IIHS Standards Push Automakers To Eliminate Low-Quality Headlights

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Automotive Editor

Based out of the Washington, D.C. area, Joel Patel is an automotive journalist that hails from Northern Virginia. His work has been featured on various automotive outlets, including Autoweek, Digital Trends, and Autoblog. When not writing about cars, Joel enjoys trying new foods, wrenching on his car, and watching horror movies. 

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, Automotive Editor - December 16, 2020

Last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) made one crucial change to its tests for vehicles to earn one of its awards. For 2020, vehicles must have “Acceptable” or “Good” rated headlights as standard to be named a Top Safety Pick+ and have headlights that earn one of those ratings to be named a Top Safety Pick. It was a large change, which resulted in a lot of models losing their awards for the new model year. The change, though, also forced automakers to fit their vehicles with better headlights, which is a great thing for shoppers.

According to the IIHS, at least 10 automakers have improved the headlights in their vehicles for the 2021 model year. Improvements have come in the form of eliminating headlights that were found to be inferior or modifying them to perform better. The institute believes that its Top Safety Pick+ award is what’s driving automakers to improve their headlights.

The IIHS claims that 85 out of 185 vehicles it tested were available with “Good” rated headlights. Only eight of those models came with headlights that earned the institute’s highest rating as standard. A total of 42 cars from the 2020 model year came exclusively with “Good” or “Acceptable” rated headlights.

Unfortunately, for consumers, the push from automakers to offer better headlights has resulted in large price increases over entry-level trims. Taking a look at the 2020 Mazda3 as an example, the compact vehicle is available with “Good” rated headlights, but only on the range-topping Premium trim. The Mazda3 Premium costs $27,795 with destination, which is a large step up from the Mazda3 2.0 that costs $21,445.

Subaru Ascent

There is some good news, as the IIHS states that a lot of automakers are moving toward only offering one headlight throughout an entire lineup. One set of “Good” or “Acceptable” rated headlights would make things much easier for consumers. Instead of worrying about upgrading to the proper trim level to get the headlights, being able to purchase the base model with them simplifies the buying process. Offering one set of headlights should also simplify things for automakers, too, since they won’t have to spend time and money designing and manufacturing multiple headlights.

Fortunately, fitting entry-level trims with better headlights won't cause prices to go up all that much. As the IIHS points out, Acura updated the RDX’s headlights for the 2021 to ensure ones that earned a rating of “Good” are standard for the new model year, despite the vehicle earning a Top Safety Pick+ award for 2020. Without any major changes beyond the new headlights, pricing for the 2021 RDX has only gone up by $400. It’s a similar story for the 2021 Hyundai Palisade, which now comes with “Good” rated headlights as standard for a $585 increase in pricing.

While automakers can fit their vehicles with better headlights and get rid of ones that didn’t perform well in the IIHS’ tests, they still have to ensure the vehicle meets the other criteria. The 2021 BMW 5-Series comes with “Good” rated headlights, but fails to earn an award because its pedestrian crash avoidance system has not been tested yet. For an automaker like BMW, which currently only has one vehicle to earn an award from the IIHS, it’s certainly not a good thing to see other brands win awards while its vehicles linger back without one.

So far, the IIHS claims that 10 models have gone from being Top Safety Pick vehicles to Top Safety Pick+ vehicles by eliminating or updating their headlights. These vehicles include the Audi A7, Honda Accord, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Altima, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volvo S60, Volvo XC40, and Volvo XC60.

In addition to having “Good” or “Acceptable” rated headlights, vehicles must also earn a rating of “Good” in all six of the institute’s crash tests and earn ratings of “Advanced” or “Superior” in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention tests to earn the IIHS' Top Safety Pick+ and Top Safety Pick awards.

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, Automotive Editor

Based out of the Washington, D.C. area, Joel Patel is an automotive journalist that hails from Northern Virginia. His work has been featured on various automotive outlets, including Autoweek, Digital Trends, and Autoblog. When not writing about cars, Joel enjoys trying new foods, wrenching on his car, and watching horror movies. 

Follow On: Twitter

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