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How Good are LED Headlights?

How Good are LED Headlights?

Where most factory-fitted vehicle lighting uses halogen (or increasingly xenon) technology, more and more drivers are making the switch to LED. Why? Well, in a nutshell, LED technology offers superior brightness, a whiter light and a very long bulb lifespan. But there's more to LED headlights than that, as PowerBulbs is about to explore…  

First, let's remind ourselves of what LED technology is and how it differs from, in particular, halogen technology. LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. Without getting too bogged down in technical details, an LED is a semiconductor light source – being between a conductor and an insulator in terms of electrical conductivity. In order to create light, when current flows through an LED, electrons in the semiconductor recombine with electron holes and release energy in the form of photons (or particles of light).

This light-creating release of energy is much different to that of incandescent light bulbs such as halogen. Where halogen light is emitted through intense heating and so requires (and wastes) a large amount of energy, LED headlight bulbs require a much lower energy consumption. As such, LED technology is generally very low-wattage, which in turn allows for cooler operation and a longer lifetime. What's more, LEDs tend to be smaller and stockier than more fragile glass bulbs, allowing for increased durability and reliability.

This robustness of design and lower energy consumption makes LED headlights a very economical choice of technology – despite the initial price increase from halogen. Where a long-life halogen bulb, such as the Philips EcoVision, may allow around 1500 hours of usage, for instance, an LED headlight bulb (eg the Philips X-tremeUltinon gen2) offers a massive 5000 hours. And where a halogen bulbs' extra performance or whiter light comes at the cost of longevity, LED headlight bulbs achieve an improved light performance while retaining a long lifespan.

As well as huge advantages to headlight bulb lifespan, LED technology offers another crucial improvement: light output. Put simply, LED headlight bulbs can produce both a stronger and whiter light than halogen or xenon alternatives (where the technology requires a choice between whiter or brighter light). The Philips Ultinon Pro9000 LED headlight bulb range, for instance, is capable of producing a huge light beam up to 250% brighter than a standard halogen, with a 5800K bright white light colour.

So far, so good, but there are some things to bear in mind before purchasing. Firstly, not all LED headlights are equal: many cheaply made LED products pervade the market. Some may offer inconsistent beam patterns, others short lifespans, flickering or even inaccurate (and dangerous) beam positioning. LED headlights are only as good as the manufacturers who made them and the companies who sell them, so it's important to go with trustworthy brands (eg Philips, OSRAM) and authorised sellers – such as PowerBulbs.

And though LED headlights offer great performance, style and efficiency, they are slightly pricier than halogen. However, it's worth bearing in mind the money saved in the long run during the greatly increased lifespan of LED headlight bulbs. And though great strides have been made recently to make LED headlight bulbs more accessible, it is crucial to check the specific range's literature and your vehicle's manual to avoid complications upon installation. Some vehicles, for example, exhibit bulb error warnings on the dashboard after installing: this is perfectly harmless and is simply caused by the vehicle's CAN bus system not recognising the lower-wattage LED technology after changing from higher-wattage halogen. This can be simply resolved by installing a CANbus control unit / adapter.

One final issue is that of road legality. Though LED Daylight Running Light Kits come factory-fitted and legal on some modern cars, upgrading your factory-fitted halogen (or xenon) headlight bulbs to LEDs for use on public roads and highways is not currently permitted by law. As such, LED headlight bulbs – while offering a perfectly safe, bright and user-friendly light – can only legally be used in private driving settings (eg on private property, rally driving etc).

So, how good are LED headlight bulbs? In terms of light output, style and bulb lifetime expectancy, they really are unbeatable! Just make sure you buy from a reliable brand and seller and you'll be experiencing huge lighting improvements in no time.

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About the Author

John Conboy is the founder of PowerBulbs.com, a UK based automotive lighting specialist, which ships bulbs worldwide. John has 20+ years experience in the industry and in that time has become an approved partner of Philips and OSRAM.