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The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
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Driving With A Black Sheep
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Fabulous Flops: Fog Lights


G.Noble
Editor/Reporter
CheersandGears.com
27th February, 2012

Fabulous Flops is a monthly series profiling some of the spectacular failures in the automotive industry. The automotive industry is by nature an innovator, but sometimes those innovative ideas are taken out of the oven before they are done cooking, others fall victim to poor timing. Today, we’re going to go after one of those rare flops where the idea was half-baked and still somehow managed to be popular.

Since the dawn of the automobile, mankind has found himself thinking of new ways to brave and drive in the elements. After all, driving isn’t the easiest thing to do when it’s pouring an inch of rain every hour, the wind is blowing debris and bugs into your teeth, and the bitter winter cold has frozen your car into a popsicle. So it’s understandable that car manufacturers introduced new features over the years to combat Mother Nature. It’s why cars have roofs. It’s why cars have windshields and wipers to keep them visible. It’s why cars have heaters to keep the interior warm and defrosters to blast the windows clear when it’s a little frosty outside.

While some of those features are what makes most cars so livable during the worst of what the weather has to throw at us, others haven’t made much of a difference at all. For example, many tire manufacturers advertise all season tires that will perform the same regardless of the weather. The problem is that actually means they perform terribly all year round. The worst offender, though, is probably none other than the fog light.

Yes, that’s right. The fog light is the single most useless option that you can buy on a car today next to pin striping. I’m sure you must be thinking, “You’ve really lost it on this one. I have fog lights on my car and I think they were well worth the $500 and change I spent to get them.” Well, guess what? You’re wrong and you’re about to learn why.

First, let’s have a little history lesson (and just to warn you, it's a snoozer). The first fog light was first introduced as an option on some late 1930's Cadillacs. Since low headlight beams from that time and years prior weren’t the brightest ever produced, they didn’t lend themselves all that well to lighting the foreground of the road very well, especially in driving situations with poor visibility such as fog. Cadillac therefore decided to fit two auxiliary lights to the front of the car that were aimed very low at the ground to augment the low beams and light the immediate foreground of the road to the driver. This would make the edges of the road immediately in front of the car easier to see.

It was admirable thinking, but Cadillac’s first fog light -- as well as the subsequent designs competitors would cook up later -- were flawed designs from the get-go mainly because they were all sealed with a selective yellow lens and continued to be for years. So why a selective yellow lens?

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The answer to that question opens up a massive, brand new can of worms to dig through, but it all started with the French back in the early 1930s. For tactical reasons, the French government at the time thought that it might would be a good idea to be able to distinguish which cars traveling the French roadways at night were native to the country and which cars were not. They also didn’t want any required changes to diminish highway safety and sought to improve it if possible. The solution they came up with was to remove all traces of blue light from the spectrum of their car’s headlamps. The end result was a headlamp that cast an almost pure yellow light.

While it is true that French motorists thought that the new yellow headlamps had less glare in poor weather conditions, it wasn’t because that particular color would naturally scatter less, for example, on the big, fat water molecules that make up roadway fog like some self-proclaimed scientific minds like to claim. No, instead it was mainly due in part to the fact that the design burned at a lower intensity rate in comparison to a light that projected mostly white light. That means the amount of light a selective yellow beam produces is up to thirty percent less than a white beam, which defeats the goal of increasing visibility.

With all of this in mind it is curious that Cadillac (and ostensibly all the pursing automakers) chose a selective yellow lens and continued to use it for years. However, the answer here this time isn’t so complex. Chances are Cadillac simply wanted drivers to associate the color of a functioning fog lamp with the word “caution.” After all, drivers in America already associated yellow with that word from road signs, so tying it in with unsavory driving conditions only seemed like the logical thing to do. Once again Cadillac’s admirable thinking didn’t exactly pan out.

