As many of you know by know, headlights are one of the most important safety features of a car as they let you see in the dark and make your vehicle more visible in the daytime in the case of daytime running lights. While some manufacturers equip their vehicles with a great set of headlights, some are just adequate. This can hold especially true for entry-level or base model units that often don’t come with the latest lighting technology to help cut costs.
With that said, many try to counter poor headlight performance with LED bulbs to help brighten up the road. Since these kinds of bulbs aren’t always standard, that often means they might get misused in halogen housings. This is why, before you go out and buy a pair of LED bulbs you will need to keep these things in mind. Trying to upgrade your lights isn’t always worth the hassle and expense especially if your headlight housings weren’t designed for that bulb type.
How multi-reflector halogen headlights work
Halogen headlights work in a similar way to incandescent bulbs. Inside the bulb, there is a tungsten filament that is surrounded by halogen gas. As electricity is passed through the bulb the filament starts to glow thus emitting light and heat. One thing to take note of are the high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs / Xenon bulbs which also work in a similar way but function without the filament as the electricity is used to heat up the gas instead to produce light.
In this process, light is scattered all around the bulb, this is why these kinds of bulbs are often paired with multi-reflector headlight housings to focus that light forward and ahead of the vehicle. In higher-tier cars, these are also often paired with projector headlights for a more consistent throw and cut-off.
How LED Bulbs work
Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) don’t work in the same way as a halogen or xenon bulb. They function by passing electricity through semiconductors which in turn release light. No gas or filaments are used in this process.
In terms of lighting, LEDs can get brighter and can come with the benefit of consuming less power. These "blubs" also don’t produce as much heat and are more compact. While these bulbs seem like they are more superior when it comes to their halogen counterparts, LEDs do come with a few drawbacks. Firstly, while they do run much cooler than their counterparts, they tend to heat everything else around them. As a result, LEDs need a separate set of current regulators and dedicated cooling to keep them running and to prevent them from burning anything around them. Secondly, converting a standard halogen setup into an LED one may not give you improved visibility. This is because the light that LEDs produce isn’t omnidirectional as they can only produce light in one direction.
When is it advisable to upgrade to LED headlights
Here is where it gets tricky, if you want to upgrade to LED headlights you will need to do some research. If the model of vehicle you have has a higher trim that uses the same housing but uses LED bulbs, then you can upgrade to it. Another thing you can do is if your car comes with projector headlights, you can swap out the bulbs to LEDs, however, keep in mind that some recalibration might be needed.
If you want the best results and you are coming from a multi-reflector halogen setup then we recommend you go with a retrofit instead or aftermarket headlights that can do the same job. Keep in mind that this can be a costly endeavor and may not be worth it in the long run.
Yet another thing you can do is simply upgrade your halogen bulbs to something a little bit brighter. There are multiple brands out there are offer quality halogen bulbs that are both bright and will last a long time. You will just need to research a bit to find which one will best suit your car and which intensity of light will suit you best.
So is it worth upgrading LED headlights? Yes, if your headlight housings are designed to take LEDs, and No if they aren’t. You still have the option to go with a retrofit or with aftermarket headlights if your budget permits. Otherwise, just go with a brighter halogen bulb.