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Directional Headlights

Directional Headlights

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Lecturer Nomination) Competition by Kalman Strohmayer. It is nominated by Lecturer John Higgins of Dublin Institute of Technoloy in the category of Engineering & Mechanical Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Lecturer Nomination) Competition by Kalman Strohmayer. It is nominated by Lecturer John Higgins of Dublin Institute of Technoloy in the category of Engineering & Mechanical Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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Directional Headlights


This is an original work. All references and assistance are acknowledged.



Candidate name:________________________________________________

The topic of this project is directional headlights, that are usually a separate set of headlights fitted to road vehicles beside the usual low beam/high beam headlights and their feature is that they turn with the steering, so that the driver of the vehicle can see the bend, what he is actually turning into. These type of headlights appeared on production cars in the 1920’s and are still around nowadays, but not very popular, although they make night time driving safer. The most famous car which featured these lights was the Citroen DS (1955-1975), introduced on the 1968 Paris Motor Show. The headlights can be connected to the steering linkage by means of rods or cables, operated hydraulically by the power steering or nowadays electronically adjusted, even controlled by satellite navigation system. In my project I am making research on the history and development of the above mentioned systems and design and build a working system of directional headlights for a passenger car, that is operated mechanically by cables connected to the steering linkage. This involves planning the working principle, designing the necessary parts, preparing AutoCad drawings of the system layout, sourcing and producing the parts and assembling the system, testing it, carrying out any adjustments that may be required. This system is for experimental purposes only, but is suitable to prove the effectiveness of directional headlights and the test results lead to a conclusion.

The 1968 Citroen DS featuring directional headlights

Introduction History and development of directional headlights The project work environment The project vehicle The operating mechanism of the directional headlights The electrical system of the directional headlights Test results Conclusions References 1 2 3 4 6 13 16 19 20

I was always interested in alternative automotive solutions that are not widely used and this project gave me the excellent opportunity to investigate one of these exciting fields of automotive technology. I have always enjoyed working on cars and as an enthusiastic DIY person I was more than happy to take on this project. During project work I took the practical approach and made all the parts that needed to fit the lights to the vehicle and allow them to swivel. As described later, I have made a few attempts of connecting the operating cable to the suspension until I have found a solution that works. Drawing of the layout of this system is also included in that section. At this stage test could be carried out to see the efficiency of the system and draw the conclusions.


History and development of directional headlights
Although the concept of headlights that follow the movements of the steering is still considered nowadays as being innovative, it is not new. The first vehicles fitted with such systems appeared in the 1920s. Pioneers and milestones in the automotive history featuring directional headlights were the 1928 Willys-Knight 70A Touring, the 1930s Czech Tatra and the American 1948 Trucker Sedan. These cars were equipped with a third central headlight mechanically connected to the steering system. The most famous car featuring directional headlights, was the Citroen DS (19551975), introduced on the 1968 Paris Motor Show. This car had both headlights not only swivelling with the steering, but they were self levelling as well, responding to inputs from the suspension. While it was a purely mechanical system operated by cables, the 1970 Citroen SM used a sealed hydraulic system with a glycerine based fluid. On present day motorcars two types of directional headlight system are in use: 1. A fixed light that only turns on and off based on steering and vehicle speed. 2. The light is motorised by the use of small electric motors and physically swivels according to the movement of the steering wheel and vehicle speed. This modern technology first appeared in 2003 on the Porsche Cayenne (fixed) and the Mercedes E-class (motorised). Soon other manufacturers followed them such as the BMW with the adaptive headlights and cornering lights and nowadays most of the main brands use such systems on their vehicles like Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Ford, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, Porsche, Saab, Volkswagen, Volvo and Mazda. Audi is experimenting with a system which uses satellite navigation adjust the headlights according to the road layout ahead the vehicle.

The 1928 Willys-Knight 70A Touring (left) and the Citroen DS (right)


The project work environment
Although there are laboratory facilities at the college designated for the final year project work of this course, I have chosen to carry out all project work off site at an independent garage. I came to this decision considering many factors. The size of the project, the less limited access to the project and the road test facilities where the main reason, while transporting the project vehicle was also possible, as I have access to a car transporter trailer and own a vehicle of suitable size for towing, as well as hold a current driving licence that legally allows me to tow heavy trailers. The garage, where all the practical work took place, is equipped with a two-post ramp with a lifting capacity of up to 4 tonnes, air tools, such as an air gun with an impact socket kit, which came handy for removing wheels and working on heavier suspension components, power tools including electric drill and angle grinder and various hand tools like screwdrivers, spanners, ratchet and socket kit, hammer, hacksaw and Stanley blade. Some of the parts used for the project have been sourced from the garage, as parts redundant from previous jobs over the years, while others were remains of my previous vehicles and some of the bicycle parts are from an internet advertisement of scrap bicycles free to be taken away from a shed clearout. All parts for the project were sourced free of charge, only costs that occurred were fuel costs for both the project vehicle and transportation.

