Dipped beam headlights are asymmetrical. Your own side of the road and the kerb get more light than those of oncoming traffic. This provides as large a range as possible and at the same time prevents oncoming drivers from being dazzled. The whole thing creates a great deal of confusion, though, if the car needs to switch over to the other side of the road. In other words, if a vehicle designed for right-hand traffic is driving in a country with left-hand traffic – or vice versa. In Europe, it’s exclusively islands where cars drive on the left side of the road. Of course this includes Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Less well known is that Malta and Cyprus also have left-hand traffic. In the latter case it’s unusual that, unlike Turkey, even the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island doesn’t drive on the right-hand side. Gibraltar is unique. Although it’s British, you drive on the right-hand side there – just like in Spain. But I’m getting sidetracked.
By far the most common time of driving on the other side of the road is a trip to the British Isles, or a trip to the continent by Brits and the Irish. The dipped beam headlights need to be prepared for that. For high beam it doesn’t matter. First, it can only be on if it doesn’t dazzle anyone. And second, it’s always symmetrical. By the way, it’s similar in the case of fog lights.
One out of three solutions will help
Depending on the car and basic type of headlight, one of three methods can be applied to convert the lights for driving on the other side of the road. Which one it is can be found in the manual. There’s no universal piece of advice on what to do, except to read the manual. Or to consult the garage.
Here are the three possible solutions:
- Don’t do anything at all. There are some headlights that emit dipped beam in a Z characteristic and don’t dazzle oncoming traffic on the “wrong” side of the road – at least not a lot. When it comes to right-hand traffic, you’d actually need to call it “reverse Z”; it only looks like a real Z in left-hand traffic. That sounds complicated, and it is for one reason: by no means all cars featuring this light characteristic are exempt from remedial action. And for that you need the manual or a garage.
- The tourist solution. There’s a lever or bracket on the headlight that makes the lights suitable for the other side of the road. In some very new cars this even works in the settings of the vehicle electronics. In cars for right-hand traffic, tourist solutions are generally only common in projection systems, in other words lens headlights. In countries with left-hand traffic, many headlights with visible reflectors also offer such an option. It generally varies as to what a tourist solution can achieve. Often only the asymmetrical part of the light distribution is switched on. This makes the light significantly worse. Higher quality solutions, such as the ones installed in many xenon headlights, provide a full asymmetrical light for the other side of the road.
- Adhesive stickers. This is the most laborious method. Unfortunately, they’re necessary for most halogen headlights without lenses. The parts of the headlamp which emit the asymmetrical beam are covered with an opaque sticker. Which are these parts? In old headlights with ribbed diffusers it’s still relatively straightforward. You can easily identify the square asymmetrical part. Don’t get confused. It’s pointing in the opposite direction! With clear headlight covers it’s more difficult. For the last ten years or so, the manual has needed to specify the parts to be masked. You’ll find the right stickers on the internet, sometimes even vehicle-specific ones. Please note: stickers designed for a specific car then also vary for left- and right-hand traffic. In England, they are often offered in accessory shops or at gas stations and can be used to make the local left-asymmetrical lights suitable for continental right-hand traffic. Using them on a car built for right-hand traffic makes them counterproductive. At a pinch, black tape or even band-aid from a first-aid kit are also suitable for masking. When you cover something, light disappears of course – and the field of vision gets shorter.
Thinking about the end of the holidays isn’t nice. Nevertheless, it won’t hurt to keep in mind your return. Then the lights will need to be adapted to your side of the road once again.