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What Is The Difference Between HID And LED Headlights?

The days of halogen bulbs being the go-to choice for car headlights are being left behind in the dust – now it is very much about the newer LED and HID options.

Both of these technologies have existed for a while, but it’s only in the last few years that they’re becoming prominent in car headlight manufacturing.

What’s the difference between them, and which is better?

LED headlights are longer-lasting and brighter than HID headlights but HID are cheaper. Both work well in projector housings, but LEDs are better in reflector housings, provided you get a matching bulb for your car or replace the bowl.

That only scratches the surface, though – there’s a lot to compare between the two different bulb types, so let’s take a look at:

  • The key differences between LED and HID headlights
  • Whether they’re compatible with halogen housing
  • Which bulb is brighter

Key Differences Between LED And HID Headlights

comparison of HID vs LED

Before getting into the performance comparisons, it’s good to understand the different technologies and how they work.

As this will give you important context for why the bulbs perform differently.

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, and they are entirely electronic light. Light is generated when a current is passed through a semiconductor in the diode.

HID stands for High-Intensity Discharge, and they work very differently. The bulb contains an inert gas (usually xenon) and two separate conductors.

A current is passed between the conductors, arcing through the gas, which causes a reaction that then generates light.

Two very different technologies, and yet both are popular in modern headlights. They each have pros and cons, so let’s put them side-by-side so you can see which is the better choice.

HID vs LED Comparison Table

Headlight from Q7 Audi car

For the sake of comparing, let’s look at a number of criteria.

I’ve included halogen too, because it’s interesting to see how much better the modern headlights are compared to older bulbs.

Criteria LED headlights HID headlights Old halogen headlights
Brightness (lumens) 9,000 8,000 1,000
Effective distance 300m / 985ft 300m / 985ft 100m / 328 ft
Bulb lifespan 30,000 – 50,000 hours 2,000 to 8,000 hours 450 to 1,000 hours
Energy use 25 watts 30 watts 55 watts
Temperature Cool Warm-hot Hot
Ballast required? No Yes No
Cooling required? Yes No No
Cost $$$ $$ $
Start-up time Instant Up to 2 seconds Near-instant
Energy efficiency >90% 70-80% 20%


Both LEDs and HID headlights are much brighter bulbs than old halogens.

LEDs are slightly brighter, but the impact on your ability to see between LED and HID is minimal – both do a great job.

Effective distance

Again, LEDs and HID massively outperformed old halogen bulbs on effective distance, trebling what halogens were capable of.

With brightness and effective distance being so much better, it also means that the proper directing of light is vital. Otherwise, LEDs and HIDs could easily blind oncoming drivers.

Bulb lifespan

LEDs have a much longer lifespan than HIDs and halogen bulbs – easily long enough for the entire life that you’ll own and use the car, even if you spend a lot of time driving at night.

Energy use

LEDs and HIDs require less power as a bulb to run, although the amounts are minimal.

The impact on your battery may be inconsequential as the bulbs may still draw a similar amount of power before stepping it down to the right amount to power the bulb anyway.


Halogen bulbs run hot, and HID bulbs usually do too.

LEDs tend to run cooler – they still generate a lot of heat, but that’s contained within the bulb and must be carried away through a fan or a heatsink.

This actually means some drivers prefer HID bulbs to LEDs, in wintery conditions anyway – as the bulb will melt the snow on the headlight.

LEDs won’t melt the snow, so your headlight performance is compromised.

Ballast required

HID headlights require a ballast to be installed. This works to maintain the correct voltage for the bulb.

Otherwise, it will just keep drawing more and more power until it blows.

It’s an extra step required in the installation process, but once done, it’ll just work as it should.

Cooling required

LED bulbs require a cooling method – either a fan or a heatsink.

Both can impact how you install the bulb, and you may need to customize the dust cap covering the headlight housing to fit the required cooling method.


Simple enough – LED headlights are the most expensive option but last the longest. HID bulbs are more expensive than halogens, but again, they have a lot of benefits.

If you don’t drive much at night or live in a snowy region, you may prefer the cheaper HID bulbs to LEDs.

Start-up time

LED headlights switch on immediately when you need them, halogen bulbs are essentially the same, but HIDs need a short warm-up.

It’s not usually an issue as it is just a matter of seconds, but it does mean it’s better to switch them on and wait before you start driving – a mild inconvenience.

Energy efficiency

Halogens are terribly inefficient as a light source. Of the power they draw, only 20% goes towards generating light – the other 80% is wasted heat.

HID bulbs vary between 70% and 80%, but LEDs are the most efficient – 90% of the power they draw goes towards their purpose of generating light.

Are LED And HID Headlights Compatible With Halogen Housing?

projector vs reflector headlight

To answer this question, you need to understand the difference in housing types. There are two – reflector and projector.

Halogen headlights use a reflector housing, which means they have a reflector bowl. The bulb shines onto this bowl, reflecting the light as a beam.

Projector housings are designed for bulbs that direct light in a single direction instead, without scattering the light.

So, can LEDs and HIDs be used in halogen reflector housings?

HIDs can’t – they’re designed for projector housings. If your car has a halogen reflector housing, you’ll need to replace the entire thing if you want to install HID bulbs.

With LEDs, the answer isn’t quite as clear. They work well in projector housings, and will sometimes work in reflector housings, but they can have problems.

You can buy LED bulbs that are designed for your reflector housing.

You just need to use compatibility checkers to ensure your chosen bulb suits your car.

These bulbs have diodes positioned to create the desired beam in an existing reflector bowl.

So, if you currently have halogen headlights, it’d be easier to upgrade to LEDs, provided you check the bulb you’re buying is a fit for your car.

Are LED Headlights Brighter Than HID?

Mercedes LED headlights

LED headlights are brighter than HID – they typically have 9,000 lumens, although sometimes they go as high as 10,000. HID bulbs tend to average around 8,000 lumens.

But in real terms, that difference is negligible. The extra 1,000 lumens isn’t going to improve your visibility a lot on the road because both values are already so high.

LEDs will be brighter, but HID bulbs are easily bright enough.

Final Words

It’s hard to say whether LED or HID headlights are better than the other because it depends on your car and your driving circumstances.

LEDs are the way to go if you’re someone who does a lot of night-time driving. Buy them once, and they’ll last for the lifetime of your car.

But if you do most of your driving during the day, especially if you live somewhere where it snows regularly, the cheaper and warmer HID bulbs might be preferable.

Which headlights do you have in your car now? Are you considering switching to a different bulb type soon?

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