The selective yellow lens wasn’t to last forever, though. In fact, every design feature that would constitute a fog lamp since its creation -- the lens, the diameter, the height, the width, the shape, the bulbs -- would sporadically change over the years, with a few gallant attempts at making improvements being canceled out by stupid ideas and other changes making something already terrible even worse. The yellow lens would eventually give way to clear lenses that boosted the light output back to a normal, useful standard, but when automakers made that change many fog lights were no longer big and round and instead were small bars. When fog lights finally became round again they still were too small to really work. It’s not that the old, larger diameter of vintage fog lights made any difference in their case anyway; they were incandescent … which reminds me, when the bulbs switched from incandescent to halogen ones, the increased light output only helped to increase glare. Some automotive savants these days like to swap high-intensity discharge bulbs into their fogs light socket, which only increases glare further.

There’s also another problem with these damned things -- you can never find a set that’s really aimed properly. Ideally, a fog lamp should be aimed even lower than your low beams, as stated earlier, with the top of the beam cutting off directly at the bottom of the low beam. Most fogs instead can’t be aimed quite that low because of flawed bracket designs and uncooperative bumpers. This makes for fog lamps that instead are aimed to a degree too close to the low beams, making any difference unnoticeable to the driver. Some fogs are even aimed far too high, which only serves to blind other drivers.

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So from a design standpoint, fog lamps have been a flop from the very start and have never gained any ground in being something truly useful. Nowadays, automakers like Ford have essentially given up on making a useful design but acknowledge the fact buyers want pointless lights attached to the front of their car. The new fangled light pipe fangs on several new Ford models amount to little more than luminescent bling. Remember the opera lights on cars from the '70s and '80s? That's all these amount to in terms of function.

The buck doesn’t stop with the stupid baubles automakers attach to the front of their cars either. The Europeans don't stop with just front mounted fog lights, they do it to the south end of the car as well. Although you might be concerned at first sight, don’t worry, the driver in front of you doesn’t have an electrical issue with his Audi. No, those are rear fog lights, which begs the question, “Why?” Someone in favor of the idea will say that it increases the visibility of the taillights of a car to following drivers in poor visibility. While that may be somewhat true, it can also serve to blind following drivers as well since, of course, they’re pretty much in your direct line of vision. Having these fog lights hasn't stopped any of the pileups of 50 plus cars in France.

We’ve established that fog lamps are useless, poorly designed, and have absolutely no hope of becoming something useful. To add insult to injury, these things are almost always used incorrectly by almost everyone everywhere. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re out driving during a clear, calm night, try and count just how many drivers turn their fogs on for absolutely no good reason if you can. This misuse also can also lead to serious accidents. A recent study from British insurance company Swiftcover states that 300,000 claims or more last year involved someone using inappropriately turning on their fog lamps in clear conditions. That’s also not to mention that this is coming from a country where the local authorities don’t care a bit to write you a ticket for using them when you’re not supposed to, so you can only wonder what the count tallies up to here in America.

Let’s just face the simple truth: we don’t need fog lamps and considering how much better basic modern automotive lighting systems are today versus what we had over eighty years ago, we probably never will. Adaptive headlights that can help you see around corners are far more likely to prevent an accident than any fog lamp will. Plus, that extra five-hundred bucks you spent to get those stupid things could’ve been better used on something else more useful for your car, like a nicer stereo, heated seats, or better engine option. If none of those things sound appealing to you, keeping that extra money in your wallet instead of throwing it away on the front of your car will only serve to keep your monthly payment down, even if it is by just a few dollars. It’s as easy as skipping over checking off that box off the next time you buy your brand-new car. Not only will you be doing yourself a favor, you’ll also help to keep the highways safer and allow this automotive flop to finally fade into history.

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15 Comments

I find this write up very interesting and will no doubt end up being very debatable. I have read and heard all thse issues brought up many times that it begs the question, does G.Noble even drive a car in any other condition than in a city where I do agree most 3rd party fog lights are installed wrong and end up being additional glare in the face of drivers coming towards you?

