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Are HID and LED Headlights Worth Buying?

Nanjing Huiguang Lighting Co.,Ltd | Updated: Apr 13, 2018

You can't help but notice high-intensity discharge (HID/xenon) and light-emitting diode (LED) headlights—the light they produce is noticeably brighter and whiter than halogen headlights.

These high-tech headlights have become a signature look of aftermarket upgrades, and they distinguish the styling on many new vehicles, in particular cars with LED headlights, which can be grouped in signature looks. Many models from Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and others are equipped with these stylish headlights.

But as appealing as these headlights can be to people whose car is equipped with them, they can be a discomfort to other drivers, who might flash their lights, mistakenly thinking that the other driver's high beams are on even when they’re not.

In its ongoing headlight tests, Consumer Reports has seen an increase in cars equipped with these technologies. But do these brighter, whiter HID/xenon and LED headlights help you see any better when you're driving? The answer: Not necessarily.

There is no clear-cut, standout technology winner among among HID, LED, and xenon headlights. While there are poor and very good performers in each variety, none produces greater forward-seeing distances than the others. Based on our testing, the differences depend on the car, not the headlight technology.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety agrees. “In IIHS testing, LEDs and HIDs typically perform better than halogens, and projector lenses do better than reflector designs," says Matt Brumbelow, a senior research engineer at IIHS. "Unfortunately, there are many exceptions, so consumers can’t [choose] a specific headlight system and be guaranteed that they’ll get good performance on the road.” 

Best Headlight Performance

Our ratings for headlight performance on recent vehicle models also illustrate how performance cannot be predicted by the technology alone. Your best bet is to check our headlights—and to be wary of paying extra for a headlight upgrade.

Each of the vehicles below scored an Excellent or a Very Good overall for its headlight performance; they rank in order as the top 10 among those we’ve tested over the last ten years.