When to Use Fog Lights (And Do You Need Them?)

Fog lights are a second set of lights on the front and rear of the vehicle that are designed to be used in low visibility situations. Fog density varies depending on the weather conditions. Very dense fog may reduce visibility to only a few feet in front of the vehicle, making it unsafe to drive at all.

The purpose of front fog lights is to increase driver visibility of the road ahead. Rear fog lights are designed to make the car more visible to prevent drivers from being rear ended. Rear fog lights are required on all vehicles in Europe.

But do you actually know WHEN you should (and shouldn’t) be using your fog lights?

When to Use Fog Lights

Rules on when and how to use fog lights vary depending on state. Here are some general guidelines on when you should use fog lights.

Fog lights should be used with your regular headlights in low visibility conditions. In other words, don’t use fog lights instead of your regular headlights; use them both at the same time. Fog lights should be a low and wide beam pattern that is below the eye level of other drivers.

Check your state’s specific laws for additional usage guidance and restrictions.

using fog lights

What If You Still Can’t See at Night?

If you have a hard time seeing at night even with your headlights and fog lights, try cleaning the inside of your windshield. The inside of the windshield gets cloudy even on new cars, and even when you haven’t touched the windshield at all.

Cloudy windshields make it very hard to see at night because of the glare. The headlights from other vehicles will appear much brighter through a dirty windshield. Even streetlights can start to obstruct your vision when your glass is really dirty.

Your headlights themselves may also be cloudy or foggy which can greatly reduce visibility. Fortunately, it’s possible to restore headlights to make them appear and function almost like new. Wilson Auto Detailing has a good how-to video.

Also, make sure your headlights don’t have excessive condensation or even water inside the housing. This too will reduce visibility until you remove the moisture and prevent it from reoccurring.

When Not to Use Fog Lights

Don’t use fog lights instead of your normal headlights. Fog lights are designed to cast a short and wide beam in front of the vehicle.

The beam emitted from fog lights does not shine far enough forward for safe night driving. It’s illegal to drive with only your fog lights in many places.

Fog Lights Symbol

fog light symbols

The fog light symbol looks a bit like the headlight symbol. Instead of showing a low or high beam of light, the fog light symbol shows light passing through a vertical wave, which symbolizes the fog.

For front fog lights, the beam of light angles downward through the vertical wave. For rear fog lights, the beam of light appears straight.

Do All Cars Have Fog Lights?

No, not all cars have fog lights. While many car manufacturers offer them as a standard feature these days, some choose not to include them whether due to costs, design aspects, or because of advancements in headlight technology that have reduced the necessity for separate fog lights.

In Europe, all cars have rear fog lights because rear fog lights are required by law. In other areas, fog lights are offered as a feature. In the US, most vehicles are not equipped with the same bright red rear fog light you’d find in Europe.

Are Yellow Fog Lights Legal?

yellow fog light

Although you should confirm with your local laws, yellow or amber front fog lights are legal in most of the United States.

The yellow tint is said to cut through the fog a little better than other wavelengths of light. Yellow light is also friendly to your night vision.

Can I Drive in Fog Without Fog Lights?

If you live in the United States, you can absolutely drive without fog lights, day or night. Many factory fog lights do not provide much in the way of additional lighting, so you might not even notice a difference without them.

Don’t let fog lights be the deciding factor if you’re trying to choose between two vehicles. While it is a good idea to have a bright rear fog light, most vehicles sold in the United States don’t even offer the option for a proper European-style rear fog light.

Driving With LED Headlights

led headlights in fog

Modern LED headlights are so good they can cut through fog relatively easily just by themselves. The added benefit of having factory LED headlights is that you don’t have to worry about blinding other drivers, provided your headlights are adjusted properly.

LED headlights have gotten some negative reviews because many drivers do not have them adjusted properly. If you lift or level a truck, your headlights will need an adjustment because the beam will point higher than it did from the factory.

If your low beam headlights are shining into the rear window of the car in front of you, your low beams are pointed too high. Another clear indicator is if other drivers start flashing their brights at you as you drive by.

Adjusting your headlights properly is particularly important if you have LED headlights. If you don’t get your headlights adjusted, you will be blinding other drivers. The driver runs the risk getting a ticket or other steeper consequences.

Proper headlight measurement and adjustment techniques can often be found in the owner’s manual. Some headlights are self leveling, but it’s good to double check the beam pattern to be on the safe side.

How Do I Add Fog Lights?

If you want to add fog lights to your vehicle, you have a couple of options. Many vehicles came from the factory with fog lights as an option. For everything else, there’s aftermarket fog lights, a popular car modification.

If you own a vehicle where fog lights are offered, but your vehicle isn’t equipped with them, you can often add OEM fog lights pretty easily. In many cases, the wiring is present and you just need to add a button to the dash, change the fog light housings, buy the fog lights, and plug them in.

When deciding whether to go with OEM vs aftermarket fog lights, check reviews on forums from drivers who bought a model the OEM fog light option. If they are happy with the light output, many times the OEM route is a better way to go, particularly if you can purchase it second hand.

If you see lukewarm reviews on the OEM fog light options, you may have to retrofit a set of aftermarket fog lights. The sky is the limit with aftermarket fog lights, and you can spec anything from LED fog lights to full on rally-style light bars on the front of your vehicle.


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