Are HID and LED Headlights Worth Buying?

From Consumer Reports:

Brighter lights might not necessarily let you see farther down the road

Just my experience. I don’t believe in retrofitting from what is on the car original. But when we had the HIDs with the 2012 Acura lighting was exceptional. Almost like daylight on a dark street plus you could see deer way ahead on the side of the road. They went into my essential list like disc brakes. We now have the LEDs and they are very similar and like them too. So I’ll take either one. Obviously LEDs are going to last longer and are cheaper than replacing an HID. On both of them though, the high beams add very little and sometimes actually reduce the near intensity so don’t get used much. On the Pontiac with halogens I just use the brightest Ultra. They don’t compare to LEDs but the high beams are more useful. Plus you have to remember factory HID and LEDs are aimed so that there is a strong definition of where they aim high. Not so on retros.

Now as far as street lights go, I’m not sure. They have been replacing them and I’m not sure I like them for the color of the light, the fact that the beam is more concentrated, and seems like there should be a diffuser on them so you aren’t blinded looking up at them.

The TL generation before yours had a nifty little solution to this. The low and high beams were the same bulb. An electronic shutter flipped out of the way when you hit the high-beams, so everything remained exactly the same except that the light went farther down the road.

I agree. I also

I also use the brightest Silverstar Ultras on my vehicles, which use incandescent (quartz-halogen) lamps… They provide plenty of light.

I also agree with this statement. I find the higher intensity in the higher frequency (shorter wavelength) around the blue portion of the visible spectrum (400-450 nanometers in length) to be tiring. I’ve discovered that this is not uncommon.

No. There is no evidence based on testing of actual cars that HID and LED lights are better than the much less expensive halogen lights we have used for decades. The article includes a quote from IIHS, who generally know their stuff, but in the most recent IIHS test of 2018 Tiguan from VW the halogen lights outscored the optional LEDs. What is more important, but clouds the discussion, is that affordable vehicles have as good or better headlights than do premium brand vehicles in many cases. Cost and performance are not closely correlated in headlights. IIHS has the best headlight testing setup (as well as the most comprehensive list of tested vehicles) in the U.S., not Consumer Reports. That said, it is great that CR is making the topic a priority. This is exactly what their mission should be. Headlight marketing hype has seen its day come and go now that actual analytical and scientific headlight testing is standard on IIHS vehicle safety tests.

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Here’s an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety article on headlights. There’s lots of interesting info on the IIHS website.

Do the cars with the factory HID lights have the same mandated plastic lenses seen on so many cars that invariably cloud over, or have they figured out a material that maintains clarity with age like glass lenses of the bygone era?

Mandated? By who? Then lens material and shape is only mandated by aerodynamics, cost, and the style of the day. They do have to be approved or meet the standards of the DOT, I think.

The colors available in LED headlights have gotten less annoying as the prices have come down. I put a set in a '97 BMW that cost only $37 for the pair of LEDs. That is less than the cost of a pair of premium halogens, I put it in the driveway with the headlights shining on the garage door, alongside a similar car with Silverstars. Both cars have well polished, but somewhat aged, plastic lenses.
The light output and pattern were almost identical, but the color of the LEDs was similar to the color of the LEDs on new cars, so it REALLY updated the look of that 21 year-old car. The Silverstars looked quite yellow by comparison.
These cheap LEDs have big heat sinks but no fans, so it will be interesting to see how long they last. It has been almost a year and they are fine so far.

Plastic is mandated by NHTSA for safety reasons. Glass lenses are a safety hazard in accidents, particularly to pedestrians. Plus glass weighs more than plastic and, in this age of fuel efficiency, every ounce counts.


I remember my dad retrofitting sealed beam head lights to his 1939 Chevrolet back in 1946. Sealed beam headlights didn’t come along until 1940. These sealed beam were a real improvement over the old style that had a bulb and lens arrangement. However, the unit the sealed beam replaced had a smaller bulb for the parking lights and a big bulb for the headlights. Therefore, the car lost its parking lights feature. Since most cars back then did not have turning signals, this really wasn’t a loss.
Whether the HID or LED headlights are a real improvement over standard equipment is a question I can’t answer.

It mainly depends on how well you take care of the car. Hand-wash it, or at least stay away from non-touchless automatic washes. Wax the headlights with a good wax. I’ve seen headlights on cars much newer than mine clouded over. Mine are still crystal clear.

As for retrofitting HID’s, they require a certain reflector configuration to avoid blinding other drivers and to get the proper illumination of the road. Most of the conversion kits lack a replacement reflector, so you end up with glarey, bright lights that blind other drivers and don’t help you all that much.

The cheap aftermarket conversion kits are usually horrible, yes. Factory HID is designed with a sharp cutoff that limits the light levels making it to oncoming traffic to specific levels. Drop in bulb replacements won’t meet those requirements.