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HID vs. LED Headlights: What’s the Difference?

LED signature headlights

Three types of headlights are common in passenger vehicles today: halogen, light-emitting diode (LED) and high-intensity discharge (HID). Halogen headlights are by far the most popular, but the other two are catching on because of their superior illumination. When it comes to upgrading your vehicle’s bulbs, you’ll typically look at HID vs. LED bulbs. Here are the differences between your three choices.

Halogen Bulbs

Halogen bulbs are similar to incandescent lightbulbs, as both use a filament. Where incandescent bulbs feature a tungsten filament housed in glass, halogens are more complex — the halogen filament is surrounded by a quartz capsule and filled with iodine and bromine gases, which causes the lights to burn hotter and brighter. Halogens last two to three times longer than traditional incandescent lights.

HID Headlights in the 1990s, car manufacturers began gradually weaving HID headlights into their fleets. HID lamps create artificial light with no filament. Instead, they alight in the same way as a mercury vapor lamp: High-pressure xenon gas is charged amid high-voltage electrodes. This is why HID lights are often referred to as xenon headlights. HID illumination is three times that of halogen, making it easier for the driver to read signs and see road reflectors. HIDs are usually placed behind projector-beam headlight assemblies for better focus and to reduce glare from oncoming traffic. HIDs last longer than halogen bulbs and are more energy efficient.

LED Headlights

The most recent advances in headlight technology involve LED lighting. In the early 2010s, Audi began using LED lights, mostly as accent lighting to create a signature look. LEDs, like HIDs, produce a white light that some drivers prefer to the standard yellow lighting of halogens. As for the way they work, an electric current goes through a diode or semiconductor to produce a bright light while generating far less heat than an incandescent bulb. They don’t burn out, but they do dim over time. They’re also smaller than other types of lights, which allows for more design freedom — every manufacturer has a unique look.

How to Choose Your Headlight Upgrade

So, when you want to replace or upgrade your headlights, which type should you go with? Although HIDs and LEDs are certainly an aftermarket favorite for their appearance, they’re not necessarily always better than halogen headlights. Notably, Consumer Reports found that there are no differences in the forward-seeing capabilities among all three when the low beams are on — the setting used most when driving.

Where HIDs and LEDs do have an edge over halogens is in how they supply superior illumination to the sides of the road, which is an important consideration for drivers looking to expand their field of vision. That said, there is no clear winner between HIDs and LEDs, as they perform similarly, depending on the vehicle.

HID vs. LED: Other Considerations

If you decide to upgrade to HID or LED headlamps, you should know that HIDs take a few seconds to reach full brightness, while LEDs fully illuminate immediately. LED lights also last longer and use less power than HIDs, giving them an edge that goes beyond peripheral lighting performance.

Check out all the headlight products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on the difference between HID vs. LED headlights, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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