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.
LED bulbs were invented in the 1960s, but their use in car lighting is much more recent. They use far less power and produce much brighter light than halogen bulbs.
Even when compared to Xenon HID bulbs, LEDs come out on top in many ways. 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. Many drivers with older vehicles are switching out their halogen bulbs and upgrading to LED or Xenon.
These are the baseline, and the cheapest component available, so they are used in the mass market to provide the standard quality of headlights we are all familiar with. Aside from high-end, luxury cars, which are now increasingly coming with more advanced head-lighting installed, road users can easily upgrade their standard headlights to either LED or Xenon HID lights, for significantly improved results.
Without getting too stuck in to the technical differences between LEDs and Xenon HID headlights, both are capable of producing broad equivalences in terms of vastly stronger, more efficient lighting. The differences come in the way these bulbs are designed and manufactured, and in general the expert preference would always be to choose LEDs over HID headlights.
HID headlights are a significant improvement on halogens, and depending on the color temperature, you can choose a light quality that suits your preferences. However, don’t be surprised if you end up changing your headlights several times over the next few years, particularly with so many cheap imports currently flooding the aftermarket.
If you want something longer lasting, and more cost-efficient over time while delivering substantial improvements in the quality of your road lighting, you may be better off choosing LED headlights for your car. By 2030, industry estimates project that as much as three quarters, or 75% of all lighting sold will be LED based, and car headlights are no different.
Because they are solid state and built to last, these headlights can in theory be used for decades before they will need to be replaced, saving you the ongoing maintenance burden and costs associated with other bulbs. Once you’ve installed your LED headlights kit, you can expect high quality, warm, white light, illuminating significant portions of the road ahead when compared to basic halogen bulbs.
Now the headlight of choice for top end and luxury vehicles, motorists worldwide are now waking up to the advantages of LED headlights, and the benefits a retrofit of LEDs can have to any car. With all the benefits of LED headlights available at low cost, and easy installation for even non-technical motorists, an LED kit is an essential investment in the long-term future of your motoring.
Each type of headlight has a profile of advantages and disadvantages which you’ll need to consider before making a choice. Halogen lights work by passing an electric current through the tungsten filament which is surrounded by an inert gas.
This fact means that halogen headlights are easy to replace if they become damaged. Because halogen headlights are tried and tested technology, they are produced at scale for pennies.
When a manufacturer lists the expected lifetime of a pair of halogen headlights, you can bet the farm on their estimate being extremely accurate because millions of halogen headlights have met that standard in the past. In the past, people have worked around these shortcomings by replacing their halogen headlights regularly, keeping their halogen headlights cool, and intelligently switching between using high-beams and standard headlamps to maximize the brightness of the light where it is needed the most.
Xenon or HID headlights work similarly to halogen headlamps with a critical exception which makes a big difference. Xenon headlights have an inert gas, a pair of tungsten electrodes, and a few gaseous metals which emit light when excited by an electric current.
When the electric arc excites the gaseous metals and the inert gases, light is emitted. Importantly, the amount of light emitted by the electric arc is far higher than the amount of light emitted by a halogen lamp’s passive excitation of the gas molecules surrounding the tungsten.
With a xenon lamp, the tungsten electrodes themselves also glow slightly, but it is not noticeable in comparison to the power of the electric arc’s light. In comparison to halogen headlights, xenon headlights emit up to 45% more light per unit of electricity.
Furthermore, xenon headlights don’t degrade as rapidly as halogen headlights because the tungsten electrodes are not expected to be significant emitters of light. Xenon headlights also don’t emit as much heat as halogen headlights, meaning that they are less likely to experience performance degradation over time.
Halogen headlights typically require a period of five to ten minutes to reach their maximum brightness after being turned on because the tungsten filament needs to heat up. With xenon headlights, the inert gas inside the light is rapidly heated as a result of the electric arc.
The way that LEDs accomplish this feat is by being semiconductors which leak excess energy in the form of light rather than heat. In the context of LEDs, the semiconductors are typically made from gallium nitride with additional metals doped in for different colors.
LEDs may be brighter than halogen in some cases, but typically brightness is not their primary focus. Thus, while they won’t win any awards for maximum illumination, they fulfill the requirements that most people have for their headlights.
You should keep several factors in mind while evaluating each of these modalities, including your price sensitivity and your aesthetic sense. Halogen headlights, however, tend to need replacement more frequently than LED headlights.
You should also keep in mind that LED lights would also be a good upgrade for halogen headlights, however. It’s important to remember that the price of LEDs will continue to drop for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to gamble, the price of halogen headlights is likely to remain completely static for the foreseeable future. LED lights will most likely become brighter and have more aesthetic options to choose from as time passes.
Now that you know the differences between halogen, xenon, and LED headlights, it’s time to think about which type will be the right choice for your vehicle. As we mentioned previously, most people will find that LED lights serve their needs.
Halogen lights simply won’t do, but the bright and pure white glow of xenon headlights continue to be eye-catching and desirable. If you’re skeptical of new technology, and you want to go with a tried and tested solution, halogen headlights are the best choice for you.
On the other hand, if you’d rather pay an average amount to catch a bargain tomorrow, LED lights remain the best choice of the three.