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Do LED Bulbs Work in Projector Headlights?

Move over HIDs; there’s a new type of headlight in town.

Light-emitting diodes have already overtaken CFLs to become the most popular type of interior lighting. It seems that this trend is set to expand into the world of vehicle headlights.

LEDs are a brighter, more efficient alternative to HID and halogen bulbs in vehicle headlights. Research indicates that in 2019 around 86% of cars used LED bulbs in their headlights, an increase of 31% from 2018. But LED bulbs can only be used in projector headlights and continue to be unsafe to use in reflector headlights.

Vehicle headlights have certainly come a long way since traditional tungsten filament lamps. But is it true that brighter is always better?

In this article, I’ll be exploring how bright LED bulbs are, how LEDs compare to HIDs, and the most efficient brightness.

What Are Projector Headlights?

projector headlight

Let’s start by divulging what is meant by ‘projector headlights.’

Projectors are a relatively new type of headlight housing, first introduced to vehicles in the 1980s. They consist of a light set inside a metal bowl, mirrored reflectors, a shutter, and a lens.

The shutter is used to cut off haphazard beams so that light is only directed at the road, and other drivers aren’t blinded. The lens, whereas, is rounded so that it intensifies the beam of light. This focuses it, driving it further down the road to increase the distance you can see.

Projector vs Reflector Headlights: Main Difference

projector vs reflector headlight

The main difference between projector and reflector headlights is in the design of using a lens and a shutter – reflectors don’t have those.

That means that with a reflector headlight, the beam is not as intense, but it is much wider, and therefore more likely to blind oncoming drivers. Projector headlights have a much more focused light beam pattern, pointed downwards onto the road.

It’s for that reason that you can’t use LED bulbs in a reflector headlight without a purpose-built reflector bowl, otherwise they’re too bright and will dazzle drivers of other vehicles.

Also, because the beam is less focused with reflectors, sometimes there can be darker patches. With projector headlights, the intensified beam is much more consistent.

How Do I Know If I Have Projector Headlights On My Vehicle?

It’s straightforward to tell if you have projector headlights on your car. Simply look at them. The lens is positioned right at the front of the projector headlight, so you can see it straight away. If you can see a fish-eye shape glass surface covering the bulb, it’s a projector.

If, instead, you can see the dome interior, then it’ll be a reflector. The bulb will be sticking out and ‘uncovered’ (within the housing, of course) so that the light can reflect around the dome.

Are LEDs Bright Enough For Projector Headlights?

Projector headlights have typically used halogen or HID bulbs since they were first introduced, so how do LEDs compare?

LED lights are up to 300% brighter than standard halogen headlights and around the same brightness level as HIDs. So LEDs are definitely bright enough to be used as projector lights.

However, LEDs are criticized for their inability to illuminate long distances. An LED headlight will have a very intense foreground beam but struggle to project further away, resulting in safety concerns.

Even with the new technology, low beam headlights don’t always provide enough forward seeing distance for the driver to react to an object in the road and stop in time. Jennifer Stockburger - Consumer Report

It’s easy to see why this is a downfall of your driving experience. At high speeds, this lack of projection means that LEDs can have potentially fatal consequences.

LED vs HID: Which Is Better For Projector Headlights?

projector headlight

Back in the 1900s, when electric headlights were first invented, halogen bulbs were the norm. During the 1990s, halogens were gradually replaced by HIDs, more recently, by LED projector headlights. But which is better?

High-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs are often referred to as xenons. They consist of two tungsten electrodes inside a capsule that is filled with xenon and metal salts.

When an electric current is sent through the electrodes, a reaction occurs. The metal salts evaporate to form a light-emitting plasma.

The result is a light that is three times brighter than traditional halogens. HIDs are also favored because they’re more energy-efficient, using 35w of power.

However, the downside of HIDs is that they do not provide instantaneous light.

Most HIDs take between 10 and 20 seconds to achieve full brightness. This is a definite disadvantage in emergency and restricted vision scenarios.

On the other hand, LEDs produce light using a semiconductor. LEDs were first seen in car headlights in 2006 with the Lexus LS 600h.

More recently, in 2013, Audi introduced a system that uses 25 individual LEDs per headlight.

Improvements in technology mean that LEDs are even more efficient than HIDs, using 15 to 18w of power. Likewise, LEDs have unmatched longevity and will often outlive the vehicle itself.

Unlike HIDs, LEDs do not require any time to start up and go from dark to full brightness immediately.

The problem with retrofitting LED bulbs into projectors is the need for a heat sink. Located at the back of the bulb in the engine bay, this heat sink is usually around an inch long. But this limits the ability of manufacturers to make LEDs for specific car makes and models.

All-in-all it’s fair to say that for projectors, LED headlights are preferable to HIDs due to their increased lumen output, longevity, efficiency, and immediate start-up.

But the requirement of a heat sink means that LEDs may not be available for all vehicles.

Here is the video that expands more on that topic.

What Brightness Is Best For Projector Headlights?

The goal of a headlight is to provide enough light that you can see the road ahead, but not too much light that you blind other drivers.

The brightness of a bulb is measured in lumens. Traditional halogen bulbs emit around 1300 lumens, which is perceived as adequate. However, the introduction of HID bulbs with a lumen output of about 3000 was a welcomed innovation, and drivers praised the increased visibility they provided.

But with the growing prevalence of LED headlights comes another lumen increase. LED bulbs typically emit 2000 to 4000 lumens and have cooler color temperatures. This bears the question: “how bright is too bright“?

A study by RAC found that 65% of motorists have been dazzled by LED lights, even when they are dipped!

Headlights should allow you to see objects that are at least 50 to about 100 meters ahead, but any more and become dangerous.

Dazzling other drivers can cause them to temporarily lose sight of the road, which increases the risk of an accident.

  Halogen HID LED
Lumen Output 1300 3000 2000 – 4000
Colour Temperature (Kelvins) 3200K 4500K 6000K

What Types of LED Lights Works Best With Projector Headlights?

led bulb for headlight

If you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and decided you want to upgrade your vehicle headlights to LED bulbs, you have two choices.

Firstly, you can purchase an LED replacement kit. Intended to be quick and easy to install, these plug-and-play kits can be directly swapped over from old halogen bulbs.

With replacement kits, the most common type of bulb is an H7 LED.

SuperBrightLEDs have a handy resource that allows you to input the year, make and model of your car to find the best LED to use as a replacement.

Alternatively, you can buy an entirely new headlight fixture complete with LED bulbs.

The benefit of this method is that you don’t have to worry about getting the right parts, bulb compatibility, or size, but this option will be more expensive.

With either approach, it’s essential to be mindful of the law.

Every region has its own road safety laws. On the national level, LED bulbs are forbidden. Still, in most cases, you will get away with LED projectors unless they are extremely blinding to others.

Some states are stricter about the maximum brightness and color temperature of LED bulbs.

If you have decided to give LED lights a go, please ensure you are only buying high-quality certified lights from renowned retailers and not some cheap parts dealer who could rip you off and sell you dangerous items.

I would recommend checking out LED headlights from Lasfit.com. These guys are specializing in LED lighting systems for cars, so their products meet all safety standards, with a wide selection of lights.

Also read: Why Do LED Turn Signals Flicker?

Final Words

It’s fair to say that headlights have indeed become brighter and whiter over the last two decades. As the use of halogens continues to dim, we can expect this trend to continue.

In fact, in 2014, Audi introduced laser headlights that claim to be twice the range of even the brightest LED.

What’s your opinion – are bright LED lights the way forward, or do they constitute a safety hazard? Does your area have any particular laws relating to headlights?

Leave a comment down below.

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