Xenon Bulbs: A Complete Guide

Xenon Bulbs: A Complete Guide

Xenon Bulbs: A Complete Guide

Headlights are one of the most important safety features of your vehicle - they increase your visibility of the road ahead, allow you to be seen by others, and can be used to alert drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists of an upcoming hazard.

Headlight technology is continually evolving, with new products entering the market all the time offering different colours, styles, and intensities of light.

We understand it can be confusing knowing which headlight option to go for, so that is why we have created this complete guide to xenon bulbs. Here you will find out what xenon headlights are, how they work and what benefits they have over common alternatives such as halogen bulbs and LEDs.

Read on to learn more.

What are Xenon Headlights?

Xenon headlights (also known as High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights) use xenon gas particles and an electric arc to emit a white-blue light. The high intensity, bright light that is emitted illuminates a much greater area than that of a traditional halogen bulb.

When were Xenon Headlights Introduced?

Xenon bulbs have been around since 1951 when German lighting experts OSRAM introduced them for household lamps. However, the technology didn’t make its way to car headlights until 1991, when BMW added xenon bulbs to the 7 Series for the first time. They were introduced as an innovative, energy-efficient option, that would provide a greater light output and consume less energy than traditional halogen bulbs.

What do Xenon Headlights Look Like?

Xenon headlights produce a bright light with a colour temperature between 4,000 – 6,000K. You can often distinguish headlights by looking at the beam pattern they produce. For example, if you turn your headlights on and they quickly beam yellow holding the same intensity, they are likely to be using halogen bulbs. If they flash for a second and then develop into a high intensity, white-blue light this is likely to be an HID, and if they instantaneously flash on white this is likely to be an LED headlight.

How do Xenon Lights Work?

The light in a xenon headlight is produced by an electrical current which jumps from one electrode to another forming an arc, whilst immersed in xenon gas. The xenon gas amplifies the brightness, helping it to reach the temperature required to emit a high intensity beam very quickly.

What is 'Xenon'?

Xenon is a chemical element and a noble gas. When left in its natural state, it is colourless, odourless, non-reactive and dense. However, once exposed to an electrical current, it expels an intense, bright white-blue light.

What are the Pros and Cons of Xenon Headlights?

With a wide range of halogen, xenon, and LED headlight options on offer, it is important to distinguish the pros and cons of each type of bulb in order to select the best match for your vehicle and needs.

Put simply, xenon bulbs produce a brighter light that shines further than typical halogen bulbs, making xenon a great headlight option for those who do a lot of night time driving. Xenon bulbs also require much less energy to power and produce far less heat (wasted energy) than halogen bulbs, making them a more efficient option.

However, they are expensive to replace especially compared to traditional halogen bulbs. Plus, due to the intense light that a xenon bulb emits, drivers with xenon headlights must ensure that they are correctly levelled and calibrated to prevent dazzling other road users.

The Benefits of Xenon Headlights

Lifespan: Xenon bulbs can last up to ten years – which is a lot longer than traditional halogen bulbs typically last. This longevity will give you ultimate peace of mind that they are a low maintenance option.

Brightness: Xenon bulbs give a high-intensity illumination which is much brighter than halogen alternatives. Xenon headlights therefore give a greater distance and width of light, meaning drivers with these headlights will have a better view of the road ahead, as well as the sides of the road.

Energy efficiency: Xenon bulbs require less energy to generate light than halogen bulbs, making them a more energy efficient option.

Safety: The extra visibility provided by Xenon lights due to their superior brightness could make a real difference in spotting a potential hazard, allowing more time to react and brake if necessary.

The Disadvantages of Xenon Headlights

Cost: As Xenon bulbs are so intricate and complex, they are more expensive to fix or replace than standard halogen bulbs. If you are buying a used car with xenon lights that is nearing ten years old, you may have to prepare for this additional cost. However, if the vehicle is not as old, the long lifespan of xenon headlights may mean that they will outlast your ownership of the vehicle – so this could never be an issue.

Dazzling: The high intensity beam that is given off from a xenon headlight can dazzle other road users. Vehicle manufacturers have created ‘self-levelling systems’ to prevent the beam from pointing too high, which should stop other road users from becoming dazzled.

What are the Alternatives to Xenon?

There are a number of different headlight options on offer – the three main types are: halogen, xenon, and LED.

Halogen headlights have been around for quite some time and were the standard across the market for years, being relatively cheap and easy to use, as well as fix and replace.

LED headlights are fairly new in comparison and produce light through electroluminescence, which requires very little energy, making them super-efficient to run. In the energy-conscious era that we are in, this is important to vehicle manufacturers who are looking for any method to streamline efficiency - therefore this option is growing in popularity.

Xenon vs Halogen Headlights?

