Different Types of Headlights

When you are driving at night or encountering challenging weather conditions, you may sometimes forget that your headlights are one of the most important parts of your vehicle. They allow you to see the road ahead and are one of the main sources of comfort and safety when it comes to automobiles. “What are the different types of headlights?” you may ask, well here at Mechanic Approved we have the answer to your question here with information on the automotive industry’s most commonly found headlight types!

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Headlights have come a long way since the first automobile rolled off the line and with improvements in science and technology in recent years we are left with a selection of headlight types to choose from. Enthusiasts like to argue about which headlights are better but ultimately we like to leave that decision up to the consumer. So what we have done here at Mechanic Approved is list the four most popular types of headlights on the market today and cataloged their functions, as well as pros and cons. We hope this information is useful so let’s take a closer look at the types of headlights you can find on the market today.

Types of Automotive Headlights

Halogen Headlights

Let’s begin by taking a look at halogen headlights. Halogen headlights have been popular since the 1960s. This is definitely what the majority of cars enjoy and most of the vehicles on the road will have these headlights to this day. There are many reasons for this but one of the big ones is to keep costs down and make sure that the manufacturing process is cheap.

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As we will see, there are several disadvantages associated with halogen headlights now. This is why higher-end vehicles have ditched them and they will only start to be available on newer, cheaper cars.

How Halogen Headlights Work

Are you wondering how halogen headlights work? A good way to think about it is old incandescent lights that used to be in your home. They are a standard bulb that features a tungsten filament. This is surrounded by gas, with electrical currents moving through the filament to create light. This will have a yellow hue. During this process, a lot of heat is also created. As we will discover, this is not a good thing.

The Advantages of Halogen Headlights

One of the main advantages of halogen headlights is that they are cheap. This means that a vehicle price tag is going to be lower, as well as it being more affordable to replace your headlights. So, if your vehicle goes into the shop and needs the headlights replaced, this is not going to break the bank with halogen headlights.

Let’s not forget that halogen headlights are going to be adequate if you do not do a lot of night-time driving. In addition, if you are only driving around the city where they are street lights and bright buildings, the light emitted from halogens is going to be sufficient. You will not be disadvantaged in any way. What’s more, if you only do around 30 minutes of driving a night every day, your halogen headlights could last around three years. Again, since they are cheap, this is going to suit most city drivers and those who do not want to invest a lot of money into their vehicle.

What a lot of drivers like about halogen headlights is that they can be adjustable. In other words, drivers can enjoy low to high beams that adjust depending on how dark it is outside. This is a feature that is enjoyed on modern vehicles and it does not mean you have to pay a fortune either.

What’s more, halogen bulbs are simple to replace. Those car enthusiasts that have some knowledge when it comes to maintenance may be able to change the bulbs without going to the shop. It can only take a few minutes. Although, if you have a modern vehicle, this might not be possible without removing the bumper.

The Disadvantages of Halogen Headlights

Halogen headlights are no longer the best ones on the market. Technology has moved on and this means that there are several disadvantages associated with them. Importantly, they are no longer the brightest bulb for cars. This means that you can notice a difference when you are driving at night and you will not have as good vision on the road as you could have. The output distance is very poor and you will not enjoy clarity.

A lot of people do not like that halogen headlights have a yellow hue compared to other types. Again, this means that the light is not as bright on the road and it could make driving dangerous outside of the city if this is not something you are used to. Often, people associate this yellow light with relaxation, which is definitely not what you want behind the wheel.

Another disadvantage is that halogen headlights are not very energy efficient. As we have said they are affordable to replace, yet they will also need to be replaced more often compared to the other headlights we mention in our list. This could soon add up if you do a lot of driving at night. They are only going to last for around 1,000 hours, which is not a long time compared to other options on our list. They generate heat and a lot of power is lost this way as opposed to creating light.

While we have said that halogen bulbs can be easy to change, there are mistakes that people make that are going to affect the light emitted. Car enthusiasts do not realize that the bulbs are highly sensitive. They can actually be damaged by fingerprints and other minor substances.

Xenon/HID Headlights

Xenon headlights can also be referred to as high-intensity discharge lamps or HIDs. Essentially, they are the same thing. They have been around for a number of years now, in particular, since the early 1990s. The first vehicle to enjoy this type of headlight was the BMW 7 Series released in 1991.

