As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Australia’s Best New Car News, Reviews and Buying Advice

Home

Throwing Some Light On The Subject Of Lights

Once upon a time, cars were fitted with carbide lights, practically identical to the sort old-school miners wore on their helmets.  These had to be lit with a match, a cigarette lighter or, if you were lucky, a built in flint and steel striking mechanism.  They weren’t in the business long, as electric lights were put on cars in around 1912 or so.  We’ve certainly come a long way since then and we’ve got more than a pair of carbide lanterns.  If you’ve thought about adding some aftermarket tweaks to your vehicle, lights are some of the first things that we can try adjusting or adding.  However, it pays to know what you’re talking about, so let’s look at what’s what.

Headlights

These are your bread and butter basics.  They are there to stop you running into things at night and see where the road goes.  They probably don’t need any introduction, but we’ll touch on them briefly.  They are at the front and they’re white.  The idea is that they illuminate as far as possible when on full beam and are dipped when another vehicle comes the other way.  We know how they work.  However, please remember the following: (1) you turn them on when there’s not enough light to see a person in dark clothing 100 m away, i.e., when the sun is below the horizon; (2) don’t play Headlight Chicken where you see who dips first.

Auxiliary Lights

Auxiliary lights are the ones that aren’t the bog-standard headlights, indicators and taillights.  Not all cars have them when they roll off the factory floor, but many of them can be fitted as after-market mods.  They’re particularly popular on off-roading vehicles, and for good reason.  If you’re going out into the middle of nowhere, you really need to see all the rocks, holes and wandering animals, so more lights are needed (doubly so if you go spotlighting for rabbits).

Let’s have a look at the different sorts and what they’re for.

Fog Lights

Fog lights are for moments when something’s blurring visibility rather than for when it’s dark.  Fog lights tend to keep the beam of light low so that it lights up the road but doesn’t hit the fog or dust and make the problem worse.  If the light hits the dust or fog, then it will be scattered and make visibility worse.

Fog lights can be either amber or white.  They have to turn off and on separately from the headlights.  You’re not supposed to use them at night time as auxiliary lights, and you’re not supposed to use them at all unless the conditions warrant it.  

Daytime Running Lights

Daytime running lights, commonly abbreviated DRLs, are lights fitted to the front of a vehicle that aren’t there so the driver can see but so that they can be seen. They’re supposed to be wired so that they go off when the headlights go on (unless you’re flashing your headlights temporarily to alert another driver about something, like the fact that their boot is open). 

In some places, DRLs are required by law on all new vehicles.  I’m not sure whether I agree with this or not. Certainly, out on the open road on an overcast day, DRLs have alerted me to a grey car on a grey road under a grey sky that would otherwise be hard to pick. However, around town, when every vehicle has DRLs and everything around them seems to have lights or at least be reflective, DRLs fall victim to the “if everyone’s special, then nobody’s special” syndrome and they don’t act as a warning of the presence of another vehicle more than the big metal box on wheels they’re mounted on.

Additional Driving Lights

Additional driving lights are like your headlights but they’re in addition to your headlights.  Instead of having two headlights (or, in quite a few cases, four), you can have four (or six).  Because they’re not as sophisticated as your main headlights, they only come on when the headlights are on high beam and should go off when you dip the headlights.  This is for the simple reason that these auxiliary lights can’t dip, so if they stayed on, they’d dazzle the oncoming driver.  They are sometimes called spotlights or spots. 

The exact laws about where you can install additional driving lights vary slightly from state to state and they seem to be updated all the time. The general idea is that you are supposed to install them symmetrically about the centre of the vehicle’s bumper and that you can’t put them somewhere that could be dangerous, either because they protrude like horns or because they block the driver’s vision or dazzle the driver.  In general, if you put lights on the front of your 4×4 so that they are surrounded by the bull bars rather than sticking out from them in front or on the side, you’re all good. 

Light bars are a subcategory of additional driving light. Light bars are made up of a strip of LED lights, all acting in tandem.  Legally, they are considered to be one light if they all turn on and off at the same time; if different bits turn on and off at different times, each bit of the light bar is considered to be a separate light.  As lights must be mounted symmetrically around the front of the car, you can have a single light bar in the front and centre of your vehicle.

The ultimate in auxiliary lights or spotlights is the roof-mounted rack of lights that you’ll see on some 4x4s and are popular with hunters going out after dark.  These are not legal in all states of Australia under all circumstances, with some states allowing them for use by hunting or when the vehicle is stationary or when the vehicle is off-road.  These rules also seem to be updated every time you turn around, so check what applies to you before going to the effort and expense of buying or fitting them.

