From time to time, TTAC will highlight automotive products we think may be of interest to our community. It helps you to make informed decisions when buying gear for your car. Plus, posts like this helps to keep the lights on around here. Learn more about how this works.
There are few things in life more frustrating than one’s car being equipped with a set of headlights which cast approximately as much light as two fireflies in a jam jar. The auto industry has steadily improved the situation by introducing LEDs to the front of many cars … even if the IIHS has an annoying habit of deploying their ‘marginal’ rating far too often.
Replacing that pair of fireflies with an aftermarket set of LED bulbs is a bright idea. LEDs cast a very bright and defined beam of light compared to halogen units, allowing drivers to see farther ahead and spot Bambi before he jumps out onto the macadam.
LEDs also don’t produce much heat. This was troublesome for my hometown, which replaced all the traffic signals with LEDs only to find they did not melt the snow stuck to them in winter months, but is a benefit for cars. One less source of heat in an increasingly crowded engine bay is a Very Good Thing. Additionally, a big advantage of LED bulbs is their energy efficiency, drawing roughly a third of the power compared to traditional halogens.
Keep in mind that different jurisdictions have different rules about headlight bulb replacement, especially when those replacements can illuminate the dark side of the moon. A sloppy installation can lead to annoyed (and blinded) oncoming traffic or an impromptu roadside conversation with the constabulary. Check yer local laws.
(Editor’s Note: As noted above, this post is meant to both help you be an informed shopper for automotive products but also to pay for our ‘
90s sedan shopping habits operating expenses. Some of you don’t find these posts fun, but they help pay for Junkyard Finds, Rare Rides, Piston Slaps, and whatever else. Thanks for reading.)
Editor’s Pick: DriveVision LED Headlight Kit
This set of LED replacement bulbs earns the Editor’s Pick for a combination of consistently positive customer reviews and being marketed by an American company with roots in Texas. Cheaper options exist but, as with email and hand grenades, you get what you pay for. Packing a lot of light into a compact design, these plug-and-play units can be installed in jig time by even the most ham-fisted of gearheads. The slim heatsink located on the end of the lamp means it’ll fit snugly in most automobile headlight assemblies.
The reliability of the LED light has nearly as much to do with the unit’s power converter as the LED chip itself. DriveVision says it deploys a power supply design with high-efficiency, constant current switching, and the latest synchronous rectification technology to provide over 50,000 hours of operation before the thing fades like an Iowa FM station.
A cast aluminum power housing and thermally efficient construction is IP69 waterproof rated and resists all manner of misery that falls from the sky. The LED chip is sourced from Seoul Semiconductor, said to be Korea’s leading LED supplier, and provides white light – not the annoying blue – of 6000 lumens in brightness. Halogen filament bulbs can’t hold a candle to those specs.
Pros: Slim heatsink, made with high-quality parts
Cons: Cheaper options exist just a pencil’s width away
Highly Rated: LasFit LED Headlight Bulbs
Earning four-and-a-half stars from an aggregate of nearly 500 reviews is no mean feat – just ask the producers on any B-grade Hollywood movie. These LED headlights are available with a wide variety of connectors to fit most North American applications. Plug-n-play isn’t just for gaming consoles, y’know.
The company claims their headlight bulb creates a smooth light beam which illuminates in breadth and length with a sharp horizontal cutoff to avoid the ‘scatter’ that can blind other drivers. Reviewers seem to agree. They’re also one of the few sellers to note that the units will provide wonky DRL service if the car’s daytimes are shared with the stock low-beam bulbs. Your author can attest to this problem, so this warning to n00bs is welcomed. They also note some errors in Amazon’s fitment guide, another helpful item that many other sellers skip.
Pros: Well-designed cutoff minimizes beam scatter, leagues of positive reviews
Cons: Fitment guides must be examined like tax forms
Best Value: Xopozon H11 LED Headlight Conversion Kit
This spellcheck-vexing brand has great customer reviews yet is priced well south of many other options. Its fan is built into the end of the lamp which is said to speed up the cooling rate and efficiency by 50 percent compared to an ordinary fan setup. The body of the bulb is said to be made from aviation-grade metal – if it’s good enough for Maverick and Goose, then it should be good enough for you.
As with many other modern LED bulb sets, no modification of the headlight housing is required, so go ahead and put down the tin snips as these units are plug-n-play for the vast majority of vehicles. According to the manufacturer, this LED headlight bulb should have a life of up to 50,000 hours. That means you could drive in 12 hours of darkness every day for over 11 years before this thing gives up the ghost.
Pros: Bottom-feeder price but leads most of its competitors with its estimated lifespan
Cons: One size fits most, don’t try to pronounce the brand name
Despite having a packaging that bears imagery straight out of the 1990s, these lights stand alongside their modern competitors. Advertised as the industry standard of 6000K, these bulbs cast a cool white glow rather than the off-blue shade that some oncoming drivers find annoying, prompting them to hit the brights in retaliation (pro tip: don’t give into the ‘payback’ temptation as you’ll both be blinded).
Whole aluminum housings contain a 7,000 RPM TurboCool fan (buy it for that moniker alone, folks – TURBOCOOL) that ensures the LED bulbs remain lit like a Christmas Tree for over 50,000 hours. These bulbs are CanBUS-Ready and will work with most vehicle’s computer systems without error. Actual lumens are in the 7000lms range for the set and have a working operating temperature well within the confines of Planet Earth, save for Chicago when its hit with the polar vortex.
Reviewers report that these bulbs aren’t picky when it comes to polarity, meaning they can be plugged in and installed without difficulty. Folks who took the plunge and bought them mention a large heatsink, which may cause clearance problems in the headlight housings of some vehicles.
