CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

How to improve dim headlights on 1998 Volvo S70?

Our 98 Volvo S70’s headlights have been very dim, only lighting about 5 feet infront of the car. It is almost the amount of light fog lights would put out - but the car doesn’t have fog lights.

We first replaced the light bulbs with Sylvania Ultra Silverstar bulbs. Didn’t make any difference. Then we took it to our local Volvo dealership and they told us we needed a new alternator. We had a new alternator installed, but no real change.

The lenses are glass and no real signs of fading or anything like that. I did notice some fading of reflective coating to the back of the headlight. Can this be repaired? I have also read on blogs about replacing with “Jewel” headlights or “projector” headlights. I don’t know anything about these.

I don’t have a big budget, but want this car to be safe for my wife to drive. Thanks!

First check to see if they’re improperly aimed. Any shop should be able ot do this for you.

If you still feel they’re insufficient, consider adding driving lights. Fog lights projesct a wide beam. Driving lights project a longer beam.

And if you haven’t seen an optomologist lately, schedule an appointment post-haste. You may be loing your night vision. I speak from experience. I’ll be adding supplemental lighting to my own car any week now to compensate for age-related difficulties driving at night. Hella is expensive, but they have some primo lights.

We checked their aim last night. That was out a little bit, but not much. We corrected it, but still not changing the amount of light output.

My vision was recently checked and is 20/10… I am 30 years old and my wife is 27. So I really hope we both aren’t loosing our eyes!!! :slight_smile:

Is this a new problem, or did it always do this? Are the reflectors in good shape?

We recently bought the car from a relative. They said they have been taking it to Volvo complaining about the lack of light for the last 2 years. The reflectors have a good bit of black showing. I don’t know what they should look like though…

I’m glad your eyes are good, especially at your young prime-of-life age.

The reflectors should not be showing black. It sounds like you need new lighting modules. However, if the black showing is as in the modules in the attached link, it’s not on the reflectors and not a problem.
http://www.automotix.net/usedautoparts/1998-volvo-s70-headlight-inventory.html

Other things to check are the vlotage at the light sockets and the condition of the light sockets. The amount of light being produced is directly affected by the voltage. If theres some resistance in the circuit for some reason, like a bad connection or wire, that resistance will “drop” voltage, leaving less available for the lights. That condition would need to be diagnosed and corrected. It could be a simple connector. Corrosion in a connector equals resistance in a connector. It too will reduce the voltage to the bulb.

The headlights in the link are not at all similar to the stock headlights. Are you suggestion these as replacements?

I will have to see about having someone test the voltage. Thanks again!

From the sound of things the reflective surfaces of the inner housing has probably deteriorated and any homebrew fix for this will be a pain in the neck. I homebrewed mine and it’s not a job for the impatient or faint of heart.
The Lincoln Mark VIIIs (which I own and have owned in the past) all suffered from headlamp degradation over time and make it near impossible to even read a license plate on a car parked 20 feet in front.

In the case of the Lincolns bulb heat will turn the reflectors yellow, orange, and in the case of my current Lincoln they were black, cracked, and a potential fire hazard.
This is why automotive engineers get the big bucks…

Your easiest fix is to find a good used or new set of lamps because no bulb on Earth will cure this problem.

Looks like the best answer. The pic says for illustrative purposes only, and that there are two styles used so you just have to check further for the correct ones. If you can replace them for a couple hundred bucks, that’ll be the cheapest repair you’ll have on a Volvo. I had the same problem with my Rivera. Hitting a deer and replacing the headlights cured it.

Has anyone checked the ground connection for the headlights?

You want to know the voltage drop between the wires when the electrical load is on. If you cannot peel back the boot to access the electrical connections, you may need to perforate the insulation on the wires with sewing pins. If the voltage drop is less than 12.6 volts with the headlight glowing, there is resistance somewhere else in the circuit, like in the headlight relay or in the ground connection, or in one of the plugs in the wiring harness. Wherever there is resistance, it will be warm to the touch. Our '98 S70 burns out headlights with great frequency, always has, but they are bright.

The headlight relay is not cheap ($70) so you want to be sure that is the problem before trying another one.