Lights out


The same thing seems to happen every year towards the tail end of a long winter. The scourge of the one-eyed monster is back with us. They have a different name for it on the other side of the Atlantic. There they complain about the Padiddle, which is American slang for the same thing.

I am referring, of course, to a car with a malfunctioning headlight. There seem to be rather a lot of them around at the moment, and they’re annoying and dangerous. Likewise, cars with only one tail light. Also, an inoperative brake light. There is a very good reason why cars have pairs of lights, at both front and rear. It is not just for drivers to see where they are going at night, it is very obviously also so that other drivers can see them.

Only the other night, I initially thought a headlight coming towards me on a misty country road was a motorcycle, and it was only as it loomed closer that it was revealed to be something much wider, a car with one of its headlights out. Grrr.

Value my car


Part of the problem is that regular checks on your car when washing it on a Sunday morning, as was the norm back when many of us first learned to drive, are now largely consigned to history. It doesn’t help that changing a car headlight bulb used to be a relatively simple matter, last century. Now cars have become much more complicated machines, and changing a light may mean replacing an entire unit, and so is a job for the garage.

It is illegal to drive a vehicle with one or more defective lights. If your car is not complying with lighting regulations, you are committing an offence that risks an unwelcome brush with the law. But it’s all too easy, in brightly-lit urban areas, to be unaware of one of the car’s light bulbs having failed.

So unless you want to be caught driving a one-eyed monster or a Paddidle, it’s a good plan to check regularly. It’s easy enough to do so when parking at night, either by testing the lights against a building such as a garage on a driveway, or in the reflection in a shop window.

Where does that quirky US slang ‘Padiddle’ originate? It hails from 1950s New York, where cruising in your car first became a popular dating activity amongst teenage drivers. The first person to spot a burnt-out headlight on another vehicle would shout ‘Padiddle’, rewarded with a kiss. More to the point, kiss the driver when the light is fixed!

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Sue Baker is a seasoned motoring journalist with a love of all things automotive.