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Your Corner Wrench: Should You Invest In LED Headlight Bulbs?

Nanjing Huiguang Lighting Co.,Ltd | Updated: Mar 29, 2018

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When asked to explain why they continually strive for brighter headlamps, automakers will quickly point to public demand. Healthcare stakeholders will point to degrading eyesight as older drivers – and those affected by diabetes – increase their relative presence on our roads to explain this demand.


Even industry analysts, such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the U.S. think the matter is serious enough to have recently included headlamp effectiveness and design risks (and their ability to distract oncoming drivers) in their annual safety ratings. Now, you can’t win their highest rating if your vehicle doesn’t score well on headlamps. So, it’s no surprise that lighting accessories have increased their sales in the modification and aftermarket sectors.


High-intensity discharge bulbs (HIDs) have seemingly peaked in sales among drivers looking to punch up light output, as experience has demonstrated they don’t work well with lenses and housings that were never designed for their somewhat unique, forward-focused beam. In most situations, they blast an undirected wash of blinding blue/white light that present traffic hazards serious enough that some jurisdictions, such as Ontario, have outlawed them. Regular replacement bulbs, promoted as a solid cure-all for dim-vision blues, seldom provide much more than a 10 per cent improvement in brightness.


But one of the later offerings in this category are LED upgrade kits. These don’t require specialized wiring and controls, and are pretty much a plug-and-play application. Light is emitted from the sides, like traditional bulbs, to lessen the risk of blinding oncoming drivers with glare.

They also don’t come with another risk that HIDs bring – extremely hot-burning bulbs that can melt headlamp plastics. While the working ends of LED lamps are relatively cool, their bases can become hot due to internal electronics, necessitating small cooling fans, or metal heat sinks and fins, to safely dissipate this energy.



Some vehicles do require a special voltage signal adapter to prevent dash warning lights from coming on with the use of LED conversion kits. In some cases, LED kits don’t seem to project light any farther down the road (sometimes, even less than the original bulbs), but they do provide noticeably better illumination of objects closer to the sides.


Kits range in price from $75 to $200-plus, and are available from a number of online retailers, as well as auto parts and electronics outlets. Preference should be given to those kits that don’t use electric cooling fans, as they involve one more thing to go wrong in the future. Heating fins or sinks don’t involve any moving parts, but sometimes require more room at the back of the headlamp where the bulb is inserted. These heat dissipaters should not come into contact with any objects located in this area.


For those driving in extreme low-temperature regions, consider that LEDs generate less heat than conventional headlamps, so lenses themselves can be more prone to icing over in inclement weather, compared to traditional bulbs.


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