Auto Head lights, a huge expense for Motorists.

Read on, there’s plenty we DIYers can learn from this topic.

Amonix-no-tracks at UASTP

Amonix-no-tracks at UASTP

 Has anyone paid attention to the cost of automotive head Lamps over the past 30 years?

In my childhood, we had the ‘sealed beam’ head lamp, and in many States they were a requirement.  I remember a day in the sixties when I was attempting to get a JDM motorcycle on the road in California, if my memory serves me, I had to replace the stock unsealed  head lamp with the ‘legal’ sealed beam unit.

A lot  of people will never stop to consider  what this sealed beam unit and the standard did for America, and  it certainly does offer a more noticeable advantage in some areas of our country over others.

I have lived in areas where we have considerable moisture, areas where temperature changes and condensate can pump a tail lamp on a car half full of water in a few weeks WHEN a seal fails, or other design criteria is violated.

Prior to the sealed beam, Head lights had a lot of problems, the moisture got in, soon cultures of bacteria grew, molds and algae formed a soup which sometimes literally striped off  important reflective coatings.  Lenses, and the inside of the protective head lamp glass   sometimes grew a slime that diffused the light. 

The sealed beam was an answer,  and made in the huge quantities, the price was more than reasonable.  Cars most often used the same part, you could have a new head light installed in near any service station in a few minutes at modest  cost.

Somewhere in the 1980s, the SAE or other entity wanted to do things differently, and soon we saw more types of head lights, and the fun of white knuckled night driving began. Since I have had the experience first hand, I know how bad it can be, but I have not made the time to see if these specific hadlamps ve been studied. Here’s a WIKI page that might be a place to start. 

People with early 80s headlamps came into dealers and casually mentioned that there was a rock chip in one or more and they ordered the  Dealer to replace it.  For some, it took no time at all to have chips in both sides with pin hole leaks.  When the owners were presented with the bill, they were in shock to see a $500 charge!

Yes, these new enclosures were expensive to replace.  The bulb inserted through the back, and it’s important that the ‘O’ ring  seal not fail and let moisture in.  How many owners migh have installed a new bulb, and forgot the gasket? But that small rock chip, the smallest of pin holes will eventually fill your head light full of condensate and the soup inside begins to brew.

Mechanics and Service Managers hear the story over and over. “ I thought I was going blind! I stopped driving at night all together because I knew I was guessing where the road was.  Once you replaced those head light enclosures, I could see.  I’m going to cancel that appointment with the eye doctor right now”

Out of the eighties came remedies,…… no, I should caLl it what it was, a ‘band aid’. Some dealers  and private repair facilities who were looking out for the interest of their customers stocked plastic covers to put over the top of these expensive head lamp  enclosures to protect them from rock chips,  and soon, they were dirty on the front and back, and cut the light by more than half! If you drove in the rain,  a mix of dust and oil off the road could coat both sides of the covers, and the head lamp cover giving you three or more layers that block and difuse the light.

For me, this is all a lesson in  optics, the elements, and the more cost effective way to light the road per mile.  There is no doubt in my mind that the added cost of these new head lamp enclosures over the old standard would boggle the mind if we were to  Sum it up, but it also helped damage a huge and stable market for the sealed beam makers, and  with sinking demand, the price goes up for what worked so well.  The cause of deaths?  Although it’s most difficult to prove who died from an inattentive moment  behind the wheel, VS who couldn’t see,  there is no doubt that the same studies that made the sealed beam requirement a law in past years  WOULD find these specific head lamps I mention  a root cause of some of the night-time driving fatalities.

According to some studies, night time driving represents 25% of the activity and half of the accidents suggesting that you are twice as likely to have an accident in night time travel.

Now why do I bring this topic up? Do I muse as to why these expensive and sometimes inferior head lamps exist? Do I ask you to check with a dealer and learn the cost of a new head light for a Toyota Prius knowing you will be in shock?  No.. not at all. It’s more about optics and how we should expect a noticable degrade in performance over time when the system is not sealed. 

I want you to think about optics, about focal lengths, about the environment we live in. You’ve seen a piece of fruit on a counter left there too long, and fruit flies seem to appear out of no where.  On a much smaller scale there are other opportunists ready to take advantage of a food source or an environment you might help create.  Man made enclosures  become brewing pots all too often.  An example might be how man-made containers that allow mosquitoes to migrate and thrive in areas when they otherwise might not live at all. We can study what the Health organizations have targeted to control the populations, and their recommendations.

But you know I have something else on my mind….. don’t you? Maybe you study the bacteria that feeds off iron? Some domestic wells clogged with the stuff, and even some pumps fail because of it. A man made environment and a bug ready to take advantage of it.

Today I’m thinking about the NREL, and the things they study. One being Concentrated Photo Voltaic projects, and the photo Cells they work on.

