LED vs HID vs Halogen vs Laser – The Evolution Of Car Headlights

Headlamps are lamps which are attached to the front of a vehicle to provide lighting on the road ahead especially in the dark. In more appropriate terms, headlights are the beams of light emitted and distributed from the headlamp.

The average performance of this device throughout the age of automobiles have depended on the quality of technology and types implemented in various vehicles. However, the various types to be exploited in this publication are differentiated by the sources of light used in them.

Each of them would be explained in terms of their functionalities, advantages and disadvantages. Buckle up , this is a long read.



LED Headlights Vs HID (XENON) Headlights Vs Halogen Headlights Vs Laser Headlights

1) LED Headlights :



Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) have evolved from just being flashing lights on beige computer cases. Now, they have become key components in modern vehicles, cell phones and even television sets. They serve huge purpose mostly as indicators in instrument panels and even car interiors.

Some of these applications include car indicators, brake lights and even traffic lights.

So far, it’s being said that designers prefer them in small but very significant applications because of their size which allow them to be fashioned into thinner and even more distinctive patterns.

This, apart from being a very fashionable concept in itself, would not mess with their original designs but blend perfectly.

While they can’t possibly achieve the same brightness levels as other types – say HIDs , they reach their maximum brightness within a millionth of a second. However, types such as incandescent and halogen lights take half of a second to reach their maximum brightness.

The relevance of this fact is that in applications such as car indicators or brake lights, half of a second could be worth the lives of every passenger. For LED lights on the other hand, given its reaction time to be way quicker than that, the use of more than one LED light would make it more effective and deliver almost immediately.

More importantly, they consume less energy given their luminous intensity, therefore, they are less susceptible to burnouts. Some manufacturers claim a life warranty of up to 15000 hours for their bulbs, therefore you don’t frequently have to worry about dealing with a broken tail light or its consequences.

To crown it all, they emit less heat. Compared to halogen or xenon gloves with which you’re more than likely to recoil in pain from the hot temperature radiated from them, there’s virtually no heating problems with the light emitting diodes.

This alone is a pretty solid advantage; as all the energy they consume (small as it is) is diverted towards the emission of light rather than heat.

If you’re looking to purchase an LED headlight , do well to read our article on the best led headlights on the market.

Led Headlight sample (courtesy superbrightleds ) : 



Pros :

  • Their small size allows for design manipulations in different applications
  • Their energy consumption is significantly low
  • They offer warmer lights than HIDs and are brighter than halogen lights

Cons :

  • Given their positioning in circuits, they tend to emit high temperatures around adjacent assemblies
  • They are more difficult to manufacture.

See Also : The Best Garage Lights On The Market

2). HID (XENON) Headlights :

High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights consist of a mixture of rare metals and gases heated to produce a bright white-yellow glow. They are at least three times brighter than halogen lamps.

However,  HID is not to the advantage of other road users when used in lighting applications for vehicles and could lead to a slippery slope that ends in accidents and casualties.

For this reason, the Australian Design Rules require that the vehicles equipped with this headlight type must have their lighting aimed towards the ground and not in the line of sight of other road users.

Interestingly, HID lamps tend to consume less power compared to the luminous intensity of their output. On a general note, they require about 35 watts of electric power and their durability is said to last for 2000 hours of good use.

HID lighting in cars contains a trace of xenon – which is an inert noble gas. That’s why they are also referred to as Xenon lights. This xenon gas is responsible for preventing the lights from flickering when they are turned on.

Given that HIDs take about a few minutes before they reach the maximum brightness, the xenon gas ensures that an adequate amount of illumination is present till that happens.

In automobiles, the bright white-yellow glow is accompanied by a distinctive tinge of blue color on the edges. They are featured because of their low beam (which is mostly before they reach their full brightness).

A bi-xenon setup is used where a lamp set works under the influence of the xenon gas for adequate illumination and high beams, while the other just has enough to keep it from flickering. Therefore, the user has an option of low and high beams from the same set of HID lights as headlights.

