Unlike halogen bulbs, which contain a filament that is heated and produces light, Xenon HID bulbs use xenon gas and electrical charge to create a bright, white light. Many drivers prefer Xenon HID bulbs because of the cooler color temperature of the light they emit.
Still, for many drivers, this switch is worth it, thanks to the superior performance of Xenon HID bulbs. Brightness is typically measured in lumens, the amount of light output a bulb produces.
That’s because whiter light is closer to daylight and makes it easier to see obstacles in front of your vehicle. Bulbs that have to low a color temperature and appear yellow or bulbs with too high a color temperature, which will appear white with a blueish tint, can be very bright.
Just a decade or two ago, almost all cars used halogen lights for both headlights and most other purposes. In recent years, LED and Xenon lights have become more popular.
In fact, most new vehicles today use LED or Xenon headlights. Many drivers with older vehicles are switching out their halogen bulbs and upgrading to LED or Xenon.
In order to understand the nuances of xenon and halogen light bulbs, let's first cover the basics: Xenon and halogen lamps get their names from the kinds of gases added within the light bulb's glass envelope.
Well, regular incandescent light bulbs have vacuums within their envelopes because air oxidizes the glowing tungsten. An inert gas, like xenon or a halogen, slows down this process, prolonging the life of the light bulb.
A halogen is a covalent element on the Periodic Table, which easily forms negative ions. In a halogen light bulb, the filament wears down, shedding tungsten atoms over time.
These discarded atoms unite with the halogen gas molecules in the lamp forming tungsten halite, which is then redeposited on the filament. It works in much the same way as the halogen gases when retarding the filament's evaporation, but it also produces a bright-white light when stimulated by electricity.
A xenon light's typical rated life is around 10,000 hours, lasting 5 times longer than the average halogen lamp. Because xenon gas glows when excited by electricity, it also takes less energy to achieve the same lumen output.
Xenon gas also requires less heat to produce light, so you don't have to worry about such high energy bills. It's no secret halogen lights run hot, which means they're not suitable for every application.
The oil your hands leave behind on the glass will eventually heat up and may cause an imbalance, making the light bulb rupture. Xenon light bulbs don't produce as much heat, and emit minimal UV rays.
Both halogen and xenon light bulbs have perfect Chris (color rendering indexes) of 100. With flattering colors and easy dimming capabilities, halogen and xenon lamps are both great choices to light your home or building.
With LEDs, electric current passes through a semiconductor (or diode) to produce light that is brighter and often has a wider beam pattern than other types of headlights. Aftermarket xenon lights are available in different shades of blue and yellow as well as white.
On dark roads, some xenon lights are so bright that even the low beams can blind oncoming drivers. Some manufacturers have made LEDs standard across their entire range of moderately priced vehicle lines.
Xenon lights are offered on fewer new vehicles but remain popular in the aftermarket. The 2020 Toyota Sienna was rated acceptable when equipped with either xenon or halogen headlights.
In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. Contributor Rick Pope has covered the auto industry for decades and hosts a weekly online radio show on TalkZone.com.
The headlights used in the first vehicles were very rudimentary; basically, they were lanterns that used a candle inside a glass housing to light up the road. Later they advanced to gas burning lanterns, and kerosene lamps, like the ones Coleman still makes for camping.
Incandescent light bulbs typically put the filament in a vacuum to preserve it, but as used in car headlights, they are filled with special gases in the halogen family (usually iodine or bromine). Burning hotter allows them to five off more light, but it also means the halogen bulb must be made of special glass and handled carefully so as not to leave fingerprints on it that can cause a hot spot.
The HID light bulb (which stands for High Intensity Discharge) is filled with Xenon gas, and there is no filament. Instead, a spark is created inside the HID bulb between two electrodes, but requires a much higher voltage in order to make the jump.
Some replacement halogen bulbs are also significantly brighter than the OEM bulbs, and that increase in brightness usually translates to shorter lifespans. Certain manufacturing defects and installation problems can also drastically shorten the operational lifespan of a headlight bulb as well.
When tungsten gets hot enough to emit light, material “boils” off the surface of the filament. The basic mechanism at work is exactly the same, but halogen -filled capsules last much longer than they would if they were filled with an inert gas or vacuum.
Brighter bulbs tend to last a shorter amount of time, and you can also purchase bulbs that are specifically engineered to last longer. When you’re dealing with halogen capsules, which most modern vehicles use, the biggest cause of premature failure is some type of contaminant getting on the bulb.