Fog lights installed properly to highlight the road on a snowy pass at night or even a back country road helps out greatly in letting you know your close perimeter.

Head lights will never be good at illuminating the closest 10 feet in front of your auto and then also still light up 50 to 100 feet down the road. Spend any time driving the highways going through various weather and you will find that the so called Fog lights do server a very important function for lighting up things close to the auto.

Fog Lights will probably stay the naming choice for marketing when in reality these are perimeter lights.

Yes like many I hate the so called rear single fog light on Audi, BMW, MB, etc. It makes you think they have a bulb burning out. Yet the so called Fog lights installed properly on a SUV in the back and front help out greatly when manuvering around in tight areas and not to mention lighting up the world in reverse.

I find they are more useful than is given credit here.

If you want to talk about wasteful / Fabulous Flops, lets talk one item that Cadillac puts on all their Platinum Edition SUV's. Heated and Cooled Cup holders. Yes My Escalade ESV Platinum edition came with these worthless items that do not really cool or heat your drinks. I have found them on other vehicles both as an aftermarket addition and as regular item for fully loaded models and they still do not work.
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But those aren't fog lights. Those are perimeter lights as you said.

If the distance that headlights let you see is an issue, than the answer is more likely to be active headlights that adjust up and down and not just side to side. At slower speeds, the headlights can angle down slightly for more immediate vision while at higher speeds they can raise up to normal
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But those aren't fog lights. Those are perimeter lights as you said.

If the distance that headlights let you see is an issue, than the answer is more likely to be active headlights that adjust up and down and not just side to side. At slower speeds, the headlights can angle down slightly for more immediate vision while at higher speeds they can raise up to normal


I understand the point you are making, but very few auto's have active headlights, only a couple that I can think of off the top of my head. Most cars and tucks have traditional headlights and so called Fog Lights. To me, the should be talking about the safety of perimeter lights with their traditional lights for better vision while driving and safety of being seen.
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One of the reasons I supported BK writing this article is because of the white flag of surrender that the manufacturers are waving now. Look at the "fog lights" on that Ford Edge above. How effective are those going to be at lighting anything? They aren't even all that effective at increasing your visibility to other drivers because their lumens are so low.
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Selective yellow is the ugliest color.
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One of the reasons I supported BK writing this article is because of the white flag of surrender that the manufacturers are waving now. Look at the "fog lights" on that Ford Edge above. How effective are those going to be at lighting anything? They aren't even all that effective at increasing your visibility to other drivers because their lumens are so low.


I have nothing against this viewpoint of the writting, I just disagree with in what some call fog lights or what I call them as Perimeter lights.

The ford he has listed above I do not find as a fair example as the Ford web site does not have any fog lights listed for this auto, the lights show above are referred to by the web site as safety lights. I think this is Fords version of DayTime running lights
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I usually see them referred to as 'driving lights' more than 'fog lights'. I know w/ my Jeep I use them when driving at night when outside of a well-lit area as it is nice to be able to see the area 10-20 feet in front of the vehicle...most of my cars have had them (factory, not down w/ aftermarket lights) since 1987.

Not sure if they really are effective in fog, I drive so very rarely in it.....probably 95% of my driving day or night is urban or suburban, but once in a while I'm out on the interstate at night away from the metro area and then usually use the driving lights..
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The GP has a set, mounted really low; I find their illumination so close to the car to be rather ineffective- I am just not looking that close to the front of the car when in motion. 'Course- they may well be ineffectively designed.

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Cadillac began offering 'fog lamps' as early as 1927. Without checking year-for-year, they were Cadillac options continuously into the 1960s... when they were supplemented by cornering lamps in '62.
These earliest lamps (in the '20s & '30s) were adjustable, and from the driver's seat in many instances. According to my references, 99% of the time they were clear-lensed, it's rare to see factory Cadillac fogs with yellow lenses. I have 1 pic in my files; a 1941 with yellow lenses (and I believe those were not OEM)- the rest are all clear-lensed.

