Adaptive light distribution, high-beam assistants and anti-glare high beam are neat things that make driving at night more pleasant. That even applies to oncoming traffic which is then not dazzled as much. Unless technology is playing up. There are a few causes, even bizarre ones.

That’s the third driver who’s flashed me. I don’t understand, the car’s got automatic dipping headlights. What’s wrong with everyone today? Probably nothing. And the automatic system is probably not broken either, just confused. It has the same problem as many drivers: it doesn’t see enough.

Automatic dipping headlights and anti-glare high beam are controlled by a camera which sits between the rear-view mirror and windshield. If the picture that is taken is blurred or bad in general, it’ll obviously disrupt the functions that depend on the camera. Apart from the controller for the lights, it could be the lane assist system or the automatic emergency brake. When it comes to lights, limited or absent functionality fortunately rarely means that they won’t go back to dipped beam. Quite the opposite. Or the automatic light system switches on dipped beam instead of daytime running lights, even in broad daylight.

But why does the camera no longer see correctly? The answer is quite simple: the glass in front of the lens is probably dirty. The tricky thing is that the driver can’t see it. Normally this spot is kept clean by the windshield wipers. Because of where the camera sits, the last few centimeters of the wiper blades are responsible for that spot. Sadly the ends wear off first because they need to travel the longest distance on the windscreen. So if the upper edge of the wiped area is starting to look a bit streaky, it’s time to change your wipers. But sometimes it’s only dried-on remnants of the water from the washer system that have spread right in front of the camera. Then the only thing that helps is to give it a quick wipe (with water!). If the windscreen water regularly leaves smears, antifreeze or cleaners may not be suitable.

Other problems are more difficult to get rid of from the driver’s seat. A fat fly squashed against the glass can very easily defy the washer system – provided you’ve even noticed it. Leaves that have fallen from trees and are moist and therefore very adhesive also do a very good job of confusing the camera. And it’s no surprise either that birds manage to do their business so accurately that it lands directly over the camera’s lens.

So if in doubt, take a look at it from the outside, and give it a clean if necessary. But please be careful. A microfiber cloth is best. You really don’t want any scratches on the glass. Because they can also disturb the camera image – and you won’t be able to do anything about that.

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