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Headlights are a lifeline for all drivers in the dark. When the sun goes down, we all need to have clear, bright, and well-focused headlights to stay on course.

Regardless of the destination, be it home, work, or anywhere else, seeing the road is the number one prerequisite for arriving safely—or at all, for that matter. Consumer Reports has given several key insights into headlamps in their latest evaluation of LEDs, halogen bulbs, and High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps.

Halogen headlights

Halogens have been the gold standard for decades. Operating much like a standard incandescent bulb, these lamps are simple to make and markedly effective at cutting through the darkness.  These staple components are cheap and easy to manufacture, widely available, and very effective at achieving its intended use.

Halogen bulbs are dimmer and warmer than its competition, HIDs and LEDs, but they are also a softer, yellow-white color, making it easier for other drivers to see the road when they are looking down-range at their helpful glow.

Drivers seeking to balance cost and efficiency will likely get the most value out of halogen bulbs in the short term and medium term, depending on how often they drive and how much of that time is spent driving at night.  Halogen headlamps generally last for around 500 hours.

HID headlights

High-Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs, also known as Xenon bulbs, light up drivers’ lives much like neon signs do. Electricity is passed through a noble gas which is trapped in a glass tube. Thus, creating a bright light.

High-focus lenses are used to condense this bright light into a focused beam, then reflectors are used to create a consistent beam pattern, much like with halogen bulbs and headlamps. 

HIDs are substantially brighter than halogen bulbs and the light they emit has a higher frequency than halogen bulbs, making them excellent for fog and other difficult conditions. They are, however, less than ideal to drive into. Oncoming drivers commonly mistake HIDs for high–beams.

LED headlights

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are a very long-life alternative to HIDs and halogen bulbs, though they are generally much more expensive. Where HIDs commonly last around 2,000 hours, LEDs can operate for an average of 50,000 hours.

LEDs can be incredibly bright and commonly use a high-frequency, cold blue-white shade of light. These, like HIDs, may suffer from excessive driver feedback. Just because LEDs are currently non-traditional bulbs does not mean that businesses should not expand into new markets. 

LED headlamps are, like halogens, relatively easy to produce and cheap to acquire, at least based on its reliability and duration of service. Drivers must compare the cost against the duration of service when pricing components.

For an HID headlamp which will last 3-4 times longer, the additional price may not be worthwhile, though an LED bulb which may last 100 times longer is generally expected to be a worthwhile investment. 

Overall difference

The overall sight distance review ended negligibly whereas investors began associating halogen bulbs as equivalent range, cost-effective options for short-medium term usage.

By focusing on LED headlamps for comparable range, but substantially longer service lifetimes, drivers can expect to get their money’s worth most out of LED headlamps. 

Consumer Reports’ recommendations

CR recommends that drivers keep their headlights focused and properly aligned. They note that HID and LED bulbs can improve visibility within the same range due to higher light output levels, but that the visibility range does not change substantially.

Using LEDs can enable drivers to get the most time out of their headlamps, but lens covers and headlamp assemblies wear out and discolor before the LED headlamps finally burn out.