The world of car headlights used to be fairly simple – with most vehicles featuring a bulb and some reflective plastic encased in a protective glass cover on the front. However, technology has advanced over time to provide much brighter, safer, and more efficient headlight options – which is hugely beneficial to all road users.

Halogen headlights have been used in the automotive industry for many years and provide a simple and cheap way to illuminate the road ahead. They work by passing an electrical current through a filament in the presence of halogen gas. This reaction causes light and heat to be emitted.

Xenon headlights are a more modern option and feature slightly more complex technology and fittings. In a xenon bulb, an electrical arc is created between two electrodes in the presence of xenon gas, creating a very intense light.

The beam from a xenon headlight is much brighter and spreads wider and further than that of a halogen headlight. This improved vision is preferable for many motorists, especially those who do a lot of night time driving. However, xenon headlights come at a cost and are a more expensive option than halogen headlights.

What are Halogen Headlights?

Halogen headlights are one of the most popular types of car headlight currently available.

They work by sending electricity through a thin filament that sits inside a glass capsule alongside halogen gas. As the filament heats up it glows and produces a yellowish light.

Halogen headlights are cheap to manufacture and purchase, easy to replace, and give a bright, light for up to 1,000 hours.

Are Xenon Headlights Brighter than Halogen?

Yes, xenon headlights typically shine twice as bright as halogen headlights and provide a white beam which is more similar to daylight, helping to increase visibility.

As they are brighter, they shine further and wider which is particularly beneficial when driving in low light conditions. The beam that is cast from a xenon bulb is also more evenly spread than that of a halogen bulb, meaning the sides of the road, verges and bends will also be better illuminated.

What are LED Headlights?

A light emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor that emits light when a current is passed through it. LED headlights require very little energy to illuminate which makes them an energy efficient headlight option. They are incredibly simple and durable which means that not much tends to go wrong with them, and they therefore have a long lifespan – often well over a decade.

Are LED Headlights Better than Xenon Headlights?

There are pros and cons of each type of vehicle headlight, and it depends on what factors you value as to which headlight option is the best choice for you. Both LEDs and HIDs offer improved brightness and durability compared to halogen headlights.

The benefits of LED headlights over xenon headlights are:

Efficiency: Although xenon bulbs are an efficient option, LEDs require even less energy to power, and still produce a high intensity light. LEDs are widely regarded as the most efficient type of headlight on offer today.

Lifespan: LEDs can last up to two times longer than xenon alternatives, meaning associated maintenance costs may be lower.

How to Identify Xenon Headlights?

You can identify the type of headlights on your vehicle by following a few simple steps.

The easiest way to get an indication is to take a look at the beam pattern produced by your headlights. Make sure your car is pointing towards a flat surface such as a garage door or wall and turn your lights on.

If the light flicks on quickly and remains a constant yellow beam, it is likely that you have halogen headlights fitted.

If the light flashes a white-blue, it is likely to be a xenon or HID headlight.

If the light flashes on instantly and is white in colour, then this is most likely to be an LED headlight.

You can also inspect the headlight unit to get a better idea. From the front of a halogen headlight, you will see the design is fairly simple, consisting of the bulb and a few reflectors. At the back, you will see two fittings where the bulbs can be replaced if needed.

A xenon headlight will also feature reflectors or shields which will be visible from the front, and at the rear of the unit, there will be fittings to replace the bulbs – like you would see in a halogen unit.

An LED headlight looks a bit more complex from the front. At the back, there are no fittings as there is no bulb to replace.

Alternatively, you can check the vehicle’s VIN number in your owner’s manual, or pop down to your local car dealership where a technician will be able to advise further.

Are Xenon Headlights Legal?

If you have purchased a new vehicle that came with HID headlights already fitted, you can have peace of mind that they are legal in the UK.

The issue around legality comes when individuals want to upgrade their car headlights from halogen to xenon using an HID conversion kit. These kits are not road legal, because they are classed as an aftermarket modification.

The UK government states:

It is not permitted to convert existing halogen headlamp units for use with HID bulbs. If it is clear that such a conversion has been carried out, rather than replacing the entire unit with one designed and approved for use with HID bulbs, the headlamp should be rejected.

Therefore, if you want to change your vehicle headlights from halogen to xenon, you must be careful and should always ensure that you replace the entire headlight unit rather than converting it. If in doubt, it is advised you contact your local dealership for support.

Do Xenon Headlights Need Washers?

Vehicles that come fitted with xenon bulbs require headlight washers to keep the headlights clean and in good, working condition. The reason washers are necessary on xenon headlights is because the beam produced is so bright, and dirt can scatter the light emitted - which could potentially dazzle other road users.

The washing system typically includes a high-pressure washer jet with screen wash, and in some cases small wiper blades are also in place.

What Colour are Xenon Headlights?

