Extremely easy installation. Connectivity with automated vehicle systems like daytime running lights makes it work right from the start. Extra protections such as water resistance and a dust barrier keep the bulb working.
Output results vary depending on the particular bulb.
Built-in heat sink works to passively cool the bulb after running a long time at higher intensities. Intelligent computer chip lets the bulb work with active car systems. Can be used for fog lights and other intense operations.
Difference between low and high beam settings is smaller than other bulbs.
Brighter high and low beams that improve visibility, with no trace of blue hue. Very easy to install in most cars. Smaller power draw means output is always steady. Long-lasting bulb life.
Better at illuminating area close to the vehicle than at a distance. Longer bulb housing may make for tricky installation.
Bright and clear at night. Good for most common vehicle setups, particularly older cars and trucks that need a new bulb replacement. Best choice for people wanting to try out LED headlights with little experience.
Bulbs run hot during prolonged use.
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Converting your standard halogen headlights to modern LED alternatives promises better visibility not only in the dark but also in fog and other poor weather conditions. They’re a little more expensive, but they last many times longer, so you’ll save money in the long run. Sounds like a no-brainer.
But the number of alternatives available can make choosing difficult. What’s more, there are questions about whether LED headlights are even legal.
BestReviews has been busy shining a light on the subject! We’ve researched what’s available so we can make some recommendations, and we’ve looked into the technical and legal aspects. The following LED headlight buying guide is designed to give you all the answers you need to make an informed decision.
How headlights work
Halogen headlights: Like any traditional light bulb, halogen headlights work by heating a wire in a glass chamber. The halogen gas has two jobs: it increases brightness and slows the burning of the tungsten wire. Eventually, however, the wire burns through and the bulb blows.
HID headlights: High-intensity discharge headlights do without a wire. Instead, they have two electrodes that create a bright arc between them. The bulb is filled with xenon gas, which increases the intensity of the arc’s light. These last longer than halogens, but the electrodes eventually burn out.
LED headlights: These are completely different headlights. They rely on an array of light-emitting diodes directly powered by an electrical charge. These lights get hotter than glass bulbs, so a heat sink and tiny fan prevent overheating. Despite this, they only use about a fifth of the energy of glass bulbs.
Here are some of the most noticeable differences between LED headlights and older types:
LEDs emit a bright, white light. Halogen and HID headlights are slightly yellow.
LEDs reach full intensity instantly. Halogen and HID headlights take a few seconds to warm up.
LEDs cut through fog and snow better, increasing the distance you can see. Halogens tend to reflect back off fog and snow.
LEDs maintain the same performance throughout their life. Halogens and HIDs become less bright as they age.
Perfect pattern brightness
The Cougar’s clever design eliminates beam pattern faults, while “plug-and-play” technology gives fast, trouble-free installation compatible with most vehicle computer systems. A 10,000 rpm fan handles heat dissipation, and operating range is an amazing -40°F to 176°F. They’ll even work underwater. Customer satisfaction ratings are among the highest we’ve seen, underlining their quality.
Brightness: LED headlight brightness, measured in lumens, typically exceeds 7,000 lm. They can be anything from around 20% to 200% brighter than the standard halogen lights your vehicle was fitted with originally. The biggest difference is usually noticed at low beam. One of the limiting factors on high beam is that it’s important they don’t dazzle oncoming drivers.
Pattern: This is very important. All headlights rely to some extent on the reflectors within the housing to focus the beam, but cheap LED headlights can be patchy. LED headlight patterns are different from those for halogen bulbs, so it’s vital to get them the right way around. Adjustability of the bulb itself is a big advantage.
Color: Headlight color is defined by a Kelvin rating. LED headlights should be 6,000K or higher.
Single- or dual-beam: Check whether you need single- or dual-beam headlights. Single-beam headlights have one bulb for low beam and a separate one for high beam. Dual-beam headlights use a single bulb with two functions.
CAN bus: Many modern vehicles incorporate Controller Area Network (CAN bus) systems allowing all kinds of microprocessor and digital equipment to communicate with each other. Unfortunately, not all LED headlights are CAN bus compatible. A wide range of modules is available to provide a fix, though this increases the complexity of installation.
Chips: The LED chips themselves are often not made by the manufacturer of the headlight. Two brands known for high performance are Cree and Philips.