Hid headlight sample (courtesy evotint ) :



Pros :

  • They have longer lifespan compared to halogen lights
  • They are also more efficient than halogen bulbs considering that they create more lighting with less power (usually 35 watts)
  • They create better visibility for the driver (especially when the xenon component is present)

Cons :

  • The alarming amount of glare it produces could cause problems for oncoming vehicles
  • It’s very expensive
  • It has a very complex system compared to halogen bulbs
  • It takes seconds to reach full brightness (even with xenon gas).


3). Halogen Headlights :

Considering the limited resources in vehicles in the early 60s’, longevity and cost effectiveness were major problems that needed solving – hence the advent of halogen lamps. Needless to say, they are very simple, high performance and cost effective solutions to the lighting concept.

This was made possible using tungsten filaments, which in various ways, is similar to those found in incandescent bulbs used in homes. However, in order to improve their performance and longevity – for warranty purposes – they are enclosed in bubbles of halogen bulbs.

This combination is focused (on the road) using lens encased in an exterior casing made from polycarbonate, instead of glass.

This improvisation is lighter, stronger and very fitting for this kind of lighting. The lighting from the bulb is directed at a series of complex computer-designed reflector, or alternatively to a projector lens within the housing of the headlamp which ensures safety for other road users, while providing an impressively radiant lighting at a low cost.

The average working life is about 1000 hours, but no less than 500 hours and consume around 55 watts of power. This fair usage span, compared with its low cost are reasons why halogen lamps are the most common in use for full headlamps today.

However, there’s a huge desire among inventors to convert most of the energy consumed by the lighting type into proper use, given that plenty of it is converted into heat, rather than the needed lighting. Progress in this aspiration would mean more efficient lighting option at way cheaper prices.

Halogen headlight sample (courtesy Protuninglab ) :



Pros :

  • Given their simple construction, they are quite easy to replace
  • There come in different dimensions
  • The ratio of cost to luminous intensity clearly explains the term – cost effectiveness

Cons :

  • Most of the energy consumed (about 55 watts) is converted into heat – hence a lot of wasting
  • It requires extra care for proper maintenance


4). Laser Headlights :

Comic lovers would get the joke of a car “having laser in its eyes”. Cool yeah?

Technically, the laser beams are focused on a cloud of yellow phosphorus gas which emits a powerful glow when excited by said laser. This effect is reflected and diffused into light to provide lighting for the road ahead. This process doesn’t actually take as long as explained, but that’s pretty much it.

During the inception of this concept, they could only be used for high beams, but with BMWs’ design which is smaller, they could be used as more efficient headlamps which can light up the road up to 600 meters ahead.

This compared to the previous LED high beams which could only extend up to 300 meters ahead, is a great technological milestone.

The lasers are positioned at the back of the headlight, and then fire into a set of tiny mirrors which in turn focus their energy on the tiny lens that contains the yellow phosphorus gas mentioned earlier.

When this contact occurs, it produces a very bright white light which is reflected towards the front of the headlight. So, the light is generated from the phosphorus and not just the laser.

With this arrangement, if the laser goes out of focus, it loses its contact with the phosphorus gas and then automatically turns off. This light could be a thousand times brighter than LEDS while even using as low as half of the power consumed by the LEDs.

With the phosphorus effect, the resultant illumination could be as high as 6000k whish is quite similar to natural daylight which is about 6500k. This offers a significantly high illumination for less energy consumption. This is the future!

Laser headlights sample (courtesy BMW blog ) :


Pros :

  • The energy consumption is very efficient
  • Given the size of lasers, the packaging is quite small and design friendly
  • It’s way brighter than LEDs and travels up to double the range

Cons :

  • Being in comparison to daylight illumination, it’s temperature is also quite a huge concern, and the cooling system of the vehicle might face significant compromise
  • It’s very expensive
  • They can’t be used for both high and low beams, and mostly require a regular LED or HID system for complete headlamp formation



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