Headlight technology has evolved a lot over the last couple of decades. Once upon a time, cars had sealed headlights (you had to replace the housing too whenever a bulb blew). Then came permanent lenses and replaceable small bulbs – halogen bulbs are the most common of these, but there are several others out there, including xenon bulbs. Now there are LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, but is it necessary to change bulbs?

What you should know

LEDs offer a lot of benefits, but are they really right for you? Some of the benefits of using LEDs include the following:

  • Reduced power draw on your system: This may or may not be a selling point for you, because your car was designed to run well with the draw from the stock headlight bulbs.

  • Increased lifespan: LED bulbs can last a very long time; much longer than halogen bulbs, xenon bulbs or anything else on the market.

Those are the primary benefits. Some people claim that LED bulbs offer better illumination, but this is only true for certain types. LEDs actually produce very bright light, but because of their small size, you need more bulbs to equate to the same light output of a standard halogen bulb.

Then there’s the question of directionality. In a halogen headlight bulb, a reflector directs and amplifies the light (the bulbs are omnidirectional and the reflector bounces light forward). If the LED bulbs you choose don’t have a reflector system or another means of directing the light where you need it, you might not get the best illumination.

You’ll also have to contend with additional equipment. With a standard halogen or xenon bulb, the bulb connects directly to the wiring harness and then screws into the back of the headlight lens. LEDs are different. There’s an additional component (a heat sink) that must be accommodated somewhere under the hood.

Is changing out to LED bulbs the right move for you? It could be but you’ll have to balance the cost of a quality replacement with the difficulty of installing them, as well as the light emission (and reach) of the LEDs you choose over conventional headlight bulbs.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Should You Change Your Headlight Bulbs to LED? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.


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