The Ultimate Breakdown: LED, HID, Halogen, and Laser Headlights
If you’ve ever tried to Google search “HID vs. LED headlights,” attempted to find out whether those new Audi laser headlights are finally legal in the US, or simply wanted to brush up on your knowledge of automotive lighting in general, this article’s for you. Read on for the ultimate breakdown of the current four players in the game – LED, HID, halogen, and laser technology.
Assuming you’ve been keeping up with the aftermarket scene, you probably know that LED upgrades are very on trend at the moment. LEDs are light-emitting diodes (hence the name), and they are extremely energy-efficient. Most people who switch to LEDs are replacing their halogen light bulbs – if that’s you, you’ll be glad to hear that unlike halogen headlights, LED light bulbs don’t have any filaments. In other words, you don’t have to worry about them burning out quickly; in fact, clocking in at around 25,000 hours, quality LED headlight bulbs have the longest lifespan out of any of the current automotive lighting technologies available.
An impressive output of up to 12,000 lumens is nothing to laugh at either. Aside from those practical matters, LED headlights can provide the clean, modern aesthetic many automotive enthusiasts seek, with the ability to project the currently popular blue-tinted white (6000K) light that dimmer, warmer-toned halogens can’t recreate.
Another perk of LED headlights is that they don’t have any “warm-up time” when switched on – the instant illumination effect is definitely an underrated, cool-as-hell feature.
Lastly, well-designed LED kits will be pretty simple to install, so if you’re ready to drop the $50-$250 on LED headlights, you’ll most likely be able to install them in yourself without wasting any additional time or dollars on professional assistance.
HID upgrades dominated the market before LED technology started advancing to a usable, reliable standard, and HID headlights are still a solid go-to if you want to upgrade your headlights at a lower cost than you’d be paying for LEDs. HIDs can be summed up as electricity buzzing between two electrons inside your bulb, and they match LEDs in terms of brightness capabilities. As HIDs have been around longer, they are available in a wide range of color temperatures (3000K – 15000K) – that being said, those who are particularly concerned with getting pulled over may want to check what’s street-legal locally before going wild with the headlight hues.
At about 2500 hours in terms of lifespan, quality HID headlights will definitely last you longer than your stock halogens; however, they are a little trickier to install than LEDs – read: get professional installation if you don’t know what you’re doing! Another thing to note is that not every vehicle is compatible with HID technology, so you’ll want to find out whether yours is before spending $30-$225 on a kit.
Good old halogens – chances are you’ve got ‘em in your car (if you’ve never upgraded your lights), as halogens headlights are still the most common form of lighting that comes stock with vehicles. Equipped with a Tungsten filament that heats up to 2500°C, halogens burn through their short 450 – 1000 hour lifespan quickly. Though the replacement costs are not much of a financial burden at all – you can get away with as low as $10 per pair – many eventually opt to upgrade their headlights to LEDs or HIDs for the brighter illumination and more stylish look that newer vehicles flaunt.
Hovering in the yellowish 2700K – 4000K color temperature zone at a relatively dim 3100-8000 lumens, halogens are simply unimpressive compared to the other lighting technologies available.
Up to 1000 times brighter than LED headlights while consuming only 2/3 of the power, and available in a stylish blue-white 5500K – 6000K range, laser headlights are set to take over the scene – that is, if they can get legalized. Right now, BMW laser headlights are leading the race with release of the new i8, the first car with US-legal laser headlights.
Audi laser headlights caught media attention in 2017 when their fancy “Matrix Laser” technology (featuring wow-factor text and graphic -projection tricks) was debuted at the Detroit Auto Show; however, this flashy new lighting technology still has an uphill battle against US law which makes adjusting regulations difficult without a strongly proven life-safety benefit. Disappointed? Use the wait time to save up because your future laser headlights definitely won’t be a cheap buy.