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Photo by Alan Gore

However, xenon or HID headlights are not going to be standard on affordable vehicles. Instead, they are only offered on prestige and higher-end cars and you will have to upgrade and pay for them on other models.

How Xenon/HID Headlights Work

Next is to look at how xenon or HID headlights work. This is totally different from a halogen headlight. For instance, there is no filament inside the bulb. So, inside a xenon or HID headlight is simply xenon gas and an electrical charge is going to help that gas create a white and blue light.

The Advantages of Xenon/HID Headlights

When you are out driving at night, you need good headlights to illuminate the road in front of you. In particular, this is something you need on country roads in the middle of nowhere. Introducing xenon or HID headlights. They are going to provide you with a strong white light compared to the yellow hue of halogens, as well as being around three times brighter. This allows for clearer and defined vision, as well as being able to see further ahead of you while driving. This could make the difference between braking and avoiding a hazard on the road and hitting something at high speed.

Another advantage over xenon or HID headlights is that they are going to enjoy a longer life than halogen bulbs. This is due to not having a metal filament that burns out. Thus, over time, this can give you peace of mind and you will not have to replace your headlights any time soon.

The Disadvantages of Xenon/HID Headlights

There is one thing in particular that a lot of people complain about when it comes to xenon or HID headlights. It is the glare they can produce on the road. Specifically, other drivers often complain that they cannot see the road properly when a car passes with these headlights. They create a blinding glare that affects their vision temporarily. In addition, drivers of cars with xenon or HID headlights have said that they can also be blinded by this glare after looking at road signs at night.

Another disadvantage that you are going to find with a lot of advanced headlights is that they are expensive. They are only available on higher-end models and you will have to pay for them as an upgrade. Additionally, if you do have to replace your headlights at any time, xenon or HID headlights are going to be costly.

LED Headlights

Next up is LED or light-emitting diode headlights. Interestingly, LEDs have been around for a long time. Namely, they have been used since the 1960s but they were not suitable for vehicles back then due to having different colors. It was not until blue and white started to be used that LED headlights came to fruition. They have actually been used as indicator lights and even as interior lights for some time. This was to keep maintenance down. Then they were used for headlights since they offered a lot of advantages. The first car maker to offer LED headlights was Audi.

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Mostly, you will find LED headlights featured in new cars, such as hybrids, as well as high-end vehicles. This is due to being very efficient and they do not require a lot of power to be effective on the road.

How LED Headlights Work

The way LED headlights work is simple. They work by converting electric power into light. Instead of heating a filament as halogen bulbs do, this process is done through a semi-conductor or diodes, which are located inside the headlight. When power passes through, this is what is going to create the bright light that you can see on your vehicle. Therefore, this is where LEDs get their name from; light-emitting diode headlights.

The Advantages of LED Headlights

If you thought that xenon or HID headlights were bright then you may be surprised to learn that LED headlights are going to be even brighter. This is going to illuminate the road in front of you and give you confidence when you are driving at night. For a comparison, LED lights can produce around 5000 to 12000 lumens, whereas halogens only allow 3200 lumens of brightness. They light up immediately and it is clearer too. The general rule is that the more LEDs that are bundled together, the more light that can be produced.

LED headlights produce a white light that a lot of people prefer to the yellow hue of halogen lights. But they are slightly warmer than xenon or HID lights that means they appear brighter but they also appear less white. Therefore, this can prevent the temporary blindness that can occur for other drivers, as well as yourself on road signs. This can be easier on the eyes since they are anti-glare. The good news about LED headlights is they use less energy than other types too. This can mean that there is less load on the alternator in your car and they are easy on your battery.

What’s more, LED headlights are long-lasting. Since they use minimal power, this is going to extend their life. You will not have to have them replaced very often. We are talking about lasting up to 20 times longer than your normal halogen bulbs. This could be around five years before they need to be replaced depending on the amount of nighttime driving. Therefore, you can save money and it is easier to maintain your vehicle since they are more efficient and do not use a lot of power. Think about LED headlights lasting around 30,000 to 50,000 hours.

The Disadvantages of LED Headlights

One thing to realize is that LED headlights can be costly. They are more expensive than cheap halogens and will also cost more than xenon or HID headlights. One of the reasons for this is because they can produce some heat. This means that a cooling system is often required in the vehicle for safety. Of course, this all adds to the price of the car. While the cost has gone down as new technology emerges, this is something to consider if you are on a budget.

