Car lighting has come a long way. As automobiles have advanced, so has car lighting. Back in the 1880s, we used acetylene lamps because of the flame’s resilience to the wind. In the 21st century, vehicles obviously travel at much faster rates than they did in the 1900s and our downroad visibility needed to be improved.
These days there are a number of options when it comes to headlamps. So much so that drivers often pick headlights based on their added aesthetic to their vehicles. Other than good looks, there really isn’t clear reasoning as to why you should pick one type over the other.
Let’s take a look at how these various styles of headlights work and some of the distinct advantages and disadvantages of each.
The 3 Types of Headlights
Halogen headlights are an improvement of incandescent lights (sealed beam lights). Incandescent lights are still used for classic cars. With that said, Halogens have truly taken over as the standard in most vehicles.
There are five halogens, however, only two are used in halogen headlights: Iodine and Bromine. Halogens are monovalent elements and they readily form negative ions. Halogen lights use a combination of iodide and bromine gases that prevent the tungsten filament from breaking. They also prevent suit formation (blackening) inside the bulb.
Halogen lights produce a lot of heat as electricity flows through the filament and lights up the bulb. The heat production makes handling these bulbs quite difficult. Even small amounts of moisture from your skin can diminish how they perform.
- Costs of manufacturing are relatively low. Meaning the bulbs are cheap compared to other options.
- Color temperature is usually around 3000K resulting in a yellow hue.
- Lumen output is fairly low (about 1500). Meaning downroad visibility is sacrificed.
2. Xenon, HID, Arc
Xenon or high-intensity discharge (HID) lights don’t use a metal filament to create light. These lights create a high voltage arc between two electrodes. You can think of this like a controlled bolt of lightning happening inside a small tube.
The HID bulb is filled with xenon gas. As the xenon gas ignites it produces a bright white/bluish light. This process creates far less heat in comparison to halogen. However, in order for the lights to come to full brightness, they need time to warm up. Once they are warmed up they are quite bright. Some countries have even deemed these lights too bright and aren’t permitted to be used.
- Produces brighter light. Around 3,000 lumens.
- A lifetime of around 2,000 hours.
- Can be too bright and can irritate oncoming drivers due to the combination of 5,000K to 8000K color temperature and lumen rating.
- Can take a bit to warm up.
- Can be expensive.
LEDs or light emitting diodes are popular in newer cars. Retrofitting LED headlights is also very easy and the upgrade only takes 30 minutes.
These lights work by converting electricity into light through diodes inside the headlight; the process is known as electroluminescence. This process is also more energy efficient compared to halogen as little to no heat is created. This means that the lights are able to last a lot longer.
LED headlights are going to be a bit more expensive. They also last longer and the intensity of their light is stronger. This means your downroad visibility is improved and you’re safer on the road. The light is also tolerable for other drivers.
- Easy to retrofit
- Brighter than halogen and can range from 4,000 to 12,000 lumens
- Energy efficient
- Slight blue hue of 6,000K temperature.
- A bit more expensive than halogen.
As it stands, the above are the 3 most popular lights on the market. However, advances by German companies like BMW are working towards offering Laser headlights. At the moment they are only available as an add-on for $10,000. They are also only equipped as brights because their light is either off or full-bright.
LEDs seem to be the best of both worlds. While they are a bit more expensive than halogen, they are also more energy efficient. They can produce brighter light than halogen and it’s not as intense as HID.