The garage with the project vehicle in the right service bay 3

The project vehicle on the ramp

The project vehicle

The project vehicle – a 1996 Ford Fiesta, outside the previous owner’s house The project vehicle is a 1996 Ford Fiesta, which was lying up for at least three years outside the house of one of the customers of the garage mentioned in the acknowledgements section, so she was free to take. With a fully charged battery and some fresh petrol she started up first time and with the tyres pumped up she was able to move under her own power. Taking all the above into account and the fact that she has power assisted steering, she is just the ideal vehicle for this project.


The most important technical specifications are summarised in the table below. Make Model Year of manufacture Mileage Engine type Engine capacity Fuel Maximum power Maximum torque Transmission Steering Brakes Ford Fiesta Ghia 1996 77000 miles approx. Zetec SE 16V 1242cc Petrol 55kW (75HP) at 5200 rev/min 110 Nm at 4000 rev/min 5 speed manual Hydraulically assisted Hydraulic, two circuits, discs at front, drums at rear, without ABS Dimensions (length x width x height) 3828mm x 1634mm x 1334mm

The importance of the power assisted steering is due to the directional headlights being attached to steering components, although they do not increase the load on these parts significantly, therefore not increasing the effort required for turning the steering wheel. The fact that the project vehicle is not fitted with ABS brakes, but was available as an option, will become important later while fitting the operating mechanism of the directional headlights.


The operating mechanism of the directional headlights
The lights are attached to the front bumper on a swivel mechanism, that is operated by two cables connected to the hub carrier assemblies on both sides. The cables are bicycle rear brake cables, they provide the necessary length without cutting. The reason for the two cables is that they can only apply a force when they are pulled, cannot be used for pushing. Whichever direction the steering wheel is turned, one of the cables is pulled and that cable pulls the other cable back. Earlier experiments were made using one solid cable, which was a choke cable of a classic car, but because of multiple bends in fitting the cable causes excessive friction between the cable and its housing resulting in failure of operation. The swivel mechanism is made of two car windscreen wiper mechanisms, by cutting them and bolting together, so that they make one symmetric unit. This mechanism fits into the bumper after a bit of plastic is cut away inside the bumper to provide enough space. The pin where the wiper arm used to be mounted is the right size in diameter for an M6 thread to be cut on. With the use of two nuts, the mounting bracket of the lights can be fitted onto this pin.

The bumper viewed from behind with the swivel mechanism fitted


The first attempt to connect the swivel mechanism to the suspension was using the above described choke cable. The cable was connected to the suspension strut using two hose clips and an L-shaped bracket. This setup worked perfect as long as the vehicle was lifted off the ground on the ramp. The mistake made during the creation of this setup was that it was not taken into account that suspension parts will move up as the vehicle is let down on the ground and the suspension springs take the weight of the vehicle and they move up and down during driving, therefore making the lights to swivel even while driving straight on uneven road surface.

The cable connected to the suspension strut using hose clips and an L-shaped bracket

The second attempt was made still using the same cable, but connecting it to the suspension strut upper mounting plate in the engine bay. Again, the same problem occurred, as previously. The fact that suspension components tend to behave differently when they are not under load was not taken into account. So in this case this plate turned with the steering as long as the vehicle was on the ramp, swivelling the lights correctly with the cable connected to it, but as soon as the vehicle was down on the ground and the suspension strut was supporting the weight of the vehicle it did not turn any more. 7

The cable seen in the foreground of the picture, connected to suspension strut upper mounting plate in the engine bay using hose clips and an L-shaped bracket, the cable housing is connected to a custom made console beside the power steering fluid reservoir

At this stage, with the above experiences behind, such a setup had to be found, where suspension travel does not effect the operation of the directional lights. One idea was to connect cables to the track rod ends, but as they move a long way, a leverage of some description would have been necessary to reduce this by a ratio, otherwise the swivel mechanism in the bumper would need longer arms to give the same amount of movement to the lights, which would not be possible due to limited space inside the bumper. On the other hand such a leverage to be included would make the whole system too complicated, making it harder to operate because of extra friction created inside the leverage. The next attempt which put the project on the right track was the use of the above mentioned bicycle rear brake cables. The cable housing was fitted to the bumper by an Lshaped bracket and special cable fittings, while the cable itself was connected to the connecting beam of the swivel mechanism.


Picture of swivel mechanism with bicycle rear brake cables

Picture of the cable fitted to brake caliper mounting bolt


On the other end, the cable housing was fitted to the wishbone by a special bracket, using the same fitting, as on the other end of the cable. As one of the wishbones has been replaced over the years for an aftermarket one, which is somewhat different in design from the genuine one, these brackets are also different to fit the different wishbones. The end of the cable was fitted to one of the brake caliper mounting bolts using another L-shaped bracket. This setup was working perfect, even with the vehicle on the ground, apart from that the lights were always pointing the opposite direction than the wheels were steered. This meant that while in this arrangement the cable was fitted towards the front from the centre line of the front axle, it had to be fitted towards the rear from it, to alter the operation of the cables. As the project vehicle is not fitted with ABS, but ABS was available as an option in this model, the hub carrier is designed to be able to accommodate the wheel speed sensor for the ABS. This means that beside a larger hole, there is a threaded hole for an M6 bolt on the hub carrier. Although because of the age of the vehicle and being exposed to weather conditions the excessive rust on this thread caused failure of all attempts made to put an M6 bolt in it, but a bolt of smaller diameter and a nut on the end of it could fit the Lshaped bracket for the cable, using a bigger nut as a spacer. This is the final setup which is working correctly under all driving conditions and allowed testing of the system to proceed.

