Choosing the Right Car Headlight Bulb - Halogen, LED or HID?

Which Headlight Bulb Should You Choose - HALOGEN, HID or LED?



There are a number of options out there when it comes to choosing a replacement headlight bulb for your car.  The main types on the market currently are: Halogen, HID and LED.  A HID bulb is a High Intensity Discharge bulb, while a LED is a Light Emitting Diode variant. 


However, the most commonly used headlight bulb today continues to be the halogen bulb.  This bulb has been around for decades and holds firm as the most popular choice across the globe.  However its dominant position will be challenged in the years to come and it will eventually be out paced by the more advanced technologies of the HID and LED options.




Halogen car bulbs are the standard and most popular choice.  It is believed that this type of automotive light bulb accounts for an incredible 80% of all headlight bulbs across the world.  It is cheap, has a long lifecycle and is easy to replace making it the first choice for over 50 years.  Halogen lights are manufactured using an extremely high temperature resistant glass tube that contains a tungsten filament and a combination of gases, typically argon and nitrogen.  Light is generated when the the bulb receives an electrical current from the car heating the tungsten filament.


There are a number of drawbacks associated with halogen headlights, (car bulbs halogen), compared to the newer technologies that have emerged on the market.

  • Light Output- although halogen bulbs can produce 1300 Lumen, which is perfectly effective on the open road, the newer technologies can generate much greater brightness from their bulbs.
  • Inefficiency - Halogen bulbs lag behind both LED and HID bulbs in terms of efficiency performance.  They generate a lot of heat during operation which is ultimately wasted.
  • Sensitivity - Halogen bulbs are extremely sensitive and can be easily damaged by being exposed to external substances. For example, if you touch one of these bulbs with your hands during installation, it will seriously compromise the expected lifecycle of the bulb due to hand oil residues on the bulb surface.    
  • Light Focus - In terms of light focus on the road ahead halogen has again been over taken by the newer technologies.


Two new types of car bulb that are beginning to replace the standard halogen variety are the HID, (High Intensity Discharge) and LED (Light Emitting Diode).  LED car bulbs uk are increasing in popularity.  The HID bulbs, sometimes referred to as Xenon, were first developed by BMW back in the 1990s and offer a number of advantages.  LED bulbs were introduced back in 2004 but took some time to gain traction in terms of popularity.  The big appeal of the LED bulb is its outstanding performance in terms of efficiency.


High Intensity Discharge headlight bulbs contain a combination of gases and rare metals that when heated generate a bright, high intensity white light.  The white light output generated by the HID bulb also contains an element of blue light.  HID headlights are mush brighter than standard Halogen bulbs and generate 2 to 3 times more light output - approximately 3,000 Lumen.  This much increased light output is an attractive feature to many car owners. 


The increased brightness increases driver safety by offering an increased vision of the road and obstacles ahead.  The flip side of this is that they are often the source of glare and irritation to oncoming traffic.  They require a significant power input to light up initially, but once they are up and running they are more efficient to run than halogens.  They require just 35 Watts of power meaning your alternator doesn't have to work as hard to keep them lit.  A HID headlight bulb has an expected lifecycle of about 2,000 - 2,500 hours.



  • Cost - HID's are very expensive, and can set you back a packet when you're replacing your headlights.  This is one of the primary reasons Halogen remain a firm favourite.
  • Glare - The intense light generated often causes irritation to other road users.  It can cause problems in terms of glare due to their unique brightness.  They often need to be housed inside a special light unit to manage this problem.
  • Start Up Time - These bulbs require sometime to achieve their optimum brightness unlike the cheaper halogen variety.  This can be a nuisance when driving at night and having to wait for the lights to reach full power.  Once they're up and running though, everything is hunky dory.
  • MOT Failures - They have a disappointing record when it comes to the MOT and have been the source of many failures.  This is often due to poor installation.



LED headlight bulbs have been around for almost 15 years but have been slow to grow in popularity.  The main appeal of LED car bulbs are their excellent efficiency levels.  Almost all energy used by an LED is used to generate light.  An LED bulb requires about 15 Watts of power to run compared to 60 Watts for your standard Halogen bulb - about a quarter.  LED lights are not just very efficient, they have excellent lifecycle expectancy.  LED bulbs typically have a lifecycle of up to 40,000 hours.  That's an incredible figure.  These bulbs will often out live the car they have been installed in. 


They have an environmental incentive too.  LED bulbs are free from mercury and a push is currently on to remove all lead solder from them too.  They are definitely the go-to bulb when it comes to saving the planet.  They sit nicely between halogen and HID in terms of light output.  They start up rapidly too, even faster than a halogen light.  This is of particular importance when you think about other lights such as brake lights and indicators.  Also, they are not as likely to be damaged during installation compared to halogens, and are easily fitted as they 'plug' into place.


  • Cost - LED headlight bulbs are expensive to produce.  This means they are expensive to buy.  Due to the high number of parts involved in a single bulb, assembly is a complex process and large scale production comes at a price.  With advances in technology it is expected LED bulbs will become more affordable in the future.
  • Compatibility - Issues of compatibility can arise when it comes to fitting an LED headlight.  LED bulbs are suitable only for certain car marques and models.  It is recommended that you consult your car manual before investing in LED head light bulbs.
  • CanBus Issues - This problem can be encountered when issues arise due to incompatibility between the LED bulb and the car's central computer system.
  • Cooling Requirement - Although the LED light producing unit doesn't get hot the diode needs to be cooled due to the heat produced by the emitter.



headlight summary



Laser bulbs is a hot topic in the automotive industry.  Although this new technology has not yet arrived, German car manufacturer Audi is currently developing laser headlights.  Although they may sound futuristic and fanciful it may not be long until laser headlight bulbs become a reality.  It is anticipated that they will out perform all other models in terms of lifecycle and light output.  They are believed to be capable of producing light hundreds of times more powerful than an LED on just one third the power consumption.  The technology will involve the generation of a laser that reflects onto mirrors within the light and onto an advanced lens unit filled with a unique gas system that generates a powerful light output.  Don't worry - the laser bulbs will not be shooting laser beams towards oncoming traffic and pedestrians.  You can now choose your preferred bulb type using the advice in this car bulb fitting guide.




Now you have Halogen, HID and LED bulbs sorted, the next thing is to get to grips with the different classifications out there:  H1, H3, H4, H7, H11, HB3, and HB4.  Take a moment to read our Quick Guide to  H1, H3, H4 and H7 bulbs, and you'll be an all round car bulb expert

What Headlight Bulb Do I Need?

Still scratching your head and thinking, what car bulb do i need, or which bulb is better for car headlight? You should consider headlight bulb wattage. You can save power by choosing an LED headlight bulb. Car headlight wattage doesn’t always equate to level of brightness.

We’ve outlined the different car light bulbs types above so you can get a good idea of the pros and cons of each. Another question we often get is - can i put halogen bulbs in my car? Yes, they are the standard and most popular type of bulb. Consult a profesional mechanic to be sure.


Brought to you by - Andy Wright

Car tipsCars

1 comment



If they end up putting laser lights on a car it wil like we are living in “Back To The Future”

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