Xenon headlights emit a bright white-blue light with a colour temperature anywhere between 4,000 – 6,000K. Halogen headlights have a colour temperature between 3,200 – 5,000K and produce a warmer, yellowish light. LED headlights tend to have a colour temperature of around 6,000K and there are many colour options available as lenses can be placed over the diodes.

Are Xenon Blue Headlights Legal?

Many drivers want to customise their vehicle, and headlights are a great starting point. However, it is important to do your research before making any modifications, to ensure you meet the legal requirements.

The colour of light emitted by a headlight can be placed on a spectrum that runs from yellow – white – blue. Typically, the lower the Kelvin rating, the more yellow the light will be, and the higher the rating, the bluer the light will be. Halogen headlights tend to give a yellow light and xenon headlights tend to give a more white-blue light.

Under UK law, blue bulbs are not permitted for road use. The reason for this is because the use of blue lights is reserved for the emergency services, and if blue headlights are used on ordinary vehicles, this could cause confusion. However, this law refers to the colour of the bulb, and not the colour emitted, so if your xenon bulb appears blue in tone it may still be legal – even up to temperatures of 6,000K. If you have any concerns, contact your local dealership, who will be able to provide the relevant guidance.

Are Xenon Headlights the Same as HID?

Xenon and HID headlights work via the same principles and technology, it is just the terminology that differs. You are more likely to hear the term ‘xenon’ when referring to factory fitted headlights, whereas ‘HID’ may be more commonly used in relation to aftermarket products.

What are HID Headlights?

HID stands for high intensity discharge – and it is no surprise that these bulbs give off much more light than a standard halogen headlight.

A HID bulb consists of two electrodes, xenon gas and some metal salts encased in glass cover. When a current is sent through, it creates an electrical discharge that arcs between the two electrodes inside to generate light.

Are HID Headlights Legal?

If you have bought a new vehicle which has been fitted with HID headlights by the manufacturer, then these are perfectly legal. If you are looking to modify the existing headlights on your vehicle, from halogen to HID, then you will have to be careful. You must ensure that you replace the whole headlight fitting, rather than use a conversion kit to simply adjust the bulb(s).

Can you Retrofit Xenon Headlights?

Upgrading your headlights from halogen to xenon is possible, however you must ensure you do it correctly in order to meet the legal requirements. If you want to convert your lights from halogen to xenon HID, you must use a completely new xenon HID headlamp unit.

If you purchase a new HID headlamp unit, it should:

• Be approved to ECE Regulation 98 and be “e-marked”

• Comply with RVLR

• Have headlamp cleaning, self-levelling and vehicle coding in place once fitted

• Be maintained in good working order, kept clean, and aligned correctly

If you are unsure about retrofitting your headlight unit, you can always speak to someone at your local dealership who will be able to advise on the best course of action.

Can you Change Xenon Headlights to LED?

It is possible to change xenon headlights to LED headlights, however it may be quite an expensive and time-consuming procedure. You must ensure you use a completely new LED fitting, rather than a conversion kit, to meet legal requirements.

If you are unsure about how to do this, it is advised that you take your vehicle to your local dealership and seek assistance from a professional.

How Long do Xenon Headlights Last?

Xenon headlights have an average lifespan of around 2,000 – 3,000 hours, which can work out up to ten years under normal usage. However, certain factors will affect the lifespan of the bulbs i.e., environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures and direct sunlight can cause the elements within the headlights to degrade. Additionally, potholes and vibrations from the road can also cause damage over time.

Taking proper care of your xenon headlights will help to prolong their lifespan.

Do Xenon Headlights Dim Over Time?

Yes, as you may expect over time the brightness and intensity of light produced from your xenon headlights will start to fade. However, rest assured that a quality xenon headlight should still last for around 2,000 – 3,000 hours.

Choosing an approved brand of headlight such as OSRAM or Philips should mean that the rate of degradation is slower than a cheaper alternative. A xenon bulb that is ready for replacement will start to give off a yellowish or pinkish colour.

Why are My Xenon Headlights Yellow?

If your xenon headlights start to shine in a yellowish colour, it could be a sign that the bulb is failing, and it is time to sort a replacement.

If you need a second opinion, you can call in to your local car dealership and speak to a technician who will be able to confirm the issue and advise on the best course of action.

When to Change Xenon Bulbs

If your xenon headlights appear dim or begin to shine in a yellow or pinkish light, then it may be time to get them replaced.

When you take your vehicle for a service or MOT, your headlights will be checked to ensure they are in good working order. If they do need replaced, a technician can do this for you.

If you feel like you need your bulbs replaced outside of your service or MOT schedule, simply pop into your local dealership, and speak to a member of the team who will be able to take a closer look and advise.

How do you Replace Xenon Bulbs?

You can replace xenon bulbs yourself, however it is quite a tricky process. Many people prefer to leave this to the experts at their local dealership to take care of, for safety purposes.