I have given you a real world example of a concentrating system open to the environment and the problems that develop, the rapid degrade in performance.  I’d like you to consider the CPV systems that are NOT sealed.  How do they cope  with rapid changes in air temperate, pressures, humidity, condensation, wind  blown dust,  smoke particles and other things naturally found in our environment?  Maybe a larger question, why won’t these enclosures become homes for bacteria and more? Will the soups nature makes inside them create the same problems as we find in unsealed automotive head lights?

Let’s use the two existing solar power plants now in the field for study.  The one at Alamosa Colorado,  and the other at Hatch New Mexico. There’s an easily found WIKI page for the Alamosa power plant, they claim it is the largest CPV power plant in the world.  The NREL touts cell efficiency as if it were the only element in CPV needing improvement,  It seems most difficult to find actual field data, and we know that the only thing that really counts is making a KWH cheap enough to pay off the investment and hopefully make the effort all worth while. The data we need must include parts and maintenance, meeting the PPA, tells us what?  

What on earth  is important about cell efficiency and KWH production measured per square foot when the so-called perfect environment for CPV is cheap desert land according to the NREL, and other entities interested in CPV.

Study the Amonix enclosures, the plastic lenses, the environment they were placed in, the rapid temperature changes, snow, hail, high winds, dust storms, blowing dirt. Now look at the WIKI page and note that they mention this system is certified to operate for 50 years, and ask yourself.. what does that mean, and what is the value of the certification to the investor?

We need ask. Where are those folks in the NREL who are curious about the overall optical system and how it performs?  

My hobbyist opinion on CPV… unless it’s a sealed system, you should  expect a lot of maintenance over time. If it is a sealed system, the cells better be able to handle the heat, and live long enough to deliver a return on investment.

Alamosa  and Hatch ARE the perfect sites to study, but who seems to have any interest in them? And why is that ?

Here’s an old page, notice the power production Graphs, best hours I’ve seen out of hatch have been 3600KW recently, rumors are they have assigned techs there working to get the power production back up.. I’d love to know maintenance costs and labor hours..

And added Picture: Thank you Bill Knighton. In the below picture, it’s best we focus on the light delivered to the ground, it’s rather obvious that the sealed beams on the right deliver a lot more light at distance. The car on the left has the stock plastic head lights that have degraded over time. It’s likely that that there are three reasons for the degrading performance, one being caused by oxididation, or possibly UV exposure, the other, the sandblasting effect of being stuck to the front of a car traveling behind cars/trucks that naturally ‘kick up’ small bit of debris and deliver it to your head light height. Other degrading can come from broken seals, and the soup I mention earlier forming on the inside. One repair shop I know has the damage inside these non sealed unit on display in his shop to show the damage done to the reflective surface when the atmosphere was allowed in, and the moisutre followed. I would think this is a similiar situation to wind blown desert sand and dirt, and plastic CPV lens covers.       

Plastic on left, Sealed Beam glass on right.

Plastic on left, Sealed Beam glass on right.






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12 Responses to Auto Head lights, a huge expense for Motorists.

  1. Bill knighton says:

    My 1993 Geo Metro has sealed beams. They’re still reasonable. I think $10 or $20a set. My wife’s 1995 Suzuki Swift, which is about the same car, has not sealed. On hers, not only does she not get new Optics When she replaces the bulb but she doesn’t even get glass. It’s plastic and almost 20 years old and it is translucent. It is in no way clear. I hope to attack it some time with some kind of abrasive plastic cleaning kit. Maybe something that spins on the end of a drill. I’ve heard they work. I’d hate to have to do that over a quarter square-mile.

  2. George B. says:

    I really have no idea why this issue hasn’t caught more attention. I always like to share ideas as to services people might offer, If I had a car wash, gas station, or? I’d offer a reasonably priced effort to make better a potentially dangerous stuation. As per night driving, I think good head lights could be as important as seat belts.. don’t you think?

    As a side note… too bad Zuk didn’t use the same supplier as Amonix for the plastic, the Alamosa Wiki says it’s certified for 50 years service! We can only talk rumors since there seems to be no study or source of informaiton available to we DIYers, but I’m told that clear tape is a handy tool to make repairs to cracks on those plastic covers at one or both of the Amonix Power Plants.

  3. George B. says:

    Bill, can you give us an idea of the degraded performance at night between the two vehicles? A light meter at some known distance would be a fun experiment..

    • Bill knighton says:

      When my wife gets home in a few hours I can take a picture of both of our headlights shining at the same time. I don’t have a light meter. It’s appalling. It’s atrocious. I can’t believe she drives at night. If you took one of those ice cream buckets, like when you buy a gallon it comes with a plastic bucket, and duct taped it to each of your headlights, it’s about like that.

  4. Russ D says:

    All of my vehicles, with the exception of my 2 Festivas have sealed beam lights. The Festivas aren’t sealed beams but at least the lenses are glass and not the wonderful plastic.

    Now the 50 year certification probably don’t have anything about depleting performance, not that we really know the true performance to begin with.

    Heck, I’ll put a “lifetime certification” on ’em. Once they’re non-functional or broken, that’s the end of their lifetime. Seems simple enough.

