Halogen lights may have been the standard in the world of car headlights once, but in recent years they have become a thing of the past. Instead, two newer types of headlights are slowly taking their place — HID lights and LED lights. Both of these are vast improvements from halogens, but the question is, which one is better? The HID vs LED headlights debate is gaining momentum as the two are taking over the world.
If you’re planning to upgrade your car’s headlights, you might be feeling a little confused yourself. But don’t worry, I’m here to tell you what you need to know about HID and LED lights. That way, you’ll be sure to make the right decision when the time comes!
What Are HID Lights?
HID stands for High-Intensity Discharge, and this type of light works quite similarly to neon lights. The main difference is that HID uses xenon instead of neon, prompting some people to call it xenon light. However, since you might not be familiar with how neon lights work either, let me explain in more detail.
An HID bulb contains a gas-filled tube with electrodes on each end. When the electric current passes through the tube, the gas within heats up and ionizes. This process of heating and ionization produces the glow.
However, it can take a while for xenon in the tube to heat up. That is why an HID bulb progressively becomes brighter as time passes — the gas reaches its working temperature only after around half a minute. Once it does though, the halide salts within the tube melt and vaporize, decreasing the resistance between the electrodes. Then more current can pass through the tube and the gas can reach its maximum glowing potential.
Unlike halogen bulbs, HID lights don’t use a tungsten filament to pass the current and heat the gas. Since the thin filament oxidizes and breaks down after a while, halogen bulbs have a much shorter lifetime than HID lights —approximately 400 to 1000 hours compared to xenon’s 2,500 to 8,000 hours.
In addition, once xenon in HID lights heats up, it is much brighter than a halogen bulb. In numbers, HID bulbs produce 5,000 lumens and a halogen light produces around 1,400 lumens. Here’s a video comparison for those of you who are more visual types.
When you take these advantages into account, it’s really no wonder that HID lights are quickly replacing halogens. However, before you make your final decision, let’s take a look at LED bulbs.
What Are LED Lights?
You might already know that LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode. But did you know that it works on the principle of electroluminescence? That means that light particles, also known as photons, escape the diode and in that process create light.
How does that happen? Well, a typical diode has two sides — a positively charged one and a negatively charged one. The negatively charged side contains electrons, while the positively charged one has the so-called electron holes.
When you apply an electric charge to the diode, electrons start moving — and naturally, they move towards the positively charged side. When they get there, they combine with the electron holes and become excited. This is the state in which they release the photons that emit light.
Since the light is made when the photons filter through the diode, it’s very easy to get a colored light. All you need to do is add a coating of colored materials and there you have it. This feature sets LED apart from both HID and halogen lights.
LED lights are outperforming halogens in many aspects, so it’s no wonder that they are slowly replacing them in the car industry. They are cost-effective, durable and they don’t heat up, making them a much better choice overall.
Durability is the most obvious example to illustrate the advantages of LED. When it comes to it, halogens can’t even compare to LED bulbs. With the estimated lifetime of 50,000 hours, LED bulbs last at least fifty times longer than a halogen bulb. On top of that, they consume much less power and have a far better light output — 4,000 lumens at the very least.
If you’re not entirely sure what kind of a difference that is, here is a video that will illustrate it.
HID vs LED Headlights — How They Compare
Now you know why HID and LED are slowly taking over the car world and replacing halogen lights. But you’re probably still not sure which one of these lights is the right choice for you. So here is how the two compare when it comes to some of the most important headlights features.
Both HID and LED headlights made their first appearance in the 1990s. However, from then on their development was slightly different. HIDs gained their reputation as superior to halogens after they appeared on the BMW 7 series in 1991. After that, they were sporadically featured in other models, but never quite as widespread as halogen lights.
LED lights made their mark in the car industry even later. Though they first appeared in 1993, it wasn’t until the 2000s that they gained some market traction. Since then, they have been used on models from Toyota, Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes.
As you can tell, both types of headlights are relatively new on the market and use modern technologies that have yet to be explored and improved. This is particularly true of LED headlights — in my opinion, their time still hasn’t fully arrived, but it’s right around the corner.
Both of these headlights are more energy-efficient than halogen bulbs, but if there was a showdown only between the two, LEDs would without a doubt come on top. They need just a bit of current to work, yet they emit a rather bright light nonetheless.
On the other hand, HIDs initially need more energy as the gas within the tube heats up. Once it does and once the resistance between electrodes decreases, the energy consumption drops. From then on, HIDs use little energy for a very strong illumination. Still, because of that heat-up period, HIDs lose to LEDs when it comes to energy efficiency.
Unfortunately for HIDs, this is another battle they lose. Although some of the most durable xenon bulbs can last up to 8,000 hours, this is nothing compared to the LED lifetime of 50,000 hours. Still, if you do choose to buy HID headlights, you will get relatively long-lasting lights, even if they can’t hold a candle to LED.
In addition, the firm build of LED lights ensures that they are shock and vibration-resistant, so they are a perfect choice for larger vehicles such as trucks or buses. Compared to LEDs, HIDs are rather fragile and thus they lose on another account.
The two competitors are rather similar when it comes to brightness — HID produces 5,000 lumens and LED around 4,000. Still, there are a few key differences in the quality of brightness that you should keep in mind when choosing.
First, there is the glare. Because they are so strong, HID lamps can produce glare that blinds the drivers in vehicles on the opposite side of the road. Of course, this is rather dangerous and can even lead to a crash. LED lights don’t have such a strong glare and therefore are a safer option.