Picture of the cable fitted to the hub carrier at the hole for the ABS wheel speed sensor mounting bolt with an L-shaped bracket, the cable housing is fitted to the wishbone 10

The layout of components is illustrated on the next page. Key to identifying components: 1. Directional light 2. Connecting arm of the swivel mechanism 3. Swivel arm of the swivel mechanism 4. L-shaped bracket for fitting the cable housing to the bumper 5. Cable operating left turns 6. Cable operating right turns 7. Bracket for fitting the cable housing to the wishbone 8. L-shaped bracket for fitting the cable to the hub carrier 9. Nut used as a spacer between the L-shaped bracket and the hub carrier 10. Brake disc 11. Brake caliper 12. Hub carrier 13. Suspension ball joint 14. Wishbone


Layout of components


The electrical system of the directional headlights
The electrical system of the project vehicle is a 12V system which has a 70A alternator and a battery of 38Ah capacity. The directional headlights consist of two fog lights, which take the ordinary H3 (12V 55W) bulbs. The electrical system is well capable for operating the additional lights and front fog lights were available for this car as an optional extra, but were not ordered when the car was purchased new in 1996 from The Finglas Ford Centre. In order to make the electrical system easy to troubleshoot if needs to be, the lights have been wired up to the battery as a completely separate system from any other electrical components in the car, although wiring for genuine front fog lights is fitted by the factory. The system is powered from the battery positive terminal through a 15A fuse and operated by a rocker switch fitted to the dashboard. To reduce the current flow on the switch a relay is fitted in the electrical circuit. The battery negative terminal is connected to the vehicle body, so are both the relay and the lights. To determine the correctly rated fuse, the following calculation was carried out: From P=IxU [Watt]=[A]x[V]

I=P/U=(2x55W)/12V=110W/12V=9.17A So a 15A fuse was installed in the circuit to allow for peaks in the current flow.

The fuse in the fuse holder, fitted to the battery cradle


Relay fitted to the bulkhead

Negative lead connected to the vehicle body

The rocker switch…

…which is fitted to the dashboard


Wiring diagram of the directional lights


Test results
In order to achieve evaluable results, testing was carried out during night time in the dark. Since the project vehicle has been off the road in the recent years and both the NCT and the tax disc has expired, testing was carried out on private property, avoiding public highways. During all of the tests the standard headlight low beam was switched on as well as the directional headlights. Results of the tests are illustrated on the following pages.

The project vehicle, ready for carrying out road tests


Headlight beams projected to the wall

Steering centred

Steering on full lock to the left

Steering on full lock to the right


Real life road traffic situations

Negotiating a bend

without directional headlights

with directional headlights

Arriving at a junction

without directional headlights

with directional headlights


Before I undertook this project my knowledge about directional headlights was limited. After doing an extensive research for this project I have a wider knowledge of this field in automotive technology, learnt useful information about different types of directional headlights. I have searched the library of the college for relevant books and the internet for additional information. During the build of an experimental model of directional headlights on a vehicle I have improved my DIY skills and technical problem solving ability. Carrying out test with the project vehicle has proved that this concept works and although such lights are not widely used even nowadays, it does support the driver’s vision during night-time driving, helps to reduce black spots while cornering and therefore reduces the risk of accidents, by helping to notice persons or objects hidden in a bend earlier in advance. I am looking forward to see more road vehicles equipped with directional headlights in serial production.


Library: Denton, Tom. (2000) Automobile electrical and electronic systems. Warrendale, PA: SAE International Birch, Thomas W. (1993) Automotive suspension and steering systems. Fort Worth: Suanders College Publishing Ellinger, Herbert E. and Hathaway, Richard B. (1989) Automotive suspension and steering systems. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall Rendle, Steve (2005) Ford Fiesta service and repair manual, Oct 1995-Mar 2002 (N to 02 registration) petrol and diesel. Sparkford, Somerset: Haynes Service Publications (1995) Owner’s guide, Fiesta. 5th ed. Brentwood, Essex: Ford Motor Company Ltd.

Internet: Wikipedia <URL: http://en.wikipedia.org> [Accessed 10th May 2011] Wikicars <URL: http://wikicars.org/en> [Accessed 10th May 2011] Citroen ID/DS Club Nederland <URL: http://www.citroeniddsclub.nl> [Accessed 10th May 2011] BMW Group <URL: http://www.bmw.com> [Accessed 10th May 2011] Haynes Publishing <URL: http://www.haynes.co.uk> [Accessed 10th May 2011] 20

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