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Everything you need to know about upgrading your headlights

Everything you need to know about upgrading your headlights

Any seasoned car lover will tell you – a good set of headlights can make all the difference in creating a smooth ride. And as you know, sometimes the factory just doesn’t give you what you’re looking for. When that happens, it’s time to upgrade your headlights.

In this quick guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about DIY-ing. From listing the advantages of one headlight set over another, to going over common upgrade options, we’ll make sure you’ve got all the right info at your fingertips.

Before we dive into upgrade details, we’ve got a couple of things to say about the three most common headlight set types.

Halogen Headlights

Pretty much the OG of headlights, halogens are one of the oldest headlight types still widely used in the market today. Halogens are made from a glass container, which is filled with a halogen chemical mix along with a filament coil that produces its characteristic glow. These are the most commonly used bulbs, not just in the automotive industry, but pretty much everywhere.

Pros: They’re often the most affordable option on the market.

Cons: They have a shorter lifespan, and aren’t as bright.

LED Headlights

Over the past decade, LED headlights have made significant waves in the auto industry due to their improved capabilities over their halogen competitors. At their core, their brighter glow is produced via a semiconductor that produces light-bearing photons through a flow of electrons. As compared to halogens, LEDs use a lot less power, which can translate to a more safe headlight set for your vehicle.

Pros: Super bright, more power efficient, longer life.

Cons: No real color options, plus dimming over time. Also, if your headlights freeze over on a cold night, the low temp of LED can cause you trouble.

HID/Xenon Headlights

Although they got their start way back in the 90s, Xenon, or “HIDs” as they’re often called haven’t gotten much attention from the automotive community until recently. These more high-end headlights are filled with a noble gas and salt mix that generate an extremely bright glow.

Pros: HIDs are very bright, offer more color options, have a longer life, and stay bright until they fail.

Cons: You’ll be looking at a higher cost, and might need to buy more individual components.

Headlight Upgrade Options

Since most people are starting their upgrade journey with halogens, we’ll be focusing on how to start there. If you want to boost your light output and gain better performance, you have several options to choose from. Just remember with headlights, you often get what you pay for.

The Easiest Option

Sometimes the best option is the simplest one. Want to improve your visibility without shelling out a ton of cash? A new set of halogen bulbs might be just what the doctor ordered. How’s that for a quick fix?

Halogen Headlight Upgrade

When you’re doing a true upgrade, you have the option to install an “upgraded” bulb kit. If you don’t want to break the bank but still want to get that brighter white look, then this option might be for you.

Note: When shopping around for halogen upgrade kits, be sure to pay attention to “off-road use only” markings, which indicate that those particular bulbs aren’t legal for standard road use.

HID Conversion Kits

Let’s start off by saying that, if you have reflector type headlights, don’t upgrade to HID. You’ll experience a lot of glare, which can lead to unsafe driving conditions.

If you have projector headlights though, you’re in the clear. HIDs can make an excellent upgrade to any halogen headlight set – just know that the more you pay, the better quality and lifespan you’ll be able to get.

Also, even though it may be tempting to choose a cooler color option, know that you’ll actually get the most light out of the bulb with a Kelvin temp of around 4300.

LED Conversion Kits

The best LED kits you can find are ones that have the newest LED chip technology like CSP (chip scale package). These are the smallest and brightest bulbs you can work with; some older LED models are much larger and don’t focus light properly, so it’s always good to go with a newer kit if you can.

A Quick Note on Halogen Headlight Upgrades:

Reflector type headlights will take well to an upgraded Halogen Kit or a proper LED kit, while projector headlights work best with an LED kit, or high-quality HID kit.

What If I’m Starting with HIDs?

If you’re looking to replace your HIDs, just pick up the same filament size as your original headlights and you’ll be in for a quick swap. With the flexibility this type of bulb provides, you’ll be able to have your pick of a wider variety of colors – without sacrificing light output.

Ready to get started on your next upgrade? Check out Headlights Depot for more resources on how to get the most out of your set of headlights.

Claire Biggerstaff
Claire Biggerstaff is a freelance writer and photographer from Charlotte, NC. Her curiosity leads her to write about a wide variety of topics. On her off days, she enjoys reading Polygon articles, and curling up to a good YouTube playlist.

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    10 Comments

    1. New headlights really make a huge difference in terms of safety as well as aesthetic.

    2. when I was at the dealership I wanted a car with HID lights .. Just something I was set on when I walked in i Knew I wanted the best option because I want the newest tech.

    3. The “Off-Road Use Only” markings and designations are commonly placed on products that are meant to be used to replace headlight bulbs because it is not legal to change the original light source of a headlight. However, many lighting upgrades can actually be safer when quality components are used and the lights are adjusted correctly. Headlights that allow you to have improved visibility without blinding other drivers will be safer to drive with at night, for both yourself and others. An HID upgrade kit is great for projectors, but an LED kit is great for reflector headlights.

    4. Whatever happened to the good ol’ candlelit headlamp?

    5. The color of a hid bulb will greatly affect the output of the bulb, 5500 Kelvin(temperature) will be the brightest option. Any higher or lower Kelvin(temperature) the output will be lower.

      1. I feel like if your not trying to complicate your life check halogen as its easier to dealer with.

    6. This was a great quick yet extensive guide for upgrade options and which may be the best options for you. I was a little confused on whether LEDs were a better option for reflector or projector style lights. I also believe there are color options for LED bulbs as well.

    7. Very informative article, personally I like the newer LED replacement bulbs, I feel they give the cleanest light and are an easy install.

    8. My advice is to go for the highest quality you can afford. Low cost HID and LED conversion kits are all over the place and look appealing, but are not worth the risk of being stranded on a dark road with no headlights. The best LED’s are by far Diode Dynamics https://www.headlightsdepot.com/diode-dynamics and I’m a fan of PERDE for obvious reasons when it comes to upgrading to a higher quality halogen light source https://www.headlightsdepot.com/catalog/bulbs

    9. So many different options for headlights. Depending on the headlight you can get a different light quality also the brightness widely depends on the bulb being used as well and one must be careful because you won’t be able to swap to just any headlight. One must use what is originally on their factory. For example, If HID headlight from factory then can only use HID headlight.

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