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Base trims get the shaft in headlight tech, IIHS finds

Some headlights are hidden in trims that add more than $10,000 to a car's price.

Toyota

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety now requires quality headlights for a vehicle to earn its top accolades, and while many automakers have risen to the occasion and delivered improved headlights, base models of vehicles are often left with low-quality stuff.

Of the 424 headlight variants that the IIHS tested on 2018 models, 67 percent of them were rated Marginal or Poor in its tests. The headlights routinely suffered from excessive low-beam glare and poor visibility. Many of these headlights are offered on base models, which means it's effectively punishing buyers who opt for value-based trims.

"Consumers shouldn't have to buy a fully loaded vehicle to get the headlights they need to safely drive at night," said David Aylor, manager of active safety testing at IIHS, in a statement. "All new vehicles should come with good headlights."

The IIHS used the Honda Ridgeline as an example. The Ridgeline is the only pickup with headlights that earned a Good rating, but in order to get them, buyers have to opt for one of the top two trims, adding $12,000 or more to the window sticker. Yikes.

But it's not just lower-income buyers getting the shaft. Some cars have bad headlights no matter the trim. Of the 165 models the IIHS tested in 2018, 43 models only have headlights with Poor ratings. 32 can't do better than Marginal. Perhaps most interestingly, only two vehicles the IIHS tested offered Good-rated headlights regardless of trim -- the Genesis G90 large luxury sedan and the Lexus NX midsize luxury SUV.

The IIHS notes that roughly half of all fatal crashes occur at night, and more than 25 percent happen on unlit roads. Headlights are quickly improving, but it'll be up to automakers to democratize those peepers so buyers of all incomes can see as much of the road ahead as possible.

2019 Subaru Ascent: See why Subaru's latest SUV earned the IIHS' top accolade.

2019 Ram 1500: A case where headlights prevented a vehicle from earning an award.