Puddle lights

The sole purpose of a puddle light is to cast a patch of light on the ground beside the door – very useful if you don’t want to put your best shoes into a puddle or a pile of dog poo. Some of the cars that have them as standard have a clever design so as well as throwing a patch of light onto the ground, it can also throw down a logo as a shadow – or even a patch of light thanks to LED tech. Aftermarket puddle lights are also out there, some of which have some quite quirky styles.

Kei Cars: The Little Cars That Can

In the Western world, cars seem to have been getting bigger.  For example, my early 2000 Volvo S70, a generous sedan when it came out, is shorter than the more modern “little” hatchbacks in the supermarket car park beside it.  However, this isn’t the case around the world.  In Japan, congestion is a problem in busy cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto, so one of the solutions was to introduce what are known as kei cars, also known as compact cars. Some people call these K-cars, as this is approximately the way the word “kei” is pronounced.

The concept of kei cars isn’t new; in fact, the Japanese government introduced the general idea and legislation related to these vehicles in the late 1940s as part of the post-WWII recovery efforts.  Back then, it was more about encouraging car ownership and stimulating the local automotive industry (and you can see for yourself how well that worked, given the number of Japanese makes on Australia’s roads).  Today, however, it’s more about congestion and fuel consumption.

What is a kei car?  As the Japanese name suggests (in full, it’s kei-jidōsha), it’s a small car.  Specifically, it’s one that has restrictions on its size, both in terms of its dimensions and its engine displacement.  To qualify as a kei car, an automobile has to be no taller than 2 metres, no wider than 1.45 metres and no longer than 3.4 metres.  In terms of engine displacement, the maximum allowed is 660 cc. There’s no official limit on engine power, but it’s very unusual for a factory kei car to have more than 47 kW.  Not that tuning and tweaking to get a bit more power is out of the question for those interested… Most of them are speed-limited to 140 km/h, which makes sense, given that these are designed for crowded city streets, not open road rural running.  The width means that they don’t handle quite as well at high speeds, so that’s another reason why their top speed isn’t as high as what you’d find with the average Toyota Corolla.

Needless to say, electric kei cars are out there as well.

To encourage the adoption of kei cars, the Japanese government has a few incentives set up.  If a car qualifies to have the distinctive yellow kei plates, it’s exempt from the need to buy parking space (apparently, to buy a car in Japan, you first have to buy street space to park it).  Various on-road taxes are reduced with kei cars, as these taxes are based on things such as the engine displacement and the weight. 

Now, we all know that where there are large numbers of people, there are houses to fix and goods to be transported, which require vans and trucks.  Your typical kei car has the sort of cargo space that would suit a minimalist (Marie Kondo would love these, if she doesn’t already).  However, kei vans and kei trucks are a thing – although we’d call latter kei utes, as they’re “pickup truck” rather than a miniature version of a big old Scania.  The kei vans or microvans are allowed to be taller than the kei cars, which allows the to carry more of a load and has earned them the nickname of “miàn bāo chē” (meaning “bread loaf cars” in nearby China. The kei trucks have the same basic wheelbase but a cab-chassis layout.

Because of their low fuel consumption, suitability for urban settings, kei cars and their relatives are growing in popularity in other parts of the world outside Japan.  Their general cuteness relates to another Japanese concept, namely the kawaii (cute) aesthetic.  Although many customers in Australia are leery about very small cars, given that physics says that they’re not going to come off well in a collision with an SUV, some popular kei marks are found in the Aussie market. Do any of these sound familiar?

These are all “regular” cars that meet the criteria for kei cars that you can find down at your local dealer (which is why we have them in our reviews page).  Plenty of people also arrange for private imports of popular kei cars such as various Daihatsu models, the stylish Honda Beat coupe convertible, the Suzuki Every van, the Toyota Copen sports car and the Subaru Sambar, just to name a few. There’s even a kei version of the Mitsubishi Pajero, the Pajero Mini.

A Big Weekend At Bathurst

It was a big weekend of racing that happened at Bathurst.  The 2024 Repco Bathurst 12 Hour race proved to be an eventful and exciting race, and it was a dominant performance from Matt Campbell, Ayhancan Guven, and Laurens Vanthoor who all drove faultlessly to take out the win in their yellow Manthey EMA Porsche race car, number 912. 

The race was fraught with changeable weather throughout the day, meaning that a skilful pit crew needed to remain on the ball for selecting the right tyre for the driving conditions.  There were numerous cars involved in crashes with or without other race cars, and against barriers that forced the teams out of the race.  At multiple stages, the skies opened up, lashing down torrential rain that made driving quickly extremely risky in the wet.  Throughout the day, these changing conditions made it very important for the teams’ pit crews to match up their car with the right tyre, enabling them to be set-up for successfully completing the race. 