What are the Best Xenon Headlight Bulbs?

There are a wide range of xenon headlight bulbs available, and each option has its own set of benefits. The two leading lighting manufacturers to look out for are Philips and OSRAM.

If you are looking for a standard bulb that offers high quality performance and is both reliable and durable, we recommend the OSRAM Xenarc.

If you are looking for maximum performance to enhance your night time driving, we recommend something like the Philips Xenon X-treme Vision Gen2, which produces a powerful beam, plus an optimal light spectrum, or the OSRAM Xenarc Night Breaker Laser which can deliver a light beam up of up to 250 metres.

Unfortunately, there are many counterfeit products in the market place, however at Powerbulbs, you can rest assured that our bulbs are genuine manufacturer products. All our Philips xenon HID bulbs have a certificate of authenticity and our OSRAM HIDs have been verified in by the manufacturer’s Approved Partner Programme.

Which Xenon Bulb is Brightest?

As headlight technology continues to advance, there are an abundance of products that can offer an exceptional level of light. The two best products in the market for maximal light output are the OSRAM Xenarc Night Breaker Laser (which gives up to 200% more light than a standard halogen bulb) and the Philips Xenon X-treme Vision Gen2 (which gives at least 150% more light than a standard halogen bulb).

Which Xenon Bulb for my Car?

The type of xenon bulb you need will vary depending on your vehicle make and model. Because headlights are such an important safety feature, you should take special care when selecting your xenon bulb, to ensure it is right for your vehicle

To find out which fitting and bulb you need for your car, check out our handy online bulb finder tool, or take a look at our xenon bulb recommendations.

Can you Adjust Xenon Headlights?

Xenon headlights come with self-levelling technology as a standard safety feature which means they should not need adjusting. If you are concerned about the beam of your headlights being too low or too high, you can take your vehicle to your local dealership to get looked at.

How to Calibrate Xenon Headlights

Having properly calibrated headlights will help you to see the road ahead more clearly when driving in the dark. It can be dangerous if your headlights are incorrectly calibrated as they can dazzle oncoming drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Xenon headlights come with self-levelling technology for safety purposes, therefore cannot be manually adjusted.

If you are concerned that your beams are incorrectly calibrated, take your vehicle to your local dealership to get checked out.

What are Bi-Xenon Headlights?

In a typical xenon headlight, a xenon bulb is used for the dipped beam and a regular halogen bulb is used for the high beam. This is because of the extremely bright nature of xenon bulbs, to prevent dazzling of other road users.

However, bi-xenon headlights use a xenon bulb for both the dipped and high beam functions. One xenon bulb is used alongside reflectors to adjust the angle of light, or in some cases, a shield is used to block the light when a dipped beam is required, and this lifts up when a high beam is needed.

What are Adaptive Xenon Headlights?

Adaptive xenon headlights are an advanced driver assistance system that use intelligent technology to improve road visibility.

The lights work by turning in the same direction as your steering wheel, making it easier to see in the dark, particularly if driving on winding roads or country lanes.

Automatic headlights adapt to brightness and automatically turn on when it gets dark – these are often confused with adaptive headlights, but this is a common misconception. Adaptive headlights adjust to direction, not brightness.

The benefits of adaptive xenon lights can be demonstrated by thinking of driving on a winding lane. If you are coming up to a bend, traditional headlights will only give you visibility of what is ahead once you have manoeuvred the corner. With adaptive headlights, you will begin to get visibility once you turn your steering wheel. This can make all the difference if there is a hazard around the bend, allowing you more time to brake or manoeuvre around the potential hazard.

Why do Xenon Headlights Flicker?

There could be multiple reasons as to why your xenon headlights start to flicker. Here are some possibilities:

Dying battery: If your car battery is beginning to falter, it will not be able to provide the power needed to keep your headlights shining constantly.

Ballast issue: A ballast is a crucial part of your xenon headlight – it controls the intensity of your headlight and ensures the bulbs don’t use too much power. If there is a fault with the ballast, fluctuating levels of power may be sent to the bulbs which could cause them to flicker.

Daytime running lights: If your vehicle has its daytime running lights on, the power will have to be split between these and the headlights which may cause flickering. If you turn off your daytime running lights this should eliminate the issue.

Worn our bulbs: The lamps in your headlight may be old and ready for replacement, or they could be damaged.

Loose connections: There could be a loose connection with the wiring or the fuse behind your headlights.

If you are concerned about flickering xenon lights, the best option is to bring your car into your local dealership, where an expert technician can take a closer look.

We hope this guide has provided you with all the information you need to know on xenon headlights, allowing you to make an informed decision on whether they are the right choice for you.

If you have any further questions on xenon headlights, you can chat to our Customer Service Team who will be delighted to help. Give us a call on 01924 334180 or email us at [email protected].