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We don’t often pay too much attention to our headlights unless one happens to burn out. Nevertheless, properly functioning headlights are essential for safe driving. They enhance visibility and allow us to see any potential dangers on the road, whether at night or in dense fog. Headlights also make it easier for others to see us. Essentially, they’re crucial to helping prevent accidents.

There are several different types of headlights out there these days, each with its own characteristics. If you’re curious about these different lights, read on for all the details. 

A look at halogen headlights

Cars driving down a highway with many different types of headlights.
Cars with their headlights on | Getty Images

Erie Insurance has provided a breakdown of the different types of headlights, the most common of which are halogen lights. These headlights are not unlike the typical light bulbs found in homes and offices. In a nutshell, as Erie Insurance explains, “Light travels through a thin wire filament and the bulb is filled with halogen gas to make it burn brightly.”

One thing to consider when purchasing halogen headlights is the color of light that they produce. Higher-priced bulbs generally tend to produce whiter, more powerful light, which can significantly aid visibility. In addition, halogen and LED lights will vary their color based on their temperature. A headlight’s color temperature is not actually connected to its strength, so the two should not be confused.

HID/Xenon headlights

HID headlights, also known as “high-intensity discharge” or Xenon lights, are similar to halogen lights because both run on a type of gas. However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. There’s no filament at work in Xenon lights. Instead, an arc of electricity travels across two electrodes, creating a bright light through its interaction with a gas trapped in a tube. Of course, as their name implies, these lights use the gas Xenon instead of halogen.

HID lights are less common and more costly than halogen lights. They’re also difficult to install in a car. These headlights produce an intense white light and usually last for some time, but they tend to be more expensive to replace than their halogen siblings. 

The intense white light produced by HID headlights can significantly aid visibility for those behind the wheel of the car on which they’re installed. One of the main problems with them, however, is that their brightness can blind the drivers of oncoming vehicles. Indeed, people who encounter cars with HID lights often mistake them for high beams. 

LED lights are modern and energy efficient

Finally, LED, or “light-emitting diode” lights, are becoming increasingly common in new vehicles. They’re long-lasting and energy-efficient, making them a popular choice for manufacturers and consumers. 

Unlike halogen or HID lights, LED headlights use neither filaments nor gas. Instead, they pass electricity through semiconductors. Because they’re brighter than halogen lights, and take up less space and maintain a cooler temperature, some drivers are tempted to try to install LED lights on their vehicles in place of the halogen bulbs that they came with. There are even conversion kits available for such purposes. 

These conversion kits do have some drawbacks, however. For starters, though the LED lights may be smaller than halogen bulbs, the kits can take up more space. Moreover, cars adapted for halogen lights don’t have the proper reflective equipment to make LED lights shine in all directions. 

All in all, headlights are more complicated than they may seem, and switching one type for another can create any number of surprises. It’s important to get these things right, given headlights’ essential role in car safety. 


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