Unless you’re quite a ways up that rugged old hill called age, you probably don’t remember a time when you could walk into a parts store and have a choice of maybe five or six different headlights at most, and it was fairly obvious which ones fit your vehicle. If you’re too young to remember these days, we assure you they did exist. That seems like an impossibility now, however, since the choices for headlights are becoming limitless. The choices are no longer square or round, high beam or low beam. They now consist of size, color, lumens, LED/Non-LED, high beam or low beam or both, and something that sounds like it came from an H.G. Wells story – Xenon. Walking into a parts store gets more confusing every model year. Let’s see if we can sort through some of these choices, so you can decide which ones best fit you.
Instead of being fully encased in a metal/glass housing, headlights have now (mostly) become just plain plug-in bulbs with one minor proviso – don’t touch them. Unlike the standard turn signal and brake light bulbs, headlight bulbs are susceptible to the oils in your skin. These oils, coupled with the heat of the bulb, can damage the glass and cause the bulb to break. Many of these bulbs look the same and are the same physical size, but the technical specifications are different from bulb to bulb. Luckily, you simply need to know the correct part number for your vehicle, which your parts store professional can always help you with. The tricky part comes when you begin discussing the other areas of choice. Areas like…
This is an area where you need to be extremely cautious. Many states have laws against headlights that emit certain colors. Most states require the light emitted to be “white.” The other colors are reserved for specific purposes, such as Fire and Police vehicles. There are some areas where this isn’t the case, but you should always check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles or local Police Station to be sure. And remember, just because it’s legal where you live doesn’t mean it’s the same everywhere else; be very careful travelling if you install lights that delve into the color spectrum of blue, yellow, or arctic green (all of which are now available for certain models).
LED lights are becoming quite the fashion trend. On the other hand, if they didn’t come factory-equipped on your vehicle, you better reach for your pocketbook. There are many aftermarket companies that will sell you the LED versions of your current headlights, but they come encased as one entire unit. Not only does this change the installation method of the lights, but it can run the price up to anywhere from $100 all the way to over $500 for the set. The upside is that you may never need to buy headlights again. LEDs are becoming increasingly popular thanks to their high lumen output and long life. You could actually end up replacing your vehicle’s battery two or three times before these lights ever begin to weaken.
No, this is not the planet that Mork was from – that would be Ork. Xenon is a chemical element that is used in headlamps, arc lamps, flash lamps, and, believe it or not, as a general anesthetic. In reality, Xenon headlights are actually regular metal-halide lights that contain xenon gas. The xenon allows the lamp to produce adequate light upon startup, and better overall lighting than a traditional Halogen lamp. If the lamp used argon instead of xenon, it would warm up similar to a street lamp, very slowly. Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where you need to be cautious. The xenon not only allows the light to warm up faster, it also shades it with a bluish tint. If your vehicle came straight from the factory with Xenon lights, then you’re probably safe. However, if you’re looking into a Xenon conversion kit you’ll want to make sure that it doesn’t drift too far into the blue spectrum for your state’s laws. If you can find one that fits your legal boundaries, you’ll have headlights that are up to three times brighter and will last up to eight times longer than traditional headlights. You may want to find them quick though, because the choices are expanding rapidly in the world of headlights.