Auto headlamps: halogen vs xeon vs led - does it matter?
April 10, 2014 3:14 PM   Subscribe

As I search for a new car to replace the old saab it occurs to me that I could use better headlamps to aid the old eyes. At times I feel on the edge of being unsafe when on a two way country road with oncoming headlights (divided highways are ok), a situation that I strive to avoid. I'm looking for personal observations regarding different headlamp types.

The categories seem to be:

1. conventional reflector halogens (my 2002 saab has those)
2. projector beam halogens (new camrys)
3. xeon/HID (most new upper end cars, like bmw)
4. LED's (upper trim of new audi a3). Note that many cars like the bmw use led's for running lights with xeon's for driving lights. I don't care about the running lights one way or the other.

I would be interested in any personal observations as to the practical differences between the above with respect to forward illumination. For example, how big is the step between any two or more of the above? Are these differences that matter with respect to nighttime driving safety?

posted by Kevin S to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
I replaced the halogens in my 2007 Civic with HIDs and it made a huge difference. They were a little tricky to install as they have a ballast separate from the bulb. Following a write-up on a Civic forum, I attached the ballasts in the wheel wells behind the liner.
posted by exogenous at 3:27 PM on April 10, 2014

I'm not so impressed with the quality of light from my HIDs. They're fine, but not fine enough for what they cost and what a pain they are to replace. I'll go with LEDs with my next car. The newer LED systems are much improved from the initial generations and they're easier to deal with and cost less to replace. They also don't fade as they begin to age as HID bulbs do.
posted by quince at 3:32 PM on April 10, 2014

One of my HID bulbs died an early death after a year (I think it went to dim pink), and fixing it was indeed a pain. The replacement has been fine and the other has lasted three and a half years while maintaining nice bright white light. There weren't really any LED options when I did my lights.
posted by exogenous at 3:46 PM on April 10, 2014

I have Xenon bulbs in my car, and they're noticeably brighter than the standard ones. Not anywhere near as bright as HID bulbs, though.
posted by Solomon at 4:43 PM on April 10, 2014

Once I got factory HIDs, knew I never wanted to go back
posted by 517 at 5:27 PM on April 10, 2014

HIDs are absolutely bloody blinding if you meet them coming the other way on a very dark road.
posted by scruss at 6:17 PM on April 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Until recently I worked a couple of nights a week and drove 25 miles home on some hairy two-lane country roads. My car is old, and it never even occurred to me to think of getting better headlights. What did occur to me was to get my eyes checked. I now have driving glasses- complete with anti-glare coating- and they've made a world of difference whenever I drive, but especially at night. My eyes are still good enough that my driver's license does not require them.
posted by mareli at 7:32 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks so far, more welcome!

Clarification: This is input to selecting a new car, not upgrading lights in existing car. My candidate choices have led's (audi), xeon/HID's (bmw), or projector halogen (camry). If the headlight choice makes a big difference then it goes way up as a weighting factor probably making the camry less desirable and pushing me toward one of the more expensive choices.
posted by Kevin S at 7:44 PM on April 10, 2014

My understanding is that the bluer xenon/hid lights are worse for driver visibility due to the color. I think LEDs tend to be a warmer color, which is better for the driver's vision. I'm on a phone, otherwise I'd link to the research, but you should be able to find it.
posted by BenevolentActor at 8:44 PM on April 10, 2014

I've had a BMW with the xenons for the last 12 years and they are fantastic (except for the one time the stabilizer mechanism broke and pointed them downwards...that was scary). Both the low beams and high beams are xenon (same bulb, different angle), but when you "flash" the highbeams it actually uses a separate conventional halogen bulb since I guess the xenons don't power up as quickly as a flashed highbeam would require.
posted by dabug at 6:31 AM on April 11, 2014

« Older Activities for Poetry Workshop for 10-Year-Olds?   |   Modern Life is Magic Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.