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IIHS Finds Fault With Most Pickup Truck Headlights

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) measures headlight strength for 11 pickup trucks.

Modern headlights are missing the grade, including in pickup trucks. The IIHS says in a press release that the headlights on nearly all late-model pickup trucks do not illuminate correctly and in some cases they produce too much glare.

IIHS Headlight Evaluation: Pickup Trucks

Eleven pickup truck models were tested by the IIHS, covering small and large models alike. The IIHS’ sizing criteria has the all-new 2017 Honda Ridgeline included alongside full-size trucks as the GMC Sierra 1500, Nissan Titan, Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra. The four small pickup models are the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma.

The IIHS began testing headlights earlier this year following its evaluation of federal government standards, which are based on laboratory tests rather than in real life or on-road driving conditions. The institute’s pickup truck evaluation follows two earlier test groups.

The first testing, conducted in March, evaluated midsize cars. The second cohort was tested in July and covered small SUV headlights. In all three groupings, the IIHS found problems resulting in low scores. For 2017, those scores may ultimately affect which models qualify for the IIHS’ highest Top Safety Pick+ award.

“These latest ratings follow the same disappointing pattern as the other groups,” says Matthew Brumbelow, an IIHS senior research engineer. “As vehicle safety has improved in recent years, this important equipment has been overlooked.”

The IIHS’ engineers measured how far light is projected from a vehicle’s low beams and high beams on straightaways as well as on curves. A fifth test measured the amount of glare oncoming drivers experience from each truck’s low beams.

The 11 pickup trucks analyzed offer 23 possible headlight arrangements. Of these, the IIHS found 14 contribute excessive glare and were immediately assigned a Poor rating.

The Bright Spot: 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Only one model’s headlights achieved the IIHS’ highest score of Good: the 2017 Honda Ridgeline. Even so, base models are equipped with poor headlights, while the headlight system on the Ridgeline’s RTL-E and Black Edition trims made the grade.

Specifically, the top LED projector lights won out. The IIHS found that when operating in a low beam mode these lights “provide fair to good visibility on most approaches,” although visibility fell to inadequate when making a gradual left curve. Notably, the Honda’s high-beam assist automatically switches on high beams when no other vehicles are present, essentially closing the gap on some of the deficiencies.

Headlight Ratings for Other Pickup Trucks

The worst score among the 11 pickup trucks was assigned to the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado. The engineers found the halogen reflector low beams on the base Colorado only project 123 feet on the right side of a straight line test. On the other hand, the Ridgeline’s LED low beams had nearly three times the illumination range, casting its light 358 feet.

Following the IIHS’ top Good score is its Acceptable rating. The 2016-2017 GMC Sierra was the lone recipient here, but that score was achieved on only certain trims. The remaining Sierra models earned a Marginal or Poor rating.

Marginal scores follow and just two models managed to slip in just above the institute’s lowest rating. The 2017 Nissan Titan earned Marginal ratings for its two available headlight combinations. The 2016 Ram 1500 was the other model, although Marginal ratings were assigned to some trim levels, while others have Poor ones.

Beside the lowest rated Chevrolet Colorado model, six other pickup trucks received poor scores: the 2016-17 Chevrolet Silverado, 2016-17 Ford F-150, 2016-17 Toyota Tundra, 2016 GMC Canyon, 2016 Nissan Frontier and the 2016-17 Toyota Tacoma.

The IIHS called out the industry’s top-selling model, the Ford F-150, noting that the base halogen and optional LED low beams “provide inadequate visibility in all scenarios.” Further, the LED lights produce unacceptable glare. Even the high beams for both F-150 lighting choices were deemed “mostly inadequate.”

Your Next Pickup Truck

Testing headlights is just one component in helping to reduce traffic casualties. After years of steadily falling numbers, the national traffic death toll began to rise in 2015 and is up 9 percent through June 2016, according to the National Safety Council.

When shopping for any vehicle, consider the tests conducted by the IIHS as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Together, they can help you determine a vehicle that is right for you. Nothing, however, replaces attentive driving with situational awareness representing a significant component in helping drivers avoid accidents.

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