    At an auto parts store i worked at when i was younger, we used to sell SK Tools.
    A guy once asked me about the warranty, so I told him about it and then added that they were even guaranteed against loss. I told him if he lost it, to bring it back and I’d replace it. Took him a few seconds to catch on….LOL.

    Unfortunately the gang greenies are no laughing matter and the sheeple that go along with their sale pitch are going to cost the tax payers for generations.

  5. bob g says:

    those kits that use a buffer to polish out the lexan lenses work very well, old translucent becomes transparent again! its actually pretty amazing and i would not have believed it had i not seen it with my own peepers.

    i have had customers with hd trucks with lenses so bad they were nearly opaque, with the lights on high beam you just about had to get out of the truck and strike a match to see if they were lit! low beam was about worthless and the drivers would not run with them because it was like driving with no lights on!

    as far as i am concerned all this progress is really a bunch of crap. give me large dual lamp sealed beams any day… i know when they are bad i can get new light with clear lens in one neat little package, and all this for what … maybe 10 bucks a copy?

    bob g

  6. George B. says:

    Just buy a new non sealed head light assembly.. either plastic or glass and see the price tag! The buffing out, likely cheap, for some reason, the non sealed units get hit by rocks more often.

    Imagine the labor hours of buffing out 200 acres of plastic covers..

  7. Vernon Bartlett says:


    One of the worst nightmares I’ve ever had to deal with are PLASMA bulbs. I have a 2007 Prius that came equipped with these monstrosities. Both lamps started to go before 50K miles. Toyota (liars) claimed they would outlast 100K miles. Toyota later lost a class action suit regarding this issue.

    Changing these bulbs is an engineering monstrosity. People that design such things should have their degrees revovked and be publicly pummeled with garbage. One has to physically pull the bumper forward to get proper access clearance to the plasma lamps. Then one must pull the entire light assembly from the vehicle. This design is even diffult for turn signal bulbs.

    Toyota wanted over $400.00 to change both bulbs in this vehicle. I eventually found some replacements for $75.00/Pair. Toyota wanted $150.00/each at the time. Thanks to youtube I did it myself but it took me about 3 hours.

    Never in my life have I seen sucha Rube Goldberg contraption for lighting. Instead of 2 elements (hi and low in each bulb) there is a motor that moves a shutter back and forth between normal and hi beams to provide shielding Each lamp requires it own computer and high voltage power source.

    Until I owned this vehicle I have NEVER had both headlamps to go out at the same exact time in total darkness. I was able to stop and get the lamps to re-ignite. At least with dual elements you are guaranteed some margin of safety – you don’t have to lose everything at once.

    Even the replacements failed to meet the specifications – both dying at less than 45K on the lamps.

    I will never take the type of head lamps a vehicle comes equipped for granted again.

    BTW – The Prius does have a sudden acceleration problem regardless of what Toyota says. I contacted the NTSB regarding the issue. The problem isn’t the braking system – its the traction control system run by computer. If you are slowing down and the computer sees the wheels are slipping it tries to speed you up. Always keep your foot on the brake when slowing down – especially on loose gravel.

    • George B. says:

      Vernon, Just so people know you are talking just about the expense and effort to replace the burned out bulb right? God help you if it was the head lamp assembly you needed to replace!

      There was a day when we expected to see fairly easy parts replacement in autos, japanese engineers had that on their mind as part of the design, and they were often best at it. Years back the Italians got the award for thinking least about repair and parts replacement (my opinion).

      Are we back to the disposable car philosophy? the Chevy Vega and worse?

    • George B. says:


      I don’t blame Toyota as much as I do a totally thoughtless and inept EPA, CARB, and other government entities. The play field is not fair, and some of the crazy things manufacturers do to meet the Government’s demands are insane. We just need attempt to measure the emissions created in earning enough money to replace this JUNK when it fails, not to mention all the emissions created in making it! Sure there’s another side of the issue, but it is NOT on the side of the consumer, nor is it a benifit to reducing overall emissions, if you have the wisdom and experience of a ‘lowly’ Auto Mechanic or Parts Man, you know this. I use the term lowly, because that’s what Government Bureaucrats would call them, and most of these Asses don’t know a BTU from an IOU.

  8. bob g says:

    i had a customer who bought a personal pickup truck, a 2010 chevy 4×4 half ton with a duramax and every option… he took it to jiffylube to do the service and when it came time to do the fuel filter they told him to take it to the dealer!

    i get the call, and for the life of me i could not see any way to access the darn thing, save for pulling the left front inner fender out and going in over the front wheel.

    turns out that is exactly what they expect you to do! crazy having to take out all those fasteners and screws, of which most are plastic and probably not good for maybe two such removals , then what ?

    almost as bad as the first year chevy monza with the 262 V8 engine, when it came time to do a tuneup you had to disconnect and raise the engine out of the tub to gain access to the spark plugs to change them…

    i too am all for flogging the engineers responsible for this crap.

    bob g

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