Study: Pickup Truck Headlights Leave Drivers in the Dark

Study says only one pickup truck out of 11 earned 'good' ratings for headlight visibility.

Posted in News

— Pickup truck headlights aren't living up to expectations for lighting up the roads at night, as a study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) proves.

The Institute tested headlights on small and large 2016-2017 pickups and found the most expensive trucks are the vehicles that come equipped with the poorest headlights. And out of the four small pickups and seven large pickups tested, only one truck achieved a "good" rating for the headlights.

The headlight test uses engineers to measure how far light is projected from the headlights as the truck travels on curves and straightaways. Researchers rate the headlights with results of "good," "acceptable," "marginal" and "poor."

In addition to how far the light projects on the road, the test calculates how much glare is caused to oncoming cars from the low-beam lights. If a test determines there is too much glare in different scenarios, a truck cannot earn a rating above marginal.

The only large pickup with headlights rated "good" is the 2017 Honda Ridgeline (RTL-E and Black Edition) equipped with LED projector low-beam headlights. IIHS says the lights provide fair to good visibility on most approaches, but not enough visibility on a gradual left curve.

High-beam assist, a feature that automatically switches on high beams if no other vehicles are around, makes up for some of the deficiencies of the low beams.

The 2016-17 GMC Sierra headlights earned an "acceptable" rating, but only on certain versions of the truck. Dropping down to the "marginal" rating is the Nissan Titan, while the 2016 Ram 1500 headlights also earned marginal ratings, at least on certain trim levels.

The Ford F-150 may be popular with consumers, but its headlights aren't going to win any awards. IIHS says the standard-equipped low-beam halogen lights don't have enough visibility on straightaways, gradual curves and sharp curves, and the high beams have mostly inadequate visibility.

The F-150 can be purchased with optional LED low beams, but the LED lights are no better than the halogens. Researchers also say the LED lights produce an unacceptable level of glare to oncoming drivers.

Leaving drivers in the dark is the Chevrolet Colorado with headlights that rated as having the worst visibility. The headlights use halogen reflector low beams that researchers say light the way only 123 feet on the right side of a straightaway. It may be better to tape a decent flashlight to the hood for the low beams.

Large and Small Truck Headlight Ratings

Large Pickups

Good Headlights

  • 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Acceptable Headlights

  • 2016-2017 GMC Sierra

Marginal Headlights

  • 2017 Nissan Titan
  • 2016 Ram 1500

Poor Headlights

  • 2016-2017 Chevrolet Silverado
  • 2016-2017 Ford F-150
  • 2016-2017 Toyota Tundra

Small Pickups

All the following small trucks have poor ratings for headlights, the lowest rating possible.

  • 2016 Chevrolet Colorado
  • 2016 GMC Canyon
  • 2016 Nissan Frontier
  • 2016-2017 Toyota Tacoma

IIHS says it will continue testing headlights, especially with the advent of various headlight technologies and the marketing ploys behind those technologies. In the first test of its kind, researchers found only the Toyota Prius v earned a good rating out of the 31 model year 2016 vehicles that were tested.

The Institute then tested 21 model year 2016-2017 small SUVs that use 47 different headlight combinations, including high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, LED headlights and curve-adaptive systems which swivel in the direction of steering. Out of the 21 models tested, not one SUV had headlights that earned a "good" rating.

Additionally, although the 2016-2017 GMC Sierra headlights rated as "acceptable" on some versions of the truck in the latest test, a class-action lawsuit filed in 2015 accuses General Motors of selling trucks with dim headlights in the 2014-2015 GMC Sierra 1500 and the 2015 GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500.