If you live in an area where it’s often cold, or you’re planning a winter road-trip to visit family for the holidays, then you’ll no doubt be making sure your car is prepped for the weather. And one thing you should never neglect is your headlights.
Whether you’re replacing an old bulb that’s blown or is likely to soon, or you just want to upgrade, LED headlights to offer long life and excellent energy efficiency. But how do they hold up in the cold weather, and do they even work?
LED headlights work perfectly in cold weather. They don’t generate or rely on heat to create light and work at maximum efficiency, even in cold temperatures. However, the downside is that snow can stick to the headlamp without melting, which could obscure the view.
In this article I’m going to explain to you:
- How efficient LED lights are in cold weather
- The main problem with LED headlights in winter
- Potential issues with LED headlight brightness in bad weather
Are LED Headlights As Efficient In Cold Weather As Normal?
LED headlights aren’t just ‘as efficient’ in colder weather – they’re actually more efficient than they are in warmer conditions. I’ve explained it already in detail in my article on domestic LED lights in cold weather, but I’ll give a summary here.
Basically, LED lighting doesn’t require or emit heat when working, as they are semiconductors that simply cause electrons to pass from a negatively charged component to a positively charged one, which creates light.
High ambient temperature can negatively impact this process because higher temperatures reduce voltage flow, which means less light is produced.
Most modern LED bulbs have a built-in heat sink to help reduce the diode’s operating temperature to keep it efficient. Still, it’s not needed in cold weather – the conditions keep the diode working at its best, which means a brighter light.
That means that, when you’re driving in snow and ice conditions, you can be sure that your LED headlights will produce a strong light output that will make seeing where you’re going through the blizzard much easier.
What Is The Main Problem With LED Headlights In Winter?
There is one problem with LED headlights in winter conditions, and it’s again related to heat. While it’s fantastic that they work so well without worrying about it being too cold, it would actually be beneficial if they did generate some warmth, just like traditional halogens.
The reason for that is snow and slush. If you’re driving in really poor conditions with heavy snowfall, or if the road is kicking up a lot of slushy, icy water, it could stick to your headlight housings.
When you’re using LED lights, they aren’t producing enough heat to melt the snow compared to non-LED lights.
In comparison, halogen projectors act as a heating element melting snow and ice off the headlight.
Sure, there’s some residual heat from the engine, but that doesn’t conduct well through the plastic housing, so it’s not uncommon for snow and slush to stick.
When it does, it can obscure the light, significantly dimming it. And if the snowfall is so heavy that it’s sticking to your lens, that’s when you need powerful beams the most.
Also LED lights usually have heat sinks installed outside the headlight housing, so the heat doesn’t reach the front too.
How To Keep Snow Off LED Headlights?
It’s not really ideal to keep pulling over to clear your lights of snow. Sometimes it isn’t safe, particularly on single-lane roads with nowhere clear for you to stop the car.
In fact, that’s an extremely dangerous decision, as the reduced visibility means a stopped car becomes a hazard for other drivers – at just 35MPH the stopping distance in the snow is estimated at around 600 feet for most cars.
So, you need to be prepared if you’ve got LEDs and you’re planning to drive where snow is likely.
If your car has built-in lens washers, then you already have a solution to the problem. Consider adding a slightly higher concentration of deicer to your spray tank to make sure it can tackle heavy snow quickly.
For cars without washers, you’ll need more of a DIY solution. A hydrophobic spray (Amazon) is a good option – you can usually find one in your local hardware or motor store, or online, for around $10. These sprays are designed to stick to a surface and then repel any liquid, including snow, as it makes contact, so it should slide right off.
If you don’t have any hydrophobic spray available, another solution is your average car wax (Amazon). Apply a layer to your headlights with a cloth, and it should help make them more waterproof and slick, stopping snow from sticking.
Finally, if you’ve neglected to clean your car in a while and you’ve no wax to hand, and you need to drive somewhere urgently, simple cooking oil from the kitchen can help.
It won’t last long, but it will help to stop any ice or liquid from getting a grip on your headlight housing, so you can make your journey safely. Ideally, if it’s a long drive, you’d add more cooking oil at each rest stop (or switch to wax if you can buy it).
I will also add a little reminder that if you are using LED tail lights, you should treat them the same way as front lights. The visibility from the back is not less important, especially for vehicles behind you.
Can LED Headlights Blind Other Drivers In Snow?
LED headlights have a very bright light output, and studies have shown that a lot of drivers find them to be dazzling, although many also can’t say they can tell the difference too. However, if your headlights are positioned correctly, then snow or ice won’t be any more reflective than other weather conditions, nor will it bounce back to you.
What LED headlights can do, if they’re white, is illuminate the snow and rain more. While it won’t blind you or other drivers, it can mean that you see more of the weather and less of the road. Also, if you’ve chosen blue or purple LED headlights, they can be completely useless in snow and illegal.
If you often drive in bad weather conditions, consider having yellow LEDs installed as your fog lights, and using these when it snows or rains heavily – the warmer light will cut through and give you better visibility.
LED headlights offer a lot of advantages over halogen bulbs and are extremely effective in cold weather. You just need to work out a solution that will stop snow and sleet from sticking to your housings as you drive, unless you want to keep pulling over to clear them.
Once you’ve solved this problem, though, you’re rewarded with excellent visibility through headlights that will last for many thousands of hours, ensuring a safer driving experience with less likelihood of bulbs burning out mid-journey.
Have you tried any of the DIY solutions I’ve mentioned to keep your headlights clean? Or have you had any other bad experiences driving in wintery conditions that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.