types of headlight bulbs

Types of Headlight Bulbs

As automobiles advance, the technology behind headlights has not been left behind. A baffling array of newer, smarter, and efficient aftermarket headlights has been developed making your driving experience more bearable and sportier too. Now, headlights have three main purposes—to make you visible to other drivers, to offer you visibility, and to help you signal your intentions to other road users. So, with that in mind, this short guide will proceed to discuss the various types of headlight bulbs, their uses, their benefits, and what’s not so good about them.

But First,

Did you know that car headlights have traveled through the ages from ions of years back? Well, these lights date back to the 1800s when chariots used acetylene lamps due to the flame’s resistance to strong winds.

Today, as vehicles become faster, the need to improve their visibility has been in the front line paving the way to the development of brighter, smarter, and long-lasting car headlight bulbs.

While this is termed as a major milestone by most car manufacturers, most drivers have found it increasingly difficult to decide which bulbs to select for their vehicles. Due to this reason, this guide has narrowed everything for you by discussing the three major types of headlights, how they work, and some distinct merits and demerits of each.

Understanding the Three Main Types of Headlight Bulbs

Headlight bulbs don’t need any special introduction—we all know their main purpose is to provide light to make sure you don’t crash or collide with oncoming motorists. But, the headlight itself is composed of different light fixtures that serve various purposes.

One of these is the Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) which usually illuminate immediately after the engine starts.

Next, there are the dipped lights that are used when visibility on the road is totally compromised by rain, fog, snow, or extreme darkness.

There are full beam lights which are usually the brightest of all lights in your car’s headlights. They’re activated when visibility is seriously compromised. Although they’re a driver’s last shot, these lights should be used when there are no oncoming motorists as they can blind their visibility.

There are also two orange indicators that flashlight to either side of the road to notify road users that you intend to make a turn either left or right.

Although fog lights are installed separately on the bumper, we cannot forget them as they’re also helpful especially when it’s raining, snowing, or foggy. Since they’re mounted nearest to the ground, these lights help to illuminate the edges of the road making it easier for you to see potholes.

Halogen Bulbs

If you happen to check the headlight bulb types of most vehicles on the road, you’ll be amazed to discover that most of them use halogen bulbs. Although this technology has been around for several decades, advancement in technology has allowed it to get refined becoming better and more efficient by the day.

Halogen bulbs are actually an improvement of the traditional incandescent light bulbs. Just like your household bulb, halogen bulbs rely on a tungsten filament to pass an electric current through. While most conventional bulbs rely on argon, halogen bulbs rely on a combination of iodine and bromine gasses to help prolong the lifespan of the tungsten wire.

How do They Work?

Now, as the filament glows, it starts to evaporate. Thankfully, with the presence of iodine and bromine gasses, the evaporated tungsten filaments are recycled back into the system creating something like a merry-go-round. For the case of conventional bulbs, the nitrogen-argon gas does not allow the tungsten filament to recycle.

Instead, the filament creates metal deposits inside the glass producing a black suit that darkens the glass. This is one huge advantage of halogen bulbs over household bulbs as they don’t form a black color on the inside. Another advantage is the long span which is enhanced by the recycling of the filament.

When an electric current passes through the tungsten filament, the wire is extremely heated producing a bright yellow hue with a color temperature of about 3000K. Since most of the energy emitted is in the form of heat, these bulbs can become very hot and can burn your fingers when you try to touch them.

Now, one disadvantage of halogen lights is that they have low luminous efficiency (about 2%-4%). Luminous efficiency is actually a comparison of the amount of light a bulb is able to emit compared to the amount of electrical power drawn. Since halogen bulbs emit a lot of energy (in the form of heat), they’re considered to be energy guzzlers and hence have low luminous efficiency.

Some Advantages of Halogen Bulbs

One major advantage of having halogen bulbs as your car’s primary headlight bulb types is their low cost of manufacturing. The production cost is low and the bulbs don’t require any special treatment or complex electronic wirings like LED and HID bulbs.

Halogen bulbs are also long-lasting when compared to traditional bulbs. Although they do produce a lot of heat, they have a life expectancy of about 2000 hours which is quite decent provided you don’t touch the glass with moist hands when changing the bulbs.

Finally, these bulbs are readily available and are able to offer more illumination as compared to traditional bulbs.

These bulbs are also categorized according to their brightness. For instance, H17 and H18 are very powerful and perfect as car headlight bulbs while H8, H9, and H11 are self-sealing and hence work best as fog lights.

What’s Not so Good about Halogen Bulbs?

The biggest disadvantage of using these types of headlights is low luminous efficiency. Since most of the energy drawn from electricity is wasted as heat, they tend to consume a lot of energy which is not good for drivers looking to save on battery power.

Another disadvantage of these headlight bulb types is that they have a very low lumen of just 1500W. Due to this reason, the downroad visibility is sacrificed as these bulbs are less bright as compared to LED and HID bulbs.

LED Headlights

Also known as Light Emitting Diode, LED headlights are a new technology that has been developed to replace the traditional halogen technology. Today, these car headlight bulbs are replacing xenon bulbs as they last longer and are more energy-efficient.

In the past, LED bulbs were primarily used for interior lighting. However, due to their style and long lifespan, these types of headlights are becoming widely available in most vehicles. For quite a while, LEDs have been used for daytime running lights though most car manufacturers are using them for exterior lighting purposes—though they’re yet to be declared road legal.