However, a lot of people see LED headlights as an investment. Yes, they are going to be more expensive to purchase. But since they have a longer lifespan, it could mean that you do not have any immediate expenses to worry about. Your car should be cheaper to run.

If you purchase a car that has LED headlights, know that if they have to be replaced for any reason, this is going to be an expensive service. They are more complicated to replace and normal consumers will not be able to do this. A vehicle will have to go to the shop for this.

Laser Headlights

Of course, we expect technology to progress as years go by. Indeed, this is exactly what has happened in the car market and laser headlights were born. This is the newest addition to the market. Its marketing point is that it is said to be 1,000 times more powerful than LEDs. Since we have already seen that LEDs can make a huge difference on the road at night, this is intriguing and exciting at the same time.

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Photo by Olaf Arndt

If you are shopping for a premium and exclusive vehicle, it is most likely going to have laser headlights. This is the most advanced type on our list and it also comes with a high price tag. Since they are so costly, only high-end cars have them right now, such as the BMW i8 sports car and the Audi R8 LMX.

The first laser lights emerged in 2014. This was for high beams and they were used by BMW and Audi in Europe, adding around $8,000 to $12,000 onto the price tag. As years passed, other Audi vehicles were offered with laser headlights and not just the high-end models. Again, this was only in Europe.

There has been some controversy in recent years surrounding laser headlights, particularly in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA does not like laser headlights generally. They have created a regulation that mandates all vehicle headlights to be able to manually switch between a high and low beam. However, the laser headlights at the time were self-adjusting. But after lobbying, there are now some Audi and BMW vehicles offering advanced laser headlights in the US.

How Laser Headlights Work

When you mention the word “laser”, a lot of people assume that this is what is projected from the headlights. But this is not how this new technology works and there are going to be no shooting laser beams coming your way. Instead, this technology uses laser beams in a more technical way. The three blue lasers are used to focus their beams onto mirrors. The three beams create a prism shape to create one powerful beam. This is used to transmit energy to a lens that contains yellow phosphorus. This is turned into a white light that is projected from the headlights.

The Advantages of Laser Headlights

Large automotive manufacturers have a lot to say about laser headlights. Namely, BMW boasts that laser headlights are going to be much better on the road and offer you unrivaled vision when you are driving at night. You will be able to see around 600 meters in front of you on the road with a broader beam of light. This is significantly more than any other headlights we have mentioned on our list. In fact, it is going to light up to six times more road than with LEDs.

What’s more, it is argued that laser headlights can not only provide better vision for night driving, but they can also do so more efficiently. They will use around 50 percent less power than LED headlights. Therefore, this is why laser headlights can be the perfect choice for electric cars in the future.

If you are someone that loves to be different and have cool headlights, you may be pleased to know that laser headlights are versatile. They are a smaller size and shape than LED and bulb headlights. This means that they can be used in a variety of shapes and not compromise the style of a vehicle.

The Disadvantages of Laser Headlights

The main disadvantage when it comes to laser headlights is that they are expensive. They cost a lot of money and this is why you often only find them on high-end vehicles. While it can be an upgrade on some cars you can purchase, you are going to have to spend thousands to get them fitted. They are very beneficial headlights to have on your car. But you have to ask yourself; are you willing to spend a lot of money on them? If you travel a lot at night, the answer might be yes. But if you are a daytime driver and you only commute around the city, these might not be the headlights for you.

Some people are skeptical about laser headlights and that will probably be the norm until more regulated guidelines are released. But waiting a few years may be a good way to see what new vehicles are going to enter the US market equipped with this new technology.

Final Thoughts

Therefore, there are four main types of headlights that can be found on vehicles across the country. The most popular type of headlights is going to be halogen since they are cheap and easy to replace. The downside with halogens is that they are not efficient and do not enjoy a long life. Then we have xenon or HID headlight. They are a step-up from halogen and offer a bright white and blue light, typically found on higher-end vehicles. The main disadvantage of this type of headlight is that they tend to easily blind oncoming drivers and create windshield glare.

Moving up the chain is LED headlights. They can offer the same brightness but without the blinding effect. They allow safer driving in the county and enjoy a long life. But they are expensive and mainly found high-end vehicles. Last but not least, we have laser headlights. This technology is still emerging but they are said to be 1,000 times more powerful than LEDs. In other words, you can clearly see the road at night and further into the distance than any other headlights on our list. Just know that you will have to pay a lot of money for this option and it is not a common standard option on affordable vehicles.

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