Move over HIDs, there’s a new type of headlight in town.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) 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 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 were using 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 the brightness of LED bulbs, how LEDs compare to HIDs, and the most efficient headlight brightness.
Are LEDs Bright Enough To Be Used In Projector Headlights?
Let’s start by divulging what is meant by ‘projector headlights.’
Projectors are a relatively new type of headlight housing, first introduced 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.
Unlike projectors, reflector headlights do not contain a shutter or specialized lens, which means the beams they emit are wider, albeit less focused. LED bulbs, therefore, cannot be used in reflector headlights, because the light is scattered and may dazzle other drivers.
Nevertheless, projector headlights have typically used halogen or HID bulbs, so how do LEDs compare?
LEDs are up to 300% brighter than standard halogen bulbs, and around the same level of brightness as HIDs. So LEDs are definitely bright enough to be used in projector headlights.
However, LEDs are criticized for their inability to illuminate long distances. Most LED bulbs have very intense foreground beams but struggle to project further away, resulting in safety concerns.
It’s easy to see why this is a downfall. At high speeds, this lack of projection means that LEDs can have potentially fatal consequences.
LED vs HID: Which Is Better For Projector Headlights?
Back in the 1900s, when electric headlights were first invented, halogen bulbs were the norm. During the 1990s, halogens were gradually replaced by HIDs, and more recently, by LEDs. 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, and 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.
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 can go from dark to full brightness immediately.
The problem with retrofitting LED bulbs into projector headlights 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 LED bulbs are preferable to HIDs in projector headlights due to their increased brightness, 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 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 that emit around 3000 lumens 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.
|Lumen Output||1300||3000||2000 – 4000|
|Colour Temperature (Kelvins)||3200K||4500K||6000K|
What Types of LED Lights Works Best With Projector Headlights?
If you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and decided you want to upgrade your headlights to LEDs, 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 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 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. Still, some are stricter about the maximum brightness and color temperature of LED bulbs. In some places, headlight modifications are even entirely outlawed.
If you have decided to give LED lights a go, please ensure you are only buying high quality certified lights from renowned retailers.
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 LEDs the way forward, or do they constitute a safety hazard? Does your area have any peculiar laws relating to headlights?
Leave a comment down below.