While old-school halogen still rules the road, LED headlights are becoming more popular.
Drivers may soon notice brighter and whiter headlights on the road as the popularity of traditional halogen headlights continues to dim.
Halogen still ranks highest as the most common headlight on the market, but several alternatives, including xenon-based and light-emitting diode (LED) headlights, are growing in popularity. Here’s how the options compare in terms of performance, safety and price.
Headlight versus headlight
According to Motor Trend, you’ll notice several important differences in light produced by LEDs, xenon and halogen headlights. LEDs have the coolest color temperature at around 6,000 Kelvin, which makes them appear whiter than daylight. Xenon headlights come in at around 4,500 K, while halogens round out the list at a yellowish 3,200 K.
When it comes to reflection, LEDs offer better light return from road signs, while xenon lamps better illuminate the sides of the road. In part, this is because xenon lamps typically produce more light, measured in lumens, than LEDs.
Both LEDs and xenon provide a large pattern of light on the road, whereas halogens offer a small pool of yellow light directly in front of the vehicle. If you’re buying a new car, expect LED headlights to be the premium option, and make sure your auto repair shop is equipped to handle LED headlight replacements and repairs.
If you’re looking for intense light and don’t mind the glare, xenon may be the best choice. LEDs, meanwhile, offer great light, low power and long life, but often come with a bigger price tag.
Halogen lights are the most popular lights on the market and are found in most consumer cars. These bulbs are similar to familiar incandescent lights and use heated tungsten filaments to produce light. Halogen headlights produce a significant amount of heat, and even small deposits of skin moisture on the bulb during replacement can affect their performance.
The main benefits of halogen bulbs include low replacement costs and longevity.
Xenon lights, also known as high-intensity discharge (HID) lights, produce a brighter light than halogen bulbs and with far less heat. The blue-white light emitted by xenon bulbs is so bright, it has been known to “blind” other drivers.
These headlights require a large amount of power at the outset to produce their first burst of light, but once fully operational, they require much less energy to maintain constant brightness.
Xenon bulbs have a long lifespan and emit little heat, but they cost more than halogen bulbs.
LEDs are the most recent innovation in headlight technology. Instead of gas and filaments, LEDs rely on small diodes that produce light when electric current excites their electrons. They need an low amount of power to work but do produce a significant amount of heat on the diode. This requires heat control systems at the bottom of the headlight and near other car components. If this system fails, not just the light, but other electronics could be affected.
The small size of LEDs means they can be formed into almost any shape, and their light is naturally directional rather than diffuse, making them an excellent choice for headlights.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version on an article originally posted on Nov. 20, 2013.