Pros: Plays nicely with vehicle computer system to avoid the dreaded ‘flicker’, no polarity
Cons: Large heatsink may scupper installation
Yeah, your author is a sucker for bright colors and a unique design. For better or worse, I’ll frequently choose the flashy option that stands out like an errant nail waiting to be hammered into place. The units are painted bright red despite the fact they’ll reside in a part of your car that will rarely be viewed by human eyes. It matters not; the color’s awesome.
A cold-pressed aluminum heat sink (in red!) stays 40% cooler than standard, although what standard they’re talking about is unclear. It does rate its cooling fan at a heady 12,000 rpm, several thousand north of most other lights. Their lifespan claim of 100,000 hours seems excessive. As with all the other units in this group, they’re easy to install using stock wiring harnesses. They are polarity dependent, so test the suckers before wrangling them into the headlight housings.
These lights have garnered good reviews from customers who have shelled out their hard-earned cash. The company does note that some common brands, such as those from FCA and a few German makes, may require a load resistor decoder to avoid flickering.
Pros: Anodized-style red finish looks baller, cool runnings
Cons: Polarity dependent, unrealistic lifespan estimate
Aircraft-grade aluminum shows up again, along with a high thermal conductivity Nano layer and 0.8mm double-sided laminated copper substrate to keep the light bulb in an appropriate working temperature. Estimated operating life is less than others at 30,000 hours.
Beamtech – a product name ripped straight from the early-2000’s when appending the word ‘tech’ was all the rage – claims a heatsink diameter of just 30 millimetres, small enough to worm its way into just about any headlight housing on the market. This lends itself to an extremely easy installation but may account for the slightly less-than-average lifespan.
Note that some reviewers mention that it is indeed possible to plug these suckers in backwards, so if they fail to illuminate after installation, be sure to check that connection before raging out on social media. These bulbs are available in all the popular headlight connector sizes.
Pros: Well-packaged heatsink, plugs into just about any type of car
Cons: Life expectancy of a housefly
This sub-brand of the Hikari line was introduced to capture a portion of the low-price LED headlight market. Claiming to have superior brightness and beam pattern thanks to its experience developing high-buck solutions, the Hikari Thunder bulbs are priced in line with other entry-level LED headlight kits.
Hikari says they were the first to adopt copper as a material for heat dissipation, a metal now widely used in the LED industry for this purpose. According to their own tests in which the company removed the fan and let the thing run for two weeks in a high-temperature environment, these bulbs have great resistance to overheating.
Compared to the Hikari Ultra Series which toss out 12000 lumens per pair at twice the price, these cheaper units are capable of producing 9600 lumens of white light to toss down the road. Hikari is upfront about a few issues with which their customers might face, primarily the propensity of some popular brands to place bulbs in headlight housings at odd angles. To compensate, Hikari adopts adjustable buckles to enable some of these machines to obtain the optimal light-beam pattern.
Pros: Tested to success in very high temperatures, reasonably priced
Cons: Not as bright as its slightly more expensive brother
Unlike several other options, JDM Astar sells their headlights in pairs which is a good idea since, y’know most cars have two of the things. Unless you’re driving a Peel P50, in which case you’ve bigger things to worry about than headlight performance.
The company makes sensible claims in line with other LED vendors, asserting their lamps will cast a 10000lms ray of light per pair. Estimated lifespan of 25,000 hours is about half of what others claim, although that is still about five years of use. The variety of adaptable plugs is thin as well.
Customer reviews are largely positive but do frequently include carping about an extremely snug headlight housing fit. Solutions for this issue range from smearing a dab of WD40 on the headlight seals to carefully snugging the lamp home with a pair of pliers. Your author does not recommend the latter.
Pros: Sold in pairs, top-notch brightness rating
Cons: Slim selection of compatible vehicles, may be tough to install
Things to Consider Before Installing LED Headlights
Yes, the person writing this post has installed a set of LED lights on his own vehicles, so these observations come from experience and not copied from a poorly translated user’s manual. Before unholstering the Visa card, make sure to note the type of headlight bulb that is compatible with your particular car as there are several different types of plugs in production.
It’s known that many cars are tightly packed underhood, meaning that while it is unlikely tools will be needed for the actual bulb install, a screwdriver or socket set may be required to carefully move another component or two. Leave the hammer out of it.
Be careful when handling these lamps. Back in the old days, amateur gearheads were always warned by experienced wrenchers not to handle a halogen bulb by its glass surface lest the oils from one’s hands damage the unit. The same caution should be exercised with these newfangled LEDs. When unplugging the stock units, tightly grip the base when removing them rather than hauling on the wiring itself. Doing so may damage the connection.
There will likely be more excess wiring with these LED kits compared to the minimalist factory setup, so make sure to splurge on a couple of zip ties to clean up the installation and avoid a potential rat’s nest of wires. The base of LED headlamps are also larger than those of halogen bulbs, thanks to the need of an integrated fan unit, so test fitting the suckers before ramming them home goes a long way towards avoiding a frustrating experience.
It’s also a good idea to flick the lights on after plugging them in but before snugging them into their new home in the headlight housing. Some of companies, including a few on this list, sell products that are polar-dependent, meaning it is possible to plug them in backwards. This generally doesn’t harm the product or the vehicle but does leave you with a fistful of no-go when one hits the headlight switch. Doing any job of this ilk twice is less than ideal.
And be sure to take a before-and-after shot of your car’s new peepers. The extra illumination provided is noticeable on its own but stands in stark contrast when compared side-by-side.
[Main Image: TTAC. Body images: Product sellers]