The headlights on my car are very dim. When on the normal setting they only illuminate around 2-3 seconds down the road @ about 55mph. The high beams are brighter, but are still very dim. If I have my high beams on and a car is behind me with their high beams off their lights will outshine mine. What can I do to get brighter headlights?

Some background on what I've tried: I replaced one of the casings for the lights (due to an accident with a deer, which I partly blame on my headlights being so dim). I thought the new casing might make some difference as it was much more clear, but it made none.

I've also replaced the bulbs with ones that claim to be the brightest available but there is no noticeable difference. Unfortunately I don't recall the name and number.

My car is a 1994 940 Volvo, so it may be due to the age of something.

4 Answers 4


Having owned several of that generation Volvo ('93 965, '94 964, '94 965), I will start by saying "The US delivery Volvo headlights of that era are terrible!" The light does not go where it needs to go, and even adding more light will not help that much.

I have had some success putting the Sylvania XS bulbs in. They have a slightly different spectrum from normal halogen bulbs, but they are NOT the blue headlights.

In terms of converting to HID, you will probably end up spending a lot of money and still not have light where you want/need it.

There are a couple of other solutions: European Delivery cars had much better headlights. It's not a cheap conversion, but it can be done. (I am not saying anything about US street legality here.) The "prize" lights are the 3 bulb units from the Euro 960 -- separate low, high and fog beams.

The other option is to add auxiliary lights. At first it may seem a fairly high cost, but when you realize that one set can easily outlive several cars, it really isn't that much.

For more information, you might want to read the series of articles I wrote for the Volvo Club of America's Rolling Magazine. It was called "Let There Be Light", and can be found on the Snow Tire FAQ website.


Old, tired wiring will often cause dim headlamps as halogen bulbs are very sensitive to low voltages. As Jaime says, a lot of older cars didn't have relayed headlamps (although I would have expected Volvo to do so), so if you've not got them, the full current for the lamps is runnning through the entire wiring system.

The best way to test this is to check the voltage at the connector that goes to the back of the lamp - 13.5V will get the highest brightness, and it drops off sharply as the voltage drops.

If that is the case, it is worth adding a relay as close to the lamps as possible (so the full current has the shortest path). Headlamp relay kits can be purchased from companies such as ring, and will come with full instructions, but in general the principle is this:

  • new wire from battery - fuse - relay power feed (usually labelled 30)
  • existing feed from switch to relay input (86)
  • new wire from relay to ground (85)
  • existing wire from relay output to headlamps (87)

Use two relays, one for main and one for dip, and mount them in a waterproof location otherwise they will corrode internally (the cheapest solution I've seen for that is a plastic takeawy container bolted to the inner wing!)

This page gives some numbers and more details.


Have the lenses become cloudy? This can happen over time and you can buy kits to polish and clear them up. If they're not cloudy, check how many volts are getting to the lights themselves with a volt meter.

I'm not sure how the circuit in your car works, but if it doesn't use relays to power the lights, your light switch can be absorbing some of the power.

  • 1
    One of the lenses was replaced as mentioned and is not cloudy. If the switch is absorbing power would I need to replace it? What about if it does use relays?
    – Rob Mosher
    Oct 17, 2011 at 17:31
  • If the switch is absorbing power, it would need to be replaced. Without tracing wiring there's not an easy way to know if the system uses relays. If it does use relays, there may be a drain somewhere else in the circuit.
    – Jaime
    Oct 17, 2011 at 17:45

If you can move to HID lamps it will solve your problem. You might see this observation because of a weak battery. But the HID lamps will draw lower current than conventional lamps so it should give better light.

Cheap HID Kits

  • 1
    The light pattern on the 940 Volvos is the biggest problem I have found. Unless the lenses are changed, having the extra light of HID doesn't really help get the light were it is needed.
    – jwernerny
    Oct 19, 2011 at 15:18
  • Moving to HIDs on a car without reflectors to effectively use them is not ever a good option for yourself or the general public.
    – Rig
    Oct 21, 2011 at 3:08

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