How do They Work?

LED headlights operate in a completely different fashion as compared to halogen and xenon HID bulbs. While halogens depend on a glowing filament that works under the influence of iodine and bromine gases, LEDs operate by transferring electric current through a special semi-conductor.

Since the electric current flows through cathode to anode, this semi-conductor becomes somewhat “excited” when the current is passed through emitting photons. These photons are the ones that illuminate leading to the name light-emitting diode.

So, What Are Some Advantages of LED Headlights?

Now, unlike halogen bulbs, LED headlight bulb types have a lot of benefits that make them reliable and highly efficient. One of these is their longer life span. Traditional halogen bulbs rely on a filament that can burst at any time. With LED headlights, efficiency is highly guaranteed as these bulbs can last for over 20,000 hours of full-time operation.

Another great benefit of LEDs as part of your car headlight bulbs is the low power usage. Since these lights operate by passing an electric current through a diode, the resulting light has high clarity with less heat. This feature serves as a huge advantage to car owners as battery life is preserved for a much longer time.

On average, LED headlights to save up to 80% of overall power cost with only 20% being wasted as heat. This is quite the opposite of halogen headlights which only save 20% of the energy while wasting nearly 80% through heat.

While halogens rely on a hot filament to generate light, LEDs depend on a light-emitting diode that generates white light enough to illuminate the road ahead. With such a high light intensity, LED headlights are considered to be more efficient and practically the best for illuminating dark roads or in situations where visibility is very poor.

Another benefit of these types of headlights is their ability to generate warm bright light. This feature is somewhat driver dependent as most of them confess that LEDs produce a warmer and less clinical light as compared to HID headlights. Since HID headlights produce warm light, they have a tendency of blinding oncoming motorists which is not the case with LED bulbs.

What’s Not so Good?

First is the installation which most experts confess is quite tricky. Unlike other types of headlights, LEDs are quite demanding as they depend on retro and anti-flicker adapters to function optimally. These bulbs also come with extra heat sinks and fans which make headlight housing to be larger than those of most conventional headlights.In a nutshell, LED headlights are very tricky to install.

Comparing LEDs with traditional halogen bulbs, the former are more expensive to install as compared to the latter. The cost of installation and that of purchasing the bulbs is relatively higher though these bulbs can guarantee you years of service in terms of energy efficiency and clarity.

Xenon HID Headlights

Before technology took a major leap towards the invention of HID headlights, car manufacturers relied heavily on tungsten and halogen bulbs. This traditional technology relied on a superheated filament that would glow when an electric current was passed through it.

With HID Xenon headlights, things are a little different as these car headlight bulbs utilize xenon gas to create an arc of energy between high-voltage electrodes to generate light. HID headlights lie somewhere between halogen and LED bulbs as they’re cheap to maintain and bright enough to illuminate the road.

So, How do Xenon HID Lights Work?

Unlike halogen bulbs that rely on iodine and bromine, HID bulbs work via a combination of xenon gas and electrical charge to generate light. When the electrode is charged, a brighter and whiter light, which is usually brighter than LEDs and halogens, is emitted providing sufficient light to illuminate the road.

What Are Some Benefits of HID Headlights?

One major benefit of HID headlights is that they’re able to illuminate bright light at a very low voltage. Since they don’t depend on glowing filaments, these types of headlights are energy efficient as they don’t consume much of your battery power.

Another benefit of HID headlights to most motorists is the broad scope of illumination they offer. Unlike halogen bulbs, HID headlights provide a much brighter and clearer illumination that makes it easier for motorists to identify oncoming pedestrians and reflect road signs.

Finally, HID headlights are less costly and very easy to install as compared to LEDs. While LEDs comprise very complex (and expensive) installation kits, HIDs comprise of a very simple installation kit alongside a very detailed instruction manual.

What’s Not so Good?

We have mentioned that HID headlights are energy-efficient thanks to their low operating temperature. While this might sound like a compliment, the main drawback, from a functionality standpoint, is that these headlight bulb types take a longer time to achieve a maximum operating temperature that’s responsible for generating a strong beam of light. Due to this reason, these lights are quite unreliable when working by themselves and are hence combined with halogen bulbs for efficiency.

Another drawback with the HID headlights is that they’re relatively fragile as compared to most other types of bulbs. They’re not as solid as LEDs nor are they as persistent as standard halogens. Due to this reason, motorists should be prepared to replace the bulbs more frequently which is, of course, a costly affair.

Lastly, these car headlight bulbs sometimes fail to maintain consistency when glowing. Note that Xenon HID headlights glow with different temperature and lumen outputs that range from a dim yellow, brilliant white to various variations of blue and purple.

While this is a brilliant improvement, the main drawback is that sometimes these bulbs fail to maintain consistency and instead burn at a lower or higher temperature changing the quality of light they illuminate.


With this comprehensive guide, we believe you’re now fully informed about the three major types of headlights. Now, each of the headlights, as we’ve already mentioned, have their different pros and cons. Some like LEDs and HIDs are yet to be approved in most jurisdictions due to their high inconsistency that results in most driving accidents and fatalities.

Halogens on the other side are highly recommended due to their safety features and, of course, their low cost of manufacturing.

Finally, as we wind up, we won’t jump into the conclusion to mention which headlight bulb type is best over the other. Instead, we will leave you with the task of deciding which headlights will meet your driving demands over the other. As usual, feel free to share your thoughts or advice in the comments section below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top