Headlight Switches & Headlight Relays
© Copyright 2019, R. Fleischer
This article was originally written (and since then, expanded/edited numerous times) because someone asked about the left-hand switch of BMW Airhead motorcycles if using higher powered headlight bulbs. He did not understand why the existing stock headlight relay would not automatically eliminate wear on the switchgear. The simplified reason is that the stock headlight relay does not do what many think it does, at least on most, especially later, Airhead models. Variances of his question have come up many times, often on the Airheads LIST, but also on various other forums, and even for other BMW models.
It is important to know that the main purpose of the stock headlight relay FROM 1978 is to turn off the headlight, leaving the dash lights and rear running lamp on, during the time the starter motor is cranking the engine. The relay turns off the headlight during cranking, and that's all.The stock headlight relay from 1978 also does not do theswitching between high & low beams. NOTE that the high beam flasher ('passing lamp') function remains, due to a green wire from the ignition switch, as a separate circuit. The headlight relay may or may not turn off the headlight, during engine cranking, depending on year, model, & country shipped-to. On some Airheads, the high beam flasher button ('passing lamp' function) MAY be available with the ignition off. It is a matter of where the green-colored wire goes to. It is easy to move a green wire at the ignition switch, and thereby have the ignition be ON, but the headlight OFF, in the PARK function, but there is more to this, and this is not the point of this article.
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