Why Don’t Cars Have Pop-up Headlights Anymore?

Why Don’t Cars Have Pop-up Headlights Anymore?

Pop-up headlights were prominent features of the ’80s and ‘90s sports cars, their headlights would flip up and down and then hide under the car’s exterior when not in use. Pop-up headlights made cars like the MK1, MX5, Porsche 944, and RX-7 absolutely iconic in today’s car culture. But since the late ’90s, pop-up headlights have since vanished… where did they go?

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The general consensus is that pop-up headlights are illegal, but this is not true. Do you remember the C5 Corvette? This was the last true post-2000s car to feature those beloved pop-up headlights. The truth is, safety regulations are what killed the pop-up headlight.

How Did Safety Regulations Kill Pop-up Headlights?

While most people believe pop-ups are completely illegal, this is not the case. The reality is pop-up headlights are perfectly legal. The safety regulations against pop-up headlights make it difficult for manufacturers to justify using them again. As cars began to develop in the 1970s through the 1990s, so did pedestrian safety regulations. With those regulations becoming stricter, it required manufacturers to make the front end of their cars squishier. Seriously. Instead of the pointy, flat-nose look, regulations called for a front end that would twist in the event of hitting a pedestrian. They basically said, “cars must now be ugly and bulbous because, on occasion, stupid people get run over!” This safety regulation is only for European countries. Though EU regulations don’t affect the cars made for the US market, manufacturers will follow global rules so that one size fits all. Due to changing tastes, cost of production, and safety standards, pop-up headlights had nearly all vanished by the 2000s.

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Pop-up headlights can also be commonly called hidden headlamps, with their main goal to conceal the headlights when not in use. The hidden headlights streamlined the look of your sports car and improved the aero styling, not to mention a fun feature for any car to have. Pop-up headlights seemed to bring cars to life, giving them human-like qualities with an eye-lid effect. It was common for enthusiasts to use these headlights to “wink” at other cars nearby for fun. Nowadays, HIDs and LEDs have pretty much-taken command over the headlight world. They are brighter and give drivers a much better view of the road ahead. Believe it or not, there are also upgraded LED headlight options for pop-up headlights. Companies like Morimoto make high-quality LED-sealed beam replacement units, so you don’t have to be left back in the past.

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Are Pop-up Headlights Illegal?

As we’ve mentioned previously, pop-up headlights are not illegal. Car manufacturers could technically still build new cars with pop-up headlights. The only catch is – they’d have to comply with the current safety standard regulations. That is the tricky part. While the return of pop-up headlights, in theory, could happen… it isn’t cost-effective enough for manufacturers to consider as a viable option.


On top of the constantly changing safety regulations, pop-up headlights had their own issues. Unfortunately, a lot of hidden headlights had electrical errors that helped promote the dismissal of the pop-up headlights. If you pressed the activation button quickly, drivers could get their headlights to wink. This would cause one headlight to be popped open while the other one remained shut. While this was fun for enthusiasts sitting in traffic, it was a huge safety hazard for nighttime driving. It was deemed unreliable and unacceptable for the increasing safety standards.

Where Did Pop-up Headlights Come From?

The pop-up headlight was first introduced on the Cord 810 in 1936. The concept and idea were simple, hide the headlight when not in use. In 1936, headlights were just becoming a standardized safety feature in vehicles. By the following years in 1984, sealed beam headlamps became a mandatory feature. In America, pop-up headlights began to play an integral role in the car culture. Buick, Dodge, and Ford all started using pop-up technology on their own cars, such as the 1956 Pontiac Club de Mar and the 1961 Plymouth Valiant. Overseas in Europe, Ferrari was just beginning to use them on their Ferrari 365 models.


Pop-up headlights gained traction in the 1970s but so did the safety concerns. By then, regulations required headlights to be much higher than manufacturers had done previously. This height was much higher than what designers wanted on a low-rise sports car. Using the pop-up headlight was the perfect solution to meet regulations while still achieving a good-looking vehicle.

By the time 1985 came around, the DOT started approving molded body integrated headlights. These are the types of headlights you see on modern cars today cased inside the housing on the front of the vehicle. With the approval of molded headlights and growing safety concerns from pop-up headlights, it’s clear to see why manufacturers started to change their designs by the end of the 90s. Instead of molding the car around the placement of the headlights, they were able to mold the headlights to the car in an attractive manner so appearance was no longer a problem.


While we no longer have pop-up headlights being featured on new cars, it doesn’t mean they’re gone completely. Car enthusiasts will always have a love and appreciation for this once-popular automotive fad – a good practice of appreciating the past while we still welcome the new. Pop-up headlights went from being an inconvenience to manufacturers to being a major component of some of the most iconic cars. Without those safety regulations becoming stricter, we might’ve never seen pop-up headlights in the first place. They've definitely left their mark on history, but still have a huge following and appreciation in modern times. While today’s headlights have revolutionized the standards for safety, it's safe to say we may never see the pop-up headlights again. Instead, we must appreciate the ones we already have. Most people are happy to say goodbye to outdated innovations, but the pop-up headlights left many enthusiasts feeling sad to say their final goodbye.

To name a few, here is a list of some of our favorite cars with pop-up headlights:

  • Porsche 924
  • Mazda Miata
  • Toyota MR2
  • Nissan 240sx
  • Pontiac Fierro
  • Mazda RX-7
  • Lancia Stratos
  • Ferrari F40
  • BMW M1
  • Lamborghini Diablo
  • Honda NSX
  • Opel GT
  • SAAB Sonett III

Have any questions about the products mentioned? Just want to say ‘Hi’? Drop us a comment! We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, stick around the Better Automotive Lighting Blog for all the latest on the automotive lighting world. Also, check out our Facebook page we just started. Be sure to drop us a comment and leave a ‘Like’ to let us know how we are doing.


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