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Halogen, HID or LED

Halogen: Being able to reliably generate light with limited resources at a car’s disposal was a big problem for automotive engineers. Tungsten filaments like the ones commonly found in household incandescent light bulbs, were found to be the solution at the time. From around the 1950’s up until now these filaments have been encased in a glass bubble of halogen gas, in an attempt to improve performance and longevity. This is your standard sealed beam.

For the majority of their life, halogen lamps focused light down the road ahead via a lens that actually doubled as the headlight’s protective housing; now the two jobs are completely separate. Since about the mid 1990’s sealed beam halogen headlamps have been replaced with exterior casings made from polycarbonate instead of glass, which is both stronger and lighter than the previous sealed beam units are. Inside the polycarbonate headlamp casings you will generally find a series of complex computer-designed reflective cut-outs (generally pretty poorly compared to projectors) which attempt to focus light forward in a more uniform pattern.

Low cost and a lifespan of between 100 and 500 hours makes the halogen headlamp the most common type in use today. However many people are more appreciative of the safety, reliability, and performance of newer projector style headlamps with higher-output bulbs. In addition to longevity, the power draw of lamps have also drastically changed. Halogen bulbs draw around 55 watts and 5 amps (much of that being converted into heat rather than light) while HIDs and LEDs drawing under 35W and
                                                                                                                                                            Standard H1 Halogen Bulb

HID: HID stands for High-Intensity Discharge. The difference between an HID bulb and Halogen bulb is that an HID replaces the metal filament inside a standard bulb with a capsule of gas.

The light is emanated from an arc that discharges between two electrodes spaced closely together inside a sealed capsule. HID bulbs generally require a ballast, which closely regulates how much voltage is supplied to the capsule of gas. One thing to note is that HID’s put out a substantially higher amount of light than a standard Halogen bulb, whilst also consuming less power. This means less electrical strain on your vehicle and in most cases a longer bulb lifespan. The lifespan of HID bulbs is anywhere from 1500-2000 hours and can come in a variety of Kelvin (temperature/color of the bulb).

Most OEM HIDs are in the 4000K (K stands for Kelvin) range which emits a yellow halogen type color Bulb temperatures can range from 3000K to 30,000K however the higher the temperature, the less usable/visible light is available on the road. We recommend somewhere between 4500-5000K for a balance of crisp and visible light.                                            HID Bulb

Note: HID bulbs take approximately 20 seconds to reach their full brightness. When first ignited, they will only produce about 5-10% of their total output and gradually increase from there. Just the same, if power is cut to an HID bulb or it is turned off, it is imperative to let it cool for another 20 seconds before turning it back on. This will exponentially increase the lifespan of your bulbs.

Pictured Above: H1 HID bulbs with aftermarket ballasts

LED: LED’s have come a long way from simple little lights on your TV remote and computer to being key components in modern automotive lighting. LED lighting has taken over the automotive industry, and is now far more common than any other type of lighting technology. A large array of sizes of LED bulbs are employed in fog lamps, indicators / turn signals, as well as brake lights. Car designers and auto manufacturers began utilizing LED’s because their small size allowing them to be put into even tighter, thinner, and more distinctive shapes as seen in newer vehicles.

Pictured Above: Acura is now utilizing LED headlamps in many of their newly released cars.

For the last half decade, LED headlights were only available on cars retailing for around $150,000, like the AUDI A8, Lexus LS, etc. Recent advancements in the technology as well as bug fixes and improvements in heat dispersion and beam focusing have shotgunned LED lighting into the mainstream. While LEDs are a great way to go for the aftermarket industry, LEDs have just began to appear and are relatively new in headlamps.

LED headlamps also come in an array of styles, dimensions, and performance quality. There are companies that ONLY manufacture LED headlamps, and put millions of dollars into research and design for optimum light output and beam focusing. On the other end of the spectrum we have companies who are only out to make a dollar, and often mimic the basic aesthetics (similar to fake projector headlamps) but use extremely cheap, brittle, non-waterproofed and short life-span materials. A quality pair of 7” LED headlamps can fetch over $750, but you can find replicas that look the part for under $200. The difference between the two is like night and day, so always make sure to research the company you’re purchasing from.

A quality set of LED headlamps will provide an extreme improvement over an OEM sealed beam. Generally LED headlamps will come in a glass projector setting, so right off the bat you get a beam pattern that surpasses that of a sealed beam or H4 conversion. Power draw from an LED is substantially less than a sealed unit, and the power fed through an LED is more efficiently used. Efficiency means less wattage burnoff, less heat generated, and a safer, longer-lasting unit. The benefits are too good to ignore when compared to halogen lighting, and LED’s are one of many ways to really transform the look and attitude of your car.

One drawback to LED headlights is they still fall a bit shy of the brightness that can be achieved by HID lighting. That being said, LED’s are able to hit maximum brightness with one tenth of a second, and when compared to a halogen’s half-second time as well as an HID’s 15-second startup time, this is a huge benefit. For example, it is said that when LED’s are used in brake lights, they improved driver’s reaction times by approximately 30 percent. Pair that with a lifespan that exceeds halogen bulbs tenfold, and you have a winning combination.

Since LED headlamps are still one of the newest lighting technologies, the prices will remain a bit steep for awhile. Typically in LED headlamps, there are a series of multiple diodes to provide the light, and if one goes out it can get expensive (compared to HID or Halogen). The reason for this is because generally the diodes themselves are welded or soldered to a circuit board which is completely sealed. In most cases the entire headlamp assembly must be taken apart to replace a single diode, and if you’re paying someone to do that work for you, the labor costs can fetch a pretty penny. In some cases it’s more affordable to just buy a new unit if not still covered under warranty.