If that reference there more specifically meant 'yellow light' RE the quality of light, then that is in accordance with the auto lighting quality in general in that period- there really was no what we would call today 'white light' lamps then- a byproduct primarily of 6V systems. Not sure one could call them a failure of sorts on that count.

The degree the early fogs help or not would be interesting to learn first-hand. The early headlights were HUGE, and the fogs were pretty good size by themselves. They would HAVE to made a notable difference due to the additional illumination area alone, but as to the desired degree in fog, I don't know.
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The GP has a set, mounted really low; I find their illumination so close to the car to be rather ineffective- I am just not looking that close to the front of the car when in motion. 'Course- they may well be ineffectively designed.

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Cadillac began offering 'fog lamps' as early as 1927. Without checking year-for-year, they were Cadillac options continuously into the 1960s... when they were supplemented by cornering lamps in '62.
These earliest lamps (in the '20s & '30s) were adjustable, and from the driver's seat in many instances. According to my references, 99% of the time they were clear-lensed, it's rare to see factory Cadillac fogs with yellow lenses.

Like these on a '31? Pretty neat..they seem to pivot w/ the wheels.

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I have read and heard all thse issues brought up many times that it begs the question, does G.Noble even drive a car in any other condition than in a city where I do agree most 3rd party fog lights are installed wrong and end up being additional glare in the face of drivers coming towards you?


I'd have to say my driving is 65 percent rural, 35 percent urban. So, yes, I drive very regularly in non-urban conditions and I still see plenty of — ahem! — educated people inappropriately using their usless little fog lamps.

Selective yellow is the ugliest color.


Agreed. I'm suprised selective yellow lenses don't have bubbles behind them.
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The GP has a set, mounted really low; I find their illumination so close to the car to be rather ineffective- I am just not looking that close to the front of the car when in motion. 'Course- they may well be ineffectively designed.

• • •
Cadillac began offering 'fog lamps' as early as 1927. Without checking year-for-year, they were Cadillac options continuously into the 1960s... when they were supplemented by cornering lamps in '62.
These earliest lamps (in the '20s & '30s) were adjustable, and from the driver's seat in many instances. According to my references, 99% of the time they were clear-lensed, it's rare to see factory Cadillac fogs with yellow lenses.

Like these on a '31? Pretty neat..they seem to pivot w/ the wheels.


Yea- not sure there, I don't get to spend nearly enough time around these grand beauties as I'd like. I've seen some with a hand crank on the mounting bar, but other clearly have linkage going backward... whether that's toward the driver or linked to the steering, I just don't know. Going to have to check this out @ Hershey...
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Call me old fashioned, but I like all the light I can get...
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Less foglamps, more cornering lamps please. The fogs on the Regal are aimed really high so they do next to no good.
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Call me old fashioned, but I like all the light I can get...


Then put 600 watts of skin blistering power on the front of your car and hope that the newly-blinded oncoming traffic don't kill you.

Seriously, though, there has to be a tradeoff. Regardless of how much light you put forward, there will be dark areas at the edges. When the lit areas are too bright, your eyes are unable to see the small amounts of contrast in the dark areas. I want to see whats going on in the dark areas. Of course, all that extra light is still glare to other drivers.
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Given that we are now in an era of packages when buying a new car (as opposed to buying one feature or another on the spec sheet back in the '60s), is it possible to tell GM, Ford etc. to just simply ditch the fog/perimeter lights for good? If these lights serve no real purpose, why bundle them at all in any vehicle? No CAR should have them. I could see a truck with a high center of gravity needing them, but nothing else. SRX no, Escalade yes. If the automakers are going to have them, they need to make these perimeter lights fully functional rather than looking cute bordering on vestigial (and essentially useless).
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