European & American Headlights: How Do They Differ

European vehicles are popular in the U.S. due to their stylish designs, innovative features, and impressive performance. While American drivers can purchase many of the vehicles that are driven on highways and urban avenues in Europe, the vehicles that are driven off of American lots aren’t exact replicas of their European counterparts; the American versions of European cars have very different automotive lighting, due to differences in the regulations on car bulbs and headlights in the US and Europe.

How Headlight Bulbs Differed in the Past

Differences between American and European automotive lighting is nothing new. Car lights have varied on opposite sides of the Atlantic since the 1950s and 60s:

– In the United States, all headlights on American cars were required to be one-piece sealed beam headlamps starting in 1940. The law was modified to allow for four headlights instead of two and eventually to make rectangular headlights legal, but it wasn’t until 1984 that replaceable car bulbs were road legal in the U.S.

– In Europe, automakers were able to integrate new styles of car lights into their designs much earlier. Halogen headlights were offered in European vehicles all the way back in 1962. While American cars all featured the same sealed beam headlights during the 1960s and 1970s, European vehicles had custom lights with replaceable headlight bulbs, allowing for automakers to introduce more aerodynamic vehicle designs.

Differences in Modern Standards

Even though Americans now have more auto lighting options available to them, like LED lights for cars, the U.S. and Europe still operate under two different standards for car lights. The U.S. uses the SAE standard, while the EU has the ECE standard. The major differences between American and European xenon, halogen, and LED headlights include:

– Restrictions on Glare. In Europe, automakers must keep glare levels to a lower standard to avoid blinding oncoming drivers than in the U.S.

– Rules on Focus. European standards mandate that car lights produce a well-defined beam with very clear borders, making the lighting easy to aim. The U.S. lacks such rules, which can make it hard to aim American headlights.

– Height Allowances. In the U.S., all headlights must be aimed the same way regardless of how tall vehicles are. European aiming requirements vary based on height.

– Intensity. The upper limits for high beam brightness in Europe are twice the legal level in the U.S., making even American LED lights for cars much dimmer than European headlights.

– Flexibility. European standards are generally seen as more flexible and able to adapt to new technologies than American standards. The difference between how adaptive auto lighting systems have been received in the EU and the US illustrates the differences perfectly. Audi and BMW have both created lighting systems that automatically adjust auto lighting levels to respond to driving conditions. These advanced LED headlights improve vehicle safety and are fully approved for use in Europe. In the U.S., the lighting systems were rejected because they did not fit into conventional guidelines, such as not having distinct high and low beams.

Reference: MotiveMag

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