the car comes from a European manufacturer. The lights account for some of the major differences in equipment. And licensing with US lights just isn’t possible.

At first glance you’ll notice the absence of flasher repeaters; or that cars in America always have side markers and they always shine red at the rear. When it comes to headlights the differences are not quite so obvious. But those differences are significant. US headlights have no headlamp leveling for example. You’ll only notice the different light distribution at night and if you look closely. For the dipped beam a considerably higher level of glare is accepted than in Europe, but high beam isn’t allowed to be nearly as bright as in the Old World.

These are the main reasons why the headlights usually need replacing before the car can be licensed. Among the really rare exceptions are cars for which you simply can’t get any parts that comply with ECE regulations, which are mandatory in Europe and many other countries. In Germany, for example, such cars would need a special permit.

Another difference relates to colors. The DOT (Department of Transport) regulations valid in the US allow the indicator lights at the rear to shine red. In Europe this is prohibited, as are forward pointing amber position lights – in both cases to prevent confusion.

Those of you who buy or re-import a European car intended for export to the US may well not get some of the modern additional headlight functions. For example, glare-free high beam has not been approved (yet) in the US. In Canada things are different though. The world’s second biggest country is pragmatic and accepts both DOT and ECE regulations when it comes to car lights. A car previously registered there can – but doesn’t have to – be equipped in accordance with European rules.

Thankfully, in most cases not all headlights or other lights need to be replaced. For example, fog lights, license plate lights and rear lights often carry dual approval. That’s always the case if the part has both a DOT number and an E symbol on it. But here the devil may be in the detail as the light bulb also needs to carry an E symbol for Europe. If not, replacing an American lamp with one from Osram is the least of your problems.

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