However, a serious advantage of HID lights is that they are farther-reaching. Due to this, they perform really well in low visibility conditions. On the other hand, neither HID nor LED headlights, despite their brightness and power, don’t do so well in thick fog areas as they tend to reflect too much. Arguably, even halogens headlights are better than HIDs or LEDs for fog, mainly because of their warmer color. To fight thick fog efficiently, you should get yourself extra fog lights.
Directionality is a major disadvantage of HID lights — mainly because HIDs are omnidirectional. This means that they produce light in 360 degrees, which might sound good, but it’s not necessary when you only want to illuminate the area in front of your car. Therefore, half of the emitted light needs to be redirected so as to reach the desired area.
That is why HIDs contain additional reflective parts in the light fixtures. Not only do these parts increase the cost of HIDs, but they also indicate the inefficiency of the system.
LEDs, on the other hand, emit light in 180 degrees by default. Thus, they are far more efficient than HID lights, even if the beam they produce is not at the same brightness level.
Even though prices of LED bulbs are getting cheaper by the day, HIDs are still the less expensive option. Nevertheless, this is bound to change when LEDs become more widely used as headlights.
However, in the long-run, LED headlights will prove more cost-effective than HID ones. The reason is simple — they are far more durable, so you won’t need to change them as often as HIDs. Therefore, perhaps it’s better to pay more at the beginning so you’d pay less overall.
As you now know, HID lights need a bit of time to reach their maximum brightness. This usually won’t be a problem — after all, you turn your headlights on when the car is parked, so you don’t need the full brightness right away. But you might find yourself in situations when instant brightness is crucial, and HIDs don’t perform well in those.
On the other hand, LEDs don’t have a warm-up period. They light up almost instantaneously and reach maximum brightness in just a few seconds.
Heating is a category in which HID lights win hands down. The reason is simple — HIDs don’t have any issues with cooling. While they do warm up, that heat is necessary for their operation, so there is no need for additional cooling.
Meanwhile, LED lights have a rather strange relationship with heat. If you touch them, you’ll notice they are cold. How could there be a problem with heating then? Well, while the LEDs themselves don’t heat up, the surrounding components and wiring harnesses do.
As a solution to the heating issue, LEDs come with a cooling system. This system usually adds up to the already higher cost of LED headlights, and it also makes the installation harder. It typically needs to stay cool in order to do its job, but it also has to be placed by the engine. This is a bit of a contradiction — after all, it is precisely the engine area that heats up when the car is running.
Normally, when the LED headlights and the cooling system are properly fitted, heating doesn’t pose that much of a problem. However, when you don’t do a good job of installing LED lights, you can end up having issues with overheating.
Since most headlights are in the white range with hints of yellow or blue, you might not think it’s particularly important what color they are. But you’d be wrong — the human eye sees best when it’s exposed to the sun’s daylight color temperature. This temperature stays in the range between 5,000 K and 6,000 K, so it’s best to purchase lights of this color.
Both HID and LED lights typically produce this optimal color temperature, and rarely do they ever cross the 6,000 K threshold. However, if you’re buying an HID headlights kit on your own, you might notice that some go way beyond this and emit bluish lights. I wouldn’t recommend buying these — the visibility is typically lower with blue lights due to the ultraviolet output which our eyes can’t register.
LED lights are simpler in this regard. They almost invariably come with a color temperature of 6,000 K, so you don’t have to think too much when purchasing them.
HID vs LED Headlights — The Winner
Ultimately, there’s no doubt that both of these headlights are based on impressive technology. In addition, both are far better than halogen lights. Whichever you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
That being said, I think that LED headlights make for a better investment. They are durable, cost-effective, and almost equally as bright as the HIDs. You will pay more for them, but in the long run, they’re bound to save you a lot of money. On top of that, LED is the technology of the future, and the constant improvements and cost reductions will eventually make them an indisputably better choice than HIDs.
However, depending on your needs, HID headlights might be the better option. Though not as cost-effective as LEDs, they do use relatively little energy to create more brightness. You should go for HID headlights if you drive a lot at night, especially if you speed.
In addition, with HID headlights, you won’t have to install a whole cooling system just to use them. This makes HIDs more affordable and easier to retrofit to your car, which is a huge plus if you’re doing it on your own.
Retrofitting HID and LED Headlights
Even though both HID and LED headlights are vastly superior to halogen lights, they are still not widely used in car manufacturing. Due to the higher costs of installing these lights, they are usually available only on more expensive new vehicles.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to buy a whole new vehicle just to own these headlights. There is a whole market of retrofitting kits for those who want to install these new lights in their older cars. What’s more, these kits are usually easy to use, so you can install them on your own!
For a new set of HID headlights, I’d recommend using the Innovited HID kit. It comes with two waterproof ballasts, two bulbs and a manual that will guide you through the process step-by-step. The lights are pre-wired, so you’ll only need to plug them in on most cars. However, if your car isn’t compatible with this kit, it might be a good idea to have a professional install it.
If your first choice are LED headlights, opt for the Opt7 LED kit. You’ll get cool-white light bulbs with the highest level of brightness on the LED market. Similarly to the HID kit, all you need to do is plug in the lights — all the wiring’s been done for you. The cooling system features a heat sink at the base of the light with a dual-speed fan, which makes sure that the components around the LED stay at the operational heat levels.
Of course, once you install your new headlights, make sure to properly clean them. If you’re not sure how, here is a guide to help you.
Given all the benefits of HID and LED headlights, it’s safe to assume that halogens will be entirely replaced by one or both of them in a few years. And once that happens, you’ll want to be a part of the new and much brighter era of car headlights.
But when it comes to HID and LED headlights, it’s entirely up to you to decide which you like better. Whatever the case, you should do your research before purchasing and make sure that the type of headlight you buy is compatible with your car and your needs.