Do You Know the Difference Between Fog Lights and Driving Lights?

In the past, cars only came with low- and high-beam headlights. However, in an effort to make highway travel during foggy conditions safer, fog lights were finally introduced. Many newer vehicles, including Volkswagen Jettas, come with fog lights as standard equipment, but it may be surprising to know how many drivers really don’t understand when those lights should be used. The short answer: when it’s foggy.

What You Need to Know About Fog Lights

Fog lights are not bright enough to replace your regular headlights when you drive at night, and they don’t sufficiently illuminate the edge of the road, either. Fog lights aren’t bright enough to use instead of standard headlights when it’s raining, so what are they good for? Fog lights are supplemental lights that are intended to add to the light from your headlights when you drive only in foggy conditions, which can be quite often in Washington, depending on the time of year.

The Difference Between Fog Lights and Driving Lights

Your normal headlights can reflect off the fog, dust particles or snow, causing glare and confusing your eyes so that you can’t properly see the road. Fog lights were developed specifically for use in thick fog, but they can also be used for conditions in which you have limited visibility. Fog lights have a uniquely shaped beam that is wide and flat and resembles a narrow bar. They are positioned low on the car, typically near the front bumper, and are meant to cut through the fog and light up the road so that you can stay on the road and within your lane. In addition to mist and fog, these lights are also used in heavy snow and dust. Without fog lights, you may not see obstacles such as debris, wild animals or tree branches in time to avoid them. If you think fog lights are strong, driving lights are even stronger. They have a straight, narrow beam and are typically installed on the front of the car. Compared to yellow, blue or white fog lights, driving lights are always white, since white lights are stronger in the dark than red or yellow. You can switch on driving lights in addition to your standard high-beam headlights, and many drivers use driving lights while traveling off-road or crossing deserted, dark country roads. Driving lights send powerful light beams far ahead of your car, illuminating the next stretch of road up ahead.

How to Clean Your Fog Lights

Over time, the plastic lenses on the fog lights will develop a haze due to sun damage, road grit and normal wear-and-tear. Cleaning this haze is critical as it diminishes the brightness of the lights and affects the safety of the car. If your fog lights are dimmed by faded lamp lenses, other drivers may not be able to see you, and you could risk accident or injury. Although some manufacturers offer expensive cleaning solutions, you can clean your fog lights yourself for a fraction of the cost. First, you’ll need car wax, cotton rags, denatured alcohol and a plastic putty knife. Inspect the lamp lenses and use a flat-edge, plastic tool such as a putty knife to gently scrape off any debris that may have accumulated on the lenses. Dip a corner of your cotton rag into the denatured alcohol, and use a circular motion to rub the lens for 30 seconds--almost as if you were buffing the car with polish. Repeat the process using another clean corner of the rag. If you notice the haze getting worse, wait five minutes for the denatured alcohol to completely dry. Next, dip the corner of a second cotton rag into a can of standard car wax. Apply a thin layer of wax to the lens of the fog light and wait one minute. Finally, use a clean corner of the rag to buff off the wax, leaving your fog lights clean and bright.

Other Considerations

Keep in mind that some areas may ban the use of fog lights in weather conditions other than mist or fog. The brightness of the fog lights may be a safety hazard as they can blind other drivers and cause an accident. Use fog lights only in misty or foggy conditions, and even then, only use them sparingly and turn them off as soon as possible so as not to distract or disturb other drivers. Simply put: Avoid driving with your fog lights on if the weather conditions do not warrant it. Also be aware that fog lights do not illuminate much of the road; instead, they only shine on what is right in front of you. Therefore, it’s important to drive slowly and keep your speed to a minimum when you’re using fog lights as you won’t be able to see what is farther down the road. The lights could stop working for a variety of reasons, including a bad relay, burned-out bulbs or a blown fuse. Regardless of the cause, make sure you inspect your fog lights and repair or replace them as necessary so that you can safely drive through foggy weather in Washington. Also, consider purchasing brand-new fog lights instead of used lights to help ensure quality and longevity of the lights.


The ideal fog light will create a wide beam of light aimed mainly at the ground and make it easier to drive in poor weather conditions. You may own a Jetta that already has fog lights installed on it, either by the manufacturer or a previous owners. However, if you don’t, you might consider installing fog lights on your car if it's often foggy when and where you drive. If you plan to add fog lights, it’s important to first look up regulations regarding these lights within your city. Arming yourself with full knowledge of any restrictions will help you avoid being pulled over or ticketed for unapproved use of your fog lights.