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Differences Between Headlight Bulbs Explained

Halogen vs LED vs Xenon vs HID

As you probably already know, not all headlight bulbs are the same as some are more powerful and produce various different colors. Another important factor is that certain bulbs will last far longer such as LED’s, which tend to last 8 to 10 times longer than halogen bulbs. Below we have put together a table stating the various bulb specifications with regards to color temperature and lifespan.

Bulb TypeColor TemperatureApproximate Lifespan
Halogen3,200K - 4,500K200 - 400 Hours
HID3,000K - 30,000K2,500 Hours
LED4,000K - 6,000K5,000 Hours
Xenon4,000K - 6,000K2,500 Hours

Table of Contents

Halogen Headlight Bulbs

Halogen is by far the bulb that most people would have heard of before and it is the most popular on the road today. This is because these headlight bulbs are the cheapest to produce and install on most vehicles on the road.

The majority of halogen bulbs produce between 3,200 to 4,500K but there are a few that will fall outside of this range. You can purchase halogen bulbs that produce similar color temperatures to that of a LED or xenon bulb but these will cost far more. The best replacement headlight bulbs are usually produced by brand such as Philips, PIAA, SLYVANIA and a few others.

A major drawback of halogen headlight bulbs is the fact they produce heat. This is the result of the tungsten filament that is used for the light. This type of lighting is fairly inefficient and experts state that the filament produces 95% wasted heat energy.

As you can see from the table above, they also have the drawback of having a short lifespan compared to the alternatives, which means you will be replacing them more often.

Halogen Bulb

LED Headlight Bulbs

LED bulbs for car headlights are becoming far more popular with regards to modern cars. There are many brands that also offer optional extras or aftermarket headlights that use LED bulbs too.

The benefits of using LED headlights include:

  • Long lifespan
  • Distinctive white light output
  • Relatively cheap
  • Far more efficient than halogen
  • Low wattage

With regards to changing the headlight design, this is required due to the way the LED bulbs function. As they are cooled from the back, the standard headlight design may not be adequate. Therefore, you may find yourself having to pay a small fortune to upgrade the headlight unit itself.

LED bulbs are also used a lot within DRL (Daytime Running Lights) units due to their long lifespan and lack of parts that wear down.

HID Bulbs

Compared against xenon bulbs (discussed below), HID (High Intensity Discharge) bulbs can be fitted as an aftermarket part to virtually any car. Choosing the best HID kit you can get your hands on can completely transform the look of your car and look very similar to the more expensive xenon alternatives.

If you are converting from halogen bulbs to HID, you will need to purchase a conversion kit. This will usually include xenon bulbs, ballasts and separate power packs in order to provide the additional voltage required.

When it comes to choosing your desired color, HID bulbs offer a wide variety of selection. They range from 3,000K to 30,000K but its worth mentioning that not all colors will be road legal.

Xenon vs Halogen

Xenon Headlights

Xenon headlights are usually an optional extra when you purchase the car and are relatively expensive. Unlike HID, xenon lamps do not need to warm up whatsoever and provide instant light and also provide a more natural light. The xenon gas inside the bulb simply lights up as a high voltage is applied to it.

Xenon is a sub type of HID and they are often combined to form a headlight bulb type known as Xenon HID. Xenon bulbs do have a drawback, which is down to the amount of voltage that is required to operate them. This voltage can be as high as 30,000 volts. However, you result is far brighter light than halogen, which is more natural.


Choosing between the different types of headlight bulbs is dependent upon your personal preference. Some people are not bothered by the color and just want maximum visibility of the road at night. Whereas others prefer the white/blue light output from xenon and HID bulbs. However, if you are on a budget, opting for premium halogen bulbs may be the best option.

procarreviews author

Written By Dan

About the Author

Dan is an automotive journalist and owner of over 10 cars ranging from supercars, tuned cars, classics and your good old beater cars. He always likes to get his hands dirty with nut and bolt restorations or detailing sessions using the best products on the market.

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