You’ll hear a lot of names bandied about when discussing headlights – halogen, xenon, “super blue,” and HID are just some of them. If you’re thinking about replacing your headlights and are looking for something that’s both higher performing and longer lasting, xenon headlights might sound like they fit the bill. What are they, though?

Xenon headlight bulbs

Xenon is a gas – it’s used in HID (high intensity discharge) lights. These headlights are very different from conventional halogen bulbs, and will not work in a standard headlight socket. You can find bulbs on the market that attempt to mimic the color of the light produced, but these are not xenon bulbs.

HID lights offer up to 90% better light emission than halogen bulbs, allowing you to see the road ahead much better. However, they differ a great deal from what most drivers are used to with their cars. There are three stages to lighting such a bulb. The first stage, ignition, is where xenon actually comes into play. A massive electrical charge is sent into the bulb from the ballast (another component not found with halogen bulbs). This supercharges the gas and increases the temperature significantly. Next, metallic salts in the bulb vaporize, helping to connect the two electrodes in the bulb. Finally, the ballast begins supplying constant voltage to create a stable arc between the electrodes.

Why xenon?

There are several advantages to using xenon bulbs. We’ve touched on the better light emission, but you’ll also find that they require less power overall to operate. They also last longer than halogen bulbs, meaning that you’ll replace your bulbs less frequently.

Of course, there are trade-offs here. If you have halogen bulbs currently, you’ll need to buy a full retrofit kit to use xenon bulbs. You’ll also find that direction is imperative – the brightness can literally blind other drivers, so you must have the lights angled correctly.

This article originally appeared on as What Are Xenon Headlights? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.

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