Whether you’re a seasoned driver or you’ve just passed your test, the sheer number of lights onboard your car can make it tough to remember exactly what they’re for.

If you’ve ever got your fog lights mixed up with your full beams, you’re not alone. There are plenty of drivers who’ll have done the same.

To shine a light on this commonly confusing issue, we’ll run through the different types of car lights, what they do, and when the right time to use them is.

The different types of car lights

Dipped headlights

What are dipped headlights?

Brighter than sidelights but dimmer than a full beam, dipped headlights make night-time driving when visibility is low a lot easier.

Why the name? They’re angled downwards so as not to dazzle oncoming drivers. Just make sure they’re at the right angle; you could get a £50 fixed penalty notice if they’re dipped incorrectly.

To turn them on, there’ll be a switch on a dashboard dial or the indicator stalk, although many modern cars have daytime running lights that work without you having to lift a finger.

When should I use dipped headlights?

As per the Highway Code, you must use dipped headlights “when visibility is seriously reduced”, i.e., when you are able to see less than 100m in front of you. So basically, any time you’re driving at night or during bad weather.

Full beam headlights

What are full beam headlights?

The brightest type of headlight on normal vehicles, full beam headlights are angled higher than dipped headlights and let drivers see more of the road ahead. They work on the same switch as dipped lights, usually with a simple action to swap between the two.

When should I use full beam headlights?

Full beam headlights should only be used when driving on unlit stretches of road at night or when visibility is poor on A-roads and motorways.

However, you should always switch back to dipped headlights when meeting oncoming traffic (including cyclists or pedestrians), following another vehicle, passing through towns and villages, or driving on left-turning bends, as your full beams can dazzle others and could cause accidents.

car headlights at night

Fog lights

What are fog lights?

With full beam lights being the brightest, you might think they’re best suited for cutting through fog and mist. But since full beam lights are reflected by fog, the role of fog-cutting actually falls to fog lights instead.

They usually come in two sets, front and back, with colour-coded switches: amber for rear fog lights and green for front fog lights.

When should I use fog lights?

While there’s no legal requirement to turn your fog lights on, switching them on in low visibility is a sensible idea. In these conditions, don’t forget your rear fog lights so that other drivers can see you as they approach you from behind.

Just be sure to turn your fog lights off when things have cleared up. Not only can rear fog lights obscure your brake lights, but they can also end up dazzling other drivers.

Hazard warning lights

What are hazard warning lights?

The blinking yellow lights found at each corner of your car, hazard warning lights are used to warn other drivers of any dangers or obstructions on the road. They should also be used in the event of emergencies, like when you’ve broken down.

Hazard warning lights can be switched on using the triangle button found on your car’s dashboard.

When should I use hazard warning lights?

You should only use your hazard warning lights when your car is stationary so other road users know you’re causing a temporary obstruction. You may also use your hazard lights if you’re on a motorway and there is an obstruction up ahead that you need to warn other drivers about.

left indicator dashboard light


What are indicators?

This should go without saying, but nevertheless, indicators use the same bulbs as hazard lights but can be used independently on the left or right to signal your intentions. They are turned on and off using the indicator stalk, and typically turn off automatically once you straighten your wheels after making a turn.

When should I use indicators?

Again, this is a bit of a no-brainer for anyone who’s passed their test, but indicators should be used to show other road users and pedestrians that you’re turning, including on roundabouts and when you’re pulling away, overtaking, and changing lanes.


What are sidelights?

Also known as parking lights, sidelights tend to be found in the headlamp unit of your car’s front corners. They aren’t as bright as headlights, so they’re best used when it’s not quite dark enough to switch to your full beams.

They’re usually found on a dashboard dial or steering wheel stalk.

When should I use sidelights?

According to the Highway Code, you should use sidelights between sunset and sunrise. It also states that you must display sidelights when parked on a road with a speed limit of over 30mph. They’re designed to be left on for long periods of time without draining your battery. Sidelights should also be switched on if your vehicle is parked on any road in fog.

Brake lights

Red in colour and found on the back of the vehicle, your car’s brake lights will light up so that other drivers know you’ve applied your brakes and you’re slowing down.

Brake lights should be kept clean and in full working order at all times. Not only are faulty brake lights a safety risk, but there’s a chance you could receive a verbal warning, a fixed penalty notice including a £60 fine and three points, and a Vehicle Defect Rectification Notice, which is a 14-day order to fix the fault, along with proof of the fix. Your car can also be taken off the road altogether if the circumstances are especially serious.

For more motoring tips and advice, head to the Brindley blog. In the market for a used car? Maybe you want to learn about our servicing options? Follow the links or contact your local Brindley Group dealership.