It was less than three seconds between first and second place, with team number 75 and its drivers (K. Habul, J. Gounon, and L. Stolz) guiding their SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG into second place.  And it was less than four seconds behind the race leader and team number 22; drivers L. Talbot, K. van der Linde, and C. Haase bringing their Wash It/Jamec Team MPC Audi home for third place.

The excitement didn’t end there.  Previously, in the build-up to the big race, a new closed-cockpit race record was set by Jules Gounon driving an unrestricted Mercedes-AMG GT3 car.  Gounon, the three-time defending 12 Hour Bathurst race winner, clocked a 1 minute and 56.6054 second lap.  Though this was an unofficial lap record (official lap records are set during racing itself), his time was quicker than the previous closed-cockpit track record (1 minute and 58.690 seconds) set in 2019 by Luke Youlden in a Brabham BT62.  During this fastest lap for closed-cockpit cars, Gounon, in the Mercedes-AMG GT3, was hitting 270 km/h on Mountain Straight, 200 km/h into the Cutting, 240 km/h into McPhillamy, and 302 km/h into The Chase.  This bid for a race record was part of Mercedes-AMG’s celebration of its 130th anniversary of being involved in motorsport.

And if you think that reading about it is exciting enough, try and take yourself there next year to actually watch at least some of it live. Motorsport is a lot more exciting when seen live in person, where you can feel the air shake, smell the fumes and see what those speeds actually look like as the vehicles pass you.  Or if the full 12 hours of Bathurst isn’t for you, then check out another motorsport event – something that should be on every car enthusiast’s bucket list.

Or just enjoy the highlights reel:

Tips To Cope With Congested Traffic

We’ve all been there, locked in grid traffic.  And it’s always a bit tempting to slip past slower traffic, cutting back in front to get a little closer to the next set of lights before anyone else does.  Yes, you’re with me! 

These sorts of tedious, testing journeys may occur every day when you’re coming back from work or going to work.  Traffic jams can occur after an accident has taken place or when people are heading away for the holidays all at once.  It might be the popular school run, or it could be that everyone is dispersing all at once from the stadium car park after a big win for the Green and Golds.  These phases of our journeys can be made to feel a little bit easier when you have planned well in advance and if you can keep an open mind that it won’t last forever.  Being a little more flexible and giving yourself more time to get to your destination means that you can breathe a little easier and relax behind the wheel. 

When the roads are busy, take your time and be aware of what’s happening around you.  Try and give other road users the respect they deserve, too.  There are others trying just as hard as you are to do the right thing and get to work on time.  Yes, and they may not be as confident behind the wheel as you, so cut them some slack and don’t cut them off!  If you keep a decent gap between your car and the car in front of you, you can look ahead and see what the traffic is doing, slowing gradually to maintain a nice steady flow with fewer sharp stop and start scenarios.  It also helps to negate the all too common nose to tail accidents.

The same goes for merging lanes.  Problems show up when some drivers stop in the merging lane to wait for a gap.  Then there are those who would rather speed up and get ahead of another car in the line.  Both of these styles aren’t cool, and both styles cause the traffic flow to come to a halt.  Giving each other some space and time keeps the flow moving steadily, which is really what we all want anyway.

When you’re travelling home from a lazy day at the beach, or towing your caravan, or when maybe you just want to revel in the moment and soak up the scenery by travelling along at 70–80 km/h, well, that’s cool, but do keep in mind that there are other road users that have to make an appointment or who need to get to the start of a school rehearsal.  Not everyone can travel this slow below what the open road limit allows, so use those mirrors and be aware of who needs to get past you.  Show them respect because you are holding them up, and they are getting more and more frustrated at being dictated by you choosing to travel at a slower pace on a perfectly good piece of road with a much faster speed limit.  Pull over and let them pass as often as you can, and don’t be the cause of a crash. Especially don’t be that driver who drives slowly along the windy bits or the parts with double yellow lines, then speeds up to the limit as soon as a passing lane or a clear straight comes along.

We all need to be prepared to react to someone’s mistake, poor judgement, or poor decision, whether the roads are busy or not.  Keeping ourselves fresh and aware on the road while being courteous and respectful of others helps our journeys to be safe and enjoyable. 

Ideas to help you stay calm:

  • Play the right sort of music through your sound system – nothing too aggro. You don’t have to listen to soothing spa music, but anything that gets you on edge should be avoided.
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth, trying to breathe with all of your torso.
  • Remind yourself that all the other drivers are probably in the same boat as you and you all want to get home or to work. Maybe smile at some of the other drivers near you.
  • Put on a really enjoyable podcast or audiobook. With a really good one, you might not want the journey to end!
  • If the traffic is absolutely gridlocked and doesn’t look like it’s moving soon (e.g. if the road closes after a major accident), switch off your engine if applicable and move around while you’re waiting. Or get out your phone or laptop and do what you can for work. Just be aware of when the traffic starts moving again!