Turd of the Week: Projector-Beam Headlights

Car Talk Car Complaints

Car Talk Car Complaints | Feb 08, 2016

By Jim Travers

As the story goes, Red Flag laws were enacted in the early days of the automobile, when one couldn’t be too careful around those new-fangled devices. They limited the speed of vehicles to the pace of a walk, and required that an individual precede said vehicle to warn of its approach with a red flag or a lantern.

Make way! (Image: Bige1977 at English Wikipedia)

For the owners of some 2014 and 2015 GMC Sierra pickup trucks equipped with projector-beam headlights, bringing those laws back might not seem like such a bad idea. Many say their lights are so ineffective that they’re afraid to drive at night. But plenty have been finding their way to the Car Complaints website.

“This truck has the worst headlights I have ever seen on a vehicle,” wrote DF Luke of Gwinn, MI. “They cut out so close to the front of the vehicle you have to crawl along to not outdrive them. There is no light to the sides on corners and if you are driving into a dip you can't see anything on the upslope. If I had driven this truck at night before buying it, I would have not purchased it.”

Unlike a conventional headlight, projector-beam headlights use a special lens to concentrate and focus the beam ahead. Popular on many new models, designers also like the way they can give their brand a distinct look at night. But in the case of the 2014-2015 GMC Sierra, it appears that function followed form. And that makes following anything else difficult.

“I have owned eleven vehicles in my lifetime, and these are the worst headlights I have experienced,“ said Humil of Tavares, FL. “When turning into a side street or driveway, you are turning completely blind. This is truly a safety concern.”

Other complaints can be found across Internet owner forums, and at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration site SaferCar.gov, which also lists at least two Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) related to GMC projector headlights.

We contacted GMC about the complaints, and received the following reply by email.

There has been a TSB related to headlamp performance that has mitigated the issue for owners of ’14 and ’15 Sierras. Different headlamps were used for ’16.

Issued in February 2015, TSB # PIT5374 instructs dealers to reprogram the trucks’ BCM, or Body Control Module. In lay truck drivers' terms, that means tweaking the computer. That, along with replacing the bulbs with different ones, seems to have helped, and many owners report an improvement. But not all are happy.

“After being called by the dealer saying that GM had come up with a fix I brought the truck in for repairs” wrote Mr. Luke in a later post. "There seemed to be a slight improvement in the high beams but the low beams were worse if anything. They cut off so close to the vehicle that you cannot drive at anywhere near a normal speed at night without being afraid you may hit something before you can see it. My wife said she wishes I would trade the vehicle for a Dodge or Ford because she is afraid I will get in an accident.”

The 2014 GMC Sierra in action, during daylight hours. (Image: GMC Pressroom)

Other owners, like Bishup 02 of Manhattan KS, have taken matters into their own hands.

“I've done a ton of research and I think my only option is going to be spending the money to upgrade to HID lights. I've tried different bulbs but with the bulb type, 9012, there are hardly any different options. I'm tired of feeling like I can't drive my $40,000 truck at night because I can't see in front of me.”

Lawyers have also gotten on the case, and at least one class-action lawsuit has been launched in California. Before going that route, if you’re the owner of a 2014 or 2015 GMC pickup and you’ve been having trouble seeing at night, we’d suggest you pay a visit to your dealer and mention TSB # PIT5374.

Just go during the daytime. Whether to bring along someone else with a lantern or a flag is up to you.

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