This problem can be as innocuous as the natural oils from the fingers of the person who installed the bulb, or as obvious as dirt, water, or other contaminants present inside the engine compartment of a car. For example, if a rock hits a sealed beam headlight, cracks it, and allows the halogen gas to leak out, it’s going to fail much earlier than it would have otherwise.
High-intensity discharge (HID) headlights also tend to last longer thanhalogenbulbs, but not as long as tungsten- xenon bulbs. Instead of using a tungsten filament that glows, these headlight bulbs rely on electrodes somewhat similar to spark plugs.
Although HID lights tend to last longer than halogen headlights, they don’t usually last as long as tungsten- xenon bulbs. A typical life expectancy for this type of headlight is about 2,000 hours, which can, of course, be shortened by a number of different factors.
If you find that a headlight bulb burns out very quickly, then there’s always a chance that you may be dealing with a manufacturing defect. Since any contamination on the bulb can cause it to fail early, a worn out or damaged headlight assembly can definitely be a problem.
For example, if a rock punches a small hole in one of the assemblies, or the seal goes bad, water and road grime may be able to get inside the headlight assembly and drastically shorten the life of your headlight bulb. Upgrading your old halogen headlights to LED or high-intensity discharge (HID) effectively swaps out dull, yellow beams for a colder white or blue, and doing it the right way can also give you brighter headlights that effectively improve your night vision without blinding other drivers.
Other upgrades, like bumping up the brightness of your halogen capsules, or simply reconditioning your headlight assemblies, are purely practical. These upgrades won't change the look of your car at night, but good headlights reduce the risk of accidents during twilight and nighttime hours, so they're still worth considering.
Some headlights, like long-lasting HID bulbs, can actually lose as much as 70 percent of their intensity by the time they finally burn out. However, installing LED capsules in reflector housings usually results in a poor beam pattern.
Projector-style headlights often work better with drop-in LED capsules, but you may want to do further research on your specific make and model. When you look at what really makes headlights work, the two most important things to consider are brightness and beam pattern.
The beam pattern is a product of the reflector and lens in a typical headlight assembly. If your beam pattern is fuzzy instead of sharp, or it illuminates the wrong part of the road, it doesn’t matter how bright your headlight bulbs are.
Most headlight upgrades focus on brightness, but you can’t ignore the beam pattern. For instance, some drop-in headlight bulb upgrades can result in a fuzzy or misaligned beam that doesn’t illuminate enough of the road or may even blind oncoming motorists.
In one study performed by the IHS that looked at multiple headlight configurations in 31 vehicles, only one out of 82 actually made the grade. Brightness and beam patterns also play into fog lights, which are designed to illuminate the road directly in front of a vehicle.
The basic idea is that in situations where regular headlights would reflect back at the driver and create glare, fog lights won’t. While it’s easy to think of a headlight capsule as something that simply works until it burns out, the reality is far from that kind of binary absolute.
Most drivers wait for a headlight capsule to burn out before replacing it, but this is one case where being proactive has a number of benefits. If you replace one capsule and not the other, you can end up with an uneven beam pattern that both looks bad and makes it more difficult to drive at night.
These replacement capsules are the exact same size and shape as the original headlight bulbs, and they also use the same basic halogen lighting technology. These capsules have the same power requirements and work with your existing headlight assemblies to create the same basic beam pattern.
Like replacing worn-out headlight capsules, upgrading to brighter versions should also be done in pairs. Wesley / CC-BY-20 / Wikimedia Commons The basic process involves wet-sanding the headlights with a very fine grit sandpaper or emery and then applying a UV resistant clear coat.
In fact, this upgrade can actually require some basic electrical wiring work in addition to replacing the headlight assemblies. The general rule of thumb is that if your car had headlight reflector assemblies, as opposed to projectors, dropping in HID capsules is a bad idea.
The issue is that while direct-replacement LED capsules do exist, they don't necessarily work that great in every application. Even if an LED headlight capsule meets the basic specifications of the halogen capsule that it is intended to replace, the light it produces will tend to interact with the headlight assembly differently.
If your car did come with projectors, you may be able to drop in LED capsules and enjoy bright, cool light with a crisp beam pattern. You may also be able to find projector assemblies, or a total LED headlight conversion kit, depending on the vehicle you drive.