Heat: As heat increases, LED headlight efficiency decreases. To compensate, all bulbs are fitted with a heat sink and fan. On high-quality LEDs, this is relatively small. Cheaper models tend to be larger, and this can create problems when trying to fit the LED inside the headlight housing. Modification isn’t necessarily difficult, but it’s best avoided.
The greater efficiency of LED headlights puts less demand on your electrical system, so your engine doesn't have to work as hard. It might not be a huge difference, but LEDs can save fuel!
LED headlights aren’t just for cars and trucks. Your motorcycle could benefit from an upgrade, too.
LED headlight bulbs are usually larger than standard halogens. Some brands require minor modification of the headlight housing to fit properly. Check before ordering.
Offering price comparisons is an important part of our buyer’s guides, and we usually like to show you what’s available for low, mid-range, and premium budgets, but it’s very difficult with LED headlights. You can take two competing products that have very similar specifications and one can be $40 and the other $140!
What we can say is that we’d be wary of very cheap LED headlights. They might be very bright, but beam patterns often have serious black spots, and a lack of adjustability renders many illegal. We wouldn’t expect to pay less than $25, and $40 to $60 per pair is the sweet spot where you’ll find the best balance of price and performance.
Upgrading sealed beam units requires complete replacement of the entire headlight housing, but they’re not as expensive as you might think. Prices run from around $40 for something like a Chevy Blazer, to around $80 for those that will fit a semi. However, that’s per unit and you could need up to four, depending on the vehicle.
DOT-compliant bulbs that deliver great performance for less than many competitors. Triple LEDs allow them to be rotated for optimum light pattern. Popular, and a bargain if they fit, but they aren’t CAN bus ready, and the size of the fan unit makes it particularly important to check the compatibility of make and model before ordering.
There’s no doubt the SNGL Super Bright LED Headlights are a well-designed, high-performance product, but we can’t understand why they’re up to four times the cost of similar competitors.
The Lightening Dark 10,000 Lumens LED Headlight Bulbs offer CAN bus compatibility and a 360° adjustment for beam pattern. While they’re not cheap, they’re certainly worth considering.
Want to replace old sealed beam headlights with brighter, long-life LEDs? The Sunpie H6054 LED Headlights could be the answer. They fit a variety of vehicles from Jeeps to Corvettes to Clarion Motorhomes.
Got a semi? The LX Light LED Headlights are designed to fit Freightliner, Kenworth, and Peterbilt.
Q. Are LED headlights legal?
A. This is a big issue, and you need to consider both the bulbs themselves and their fitting. In principle, LED headlights are not illegal, but that doesn’t mean they’re all legal!
Beware of “DOT approved.” The U.S. Department of Transportation tests products to make sure they’re safe, but it doesn’t actually “approve” anything. Manufacturers shouldn’t make this statement. The proper term is “DOT compliant.” Any bulbs marked as such are legal.
Some manufacturers claim products are tested to DOT standards. That may be true, but it doesn’t make them legal. Terms can be confusing. If you’re concerned, ask the manufacturer for written confirmation, which may help if you’re stopped by law enforcement, although its legal standing isn’t guaranteed.
To be legal, headlights must be white or yellow (halogens are usually described as yellow). Blue and other colors are definitely illegal.
Brightest isn’t always best. The beam should reach between 50 and 100 yards, and must not dazzle oncoming drivers. There can be problems created by the additional brightness inherent in LEDs, and cheap LEDs are often the worst offenders. It’s important to recheck beam alignment once the LED headlight bulbs have been fitted.
If you’re not causing a hazard to other road users, the chances of you being stopped are minimal. However, the only sure way to know your LED headlights are legal is to check regulations for your state and, if required, get them inspected.
Q. Are LED headlights easy to fit?
A. Swapping your halogen bulbs for LED bulbs isn’t particularly complicated, but a lot depends on accessibility. In some vehicles, there’s not a lot of space to work with, so it’s vital to check that the bulb you’re intending to buy is suitable for your year, make, and model. Most manufacturers optimistically claim it takes between 20 and 60 minutes. We’d allow a little longer. Bear in mind that LED headlights last thousands of hours, so it’s a job you should only have to do once.
Q. Are LEDs better than HIDs?
A. High-intensity discharge lights can be as bright as LEDs, but they are much more fragile, and have nowhere near the life expectancy.
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