Headlights – they help you see in the dark as you drive down the road, especially when lampposts aren’t available in the area. They are the most essential car component that you need because, without them, you won’t be able to drive at night. However, do you know that vehicle headlights date back as early as horse carriages started plowing the unpaved roads of the west? They do. Let us tell you a brief history about it.
The earliest headlamps are literally lamps that have candles in them – hence, the term headlamp. They are attached on the top corners of horse-drawn carriages and the common ones use oil. Prest-O-Lites acetylene lights began replacing oil lamps for ‘horseless carriages,’ an industrial revolution-term for automobiles. Acetylene lights lived for only a short couple of years until being replaced by electric headlights, which are the spark of the modern headlight era – the one we’re going to discuss in this article. So without further ado, here are the different types of vehicle headlights.
You could think of halogen lamps as the Godfather of vehicle lighting. This type of headlight dominated the scene from around 1962 all the way up to now. Yes, halogen headlights are still used even in today’s cars. You’ll see them on low-end variants of current models offered in the market today. Halogen headlight bulbs use tungsten filament, which is heated up by flowing electric currents. It produces light once heated up, while inert gas with a bit of a halogen (like iodine and bromine) produces halogen cycle chemical reaction when mixed with the tungsten filament. This chemical reaction is what makes its lifespan longer and maintains its clarity.
There are standard and projector headlamp classifications under halogen lights. The standard uses forward-facing light bulbs enclosed in a reflective case, while a projector beam utilizes a rear-facing bulb for a more focused light beam. In addition, some cars that come standard with HID as their main headlights use halogens as high beam lights.
Advantages: Cheap. Easy to find. Easy to replace.
Disadvantages: Short-lasting and not as bright compared to more modern lights.
Xenon headlights are somehow similar to halogen lamps as it also uses tungsten filaments. However, instead of igniting a halogen gas, this type of bulb uses an aerogen Xenon. Halogen’s light comes mainly from the heated tungsten but xenon lamps achieve white lighting emitted by the xenon gas.
Xenon High-intensity discharge (HID) lights, on the other hand, are electrical gas-discharge lamps that produce light through an electric arc between tungsten electrodes. HIDs have a longer lifespan than Halogens, as the light being emitted is produced by using electrodes to charge the white xenon gas inside the bulbs – unlike halogens that use tungsten filament and halogen gas mixture. Nothing is heated up to glow inside a xenon bulb, it’s the xenon gas alone that emits white bright light when turned on.
Advantages: Brighter than halogens. Lasts longer.
Disadvantages: Expensive. Requires an electrician to replace.
Light-emitting diode (LED) headlights are known for their long service life and better vibration resistance as compared to the aforementioned types. These lamps use less energy which makes them far more efficient than old types of lights. As far as history is concerned, LEDs were first used in high-mount brake lights in 1984. LEDs are not only used as headlamps and daytime running lights (DRL) because they are also utilized as the main light source for the taillights.
One interesting thing about LEDs is that manufacturers can customize the shape of LED DRLs on the headlight. It can support different aesthetic designs that flow along with the overall exterior styling. In short, they add more flavor to the vehicle’s physical appearance apart from its function. A form that uses LED light is halo headlamp, which is a round strip of LED surrounding a projector beam.
Advantages: Most efficient in terms of energy usage. Aesthetically appealing. Longer-lasting than HIDs.
Disadvantage: Relatively rare compared to xenons and halogens.
Laser lights are the most advanced lighting technology on this list. If you think it’s intriguing to find out lasers are now used on headlights, wait till you find out how it works. Take note that the light coming out from a laser headlight is not the actual laser. Rather, the laser is used in as an alternative to electricity to charge photons. It’s like how HID lights work but replace electricity with a laser. If LED lights are formable into shapes, laser headlights are far more flexible than that as they offer more design possibilities. The downside is that it uses a ton more energy, which could be a compromise if you’re using an electric or hybrid car.
Apparently, laser headlamps are less common compared to the three other types because they are relatively new and are currently still being developed. We do think, however, that it could be the future of vehicle headlights – if manufacturers can solve the power consumption rate it has as of the moment.
Advantages: Light reaches longer distances. Smaller in packaging. More efficient than LEDs.
Disadvantages: Estimated to be three times more expensive than HIDs. Currently only available on luxury brands like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. Uses a ton more energy compared to other types.