Energy Efficient Headlights: What Should You Be Using?
Headlights, like all automotive technology, have evolved considerably. From their humble beginnings as acetylene gas lamps to the recently developed use of lasers, lighting the road to see and be seen is paramount for drivers. Today, there are a number of headlight choices, and options vary in brightness, lifespan, shape, cost, driver-friendliness and even toxicity. How do you choose? Many drivers, especially DIYers, have adopted favorites from among what’s available, proclaiming them to be the most energy efficient headlights, but “efficiency” is often in the eye of the beholder. Below, we’ll explore some of what’s available and what might be your best option.
Even with advances in technology, the most commonly used headlights by manufacturers today are still halogen, mainly due to cost. They are more cheaply produced and thus readily available, carry a long lifespan and are accessible to consumers to buy and install at home. For these reasons they’ve remained popular despite the fact that they aren’t particularly energy efficient compared to other options. They last around 1,000 hours, which isn’t too bad, but a lot of their energy is wasted as heat.
Although they take a moment to reach their full brightness, high intensity discharge (HID) or xenon headlights were developed as a more energy efficient, brighter answer to halogens. It takes your vehicle less energy to run them, they have almost twice the life expectancy of halogens, and the bright blue light emitted is great for driver visibility. Unfortunately, other drivers sharing the road may experience an increased and potentially dangerous glare when aftermarket HID kits are installed incorrectly or without proper headlight cases designed to accompany them. What’s more, some models use toxic metals such as mercury, making production illegal in some countries.
The burgeoning trend is light emitting diode (LED) lights. Their greatest asset is perhaps their energy efficiency, they require very little energy to run, a single headlight could, in theory, last the lifetime of the vehicle. Manufacturers also like them because their small size allows for more creative designs. As you might have guessed, they are more expensive than halogens, but they aren’t particularly difficult to find in aftermarket kits and install. However, cost aside, they have a reputation for not putting out much heat, which isn’t entirely true. In fact, the emitters where the current passes can generate quite a bit and require a cooling system to prevent melting and damage to nearby assemblies. For this reason, a lot of manufacturers currently limit their use of LEDs to daytime running lights, brake lights and turn signals.
Lasers are the newest headlight technology under development. There have been some recent and exciting implementations on the market, but there’s still a long way to go before this goes mainstream. The technology isn’t readily available outside select dealerships, so it’s not exactly weekend project material.
As you can see, determining what the most efficient headlight options is, isn’t exactly cut and dry. There are several factors that influence efficiency by individual assessment, depending on cost especially. For now, the most energy efficient headlights readily available on the market are probably LEDs. But as mentioned, technology is always evolving, who knows what they’ll come up with next?
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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons