Choosing the Right Headlight Bulb: Everything You Need to Know

For some mysterious reason, many vehicle owners don't give a second thought to the health of their headlights until it's too late. Maybe they find themselves on a long trip and suddenly discover that their headlights have gone black, or venture to the store one evening only to be stopped by a friendly police officer who says, "Did you know you have a headlight out?" 

What Type of Headlight Bulb Do You Need?

What should every driver and vehicle owner know about basic headlight health, maintenance, and replacement? First, if your headlights go out completely or simply dim to a weaker beam strength, you'll be in danger on dark roads. That's because others won't see you and you won't be able to see them or the road very well.

Why risk getting a ticket or getting in an accident? There's no reason to put yourself in that position. Because headlight bulb replacement cost is rather low, compared to most other vehicle maintenance jobs, you can get the job done as soon as possible and be back on the road, driving safely.

If you use a standard halogen H11 headlight, you can upgrade to a more energy-efficient selection, like light-emitting diode (LED) headlight bulbs or high-intensity discharge (HID) headlight bulbs. These newer styles of bulbs deliver significantly better visibility and brightness. For example, a headlight LED bulb can improve your visibility by up to 25 percent and deliver about 30 percent more brightness. There's no reason to drive around town and on highways with sub-standard lighting.

How to Choose the Best Headlight Bulb for Your Car?

The basic rule of choosing headlight bulbs includes knowing the three basic types of bulbs and understanding which one is best suited for your particular vehicle. Note that every car comes with its own kind of headlamp. There are three basic types: Xenon/HID, halogen, and LED. The vast majority of vehicles arrive in the showroom with halogen lights, while many high-end, newer cars have LED lights.

Xenon/HID uses gas (xenon gas, to be exact) in place of the old-fashioned filament that gets bright when it's heated. HIDs last much longer, have cooler operating temperatures and tend to shine much brighter than halogens. If you want to put HIDs on your vehicle, you'll probably need to have a professional do the job and be ready for a higher cost than standard halogen lights.

Traditional lights are not as bright as halogen headlights that use a filament system heated within a closed atmosphere of halogen gas to produce a very bright beam of light.

LEDs don't use nearly as much electrical power as halogens and, thus, operate at much lower temperatures. These newer kinds of lights last much longer than halogen lights, too, and deliver a nice bright, consistent beam of light that is wider and more illuminating than other kinds of headlights.

Reasons to Upgrade Your Headlights

Better lights are about much more than having a sharp, good-looking ride. Here are a few of the reasons people upgrade their vehicle's headlights:

  • The vehicle's original lights were sub-standard factory bulbs that not very bright
  • Beams became uneven and shaky due to bad shocks and too much off-road driving
  • Newer bulbs are reasonably priced and last a long time, thus delivering top value
  • LED and HID bulbs are better than halogens and make it easier to see other cars and the road at night
  • New headlights mean less eye strain because clear, crisp beams feature even rays that don't make the human eye work as hard to see the road and other vehicles
  • Replacing headlights is a relatively easy do-it-yourself project, i.e., you don't need to be a "car guy"
  • A new pair of lights make any car look better, no matter how old it is

When Is the Best Time to Replace Headlights?

Replacing bulbs only after they burn out is sort of like waiting to have a heart attack before you see a doctor. It's not a good idea. Burned-out lights are extremely dangerous and often cause serious accidents. Don't forget—police regularly ticket drivers who simply forgot to turn on their headlights—you’re asking for a fat fine if you drive with out-of-commission headlights.

So when is the best time to replace headlights? Always ask your mechanic to check your headlights whenever you have your car serviced. That's one way to stay on top of the situation. Additionally, if you ever notice dimming or "fluttering" beams, get new lights as quickly as possible. Don't drive your car in the dark if you suspect your headlamps are in ill health.

Always replace bulbs in pairs so that the beams are evenly matched in direction and strength. Don’t penny-pinch when your safety is at stake! If you have separate high-beam and low-beam lights on each side, replace all four whenever one goes bad.

Headlights are an essential component of your vehicle's safety equipment and just as vital to your health as airbags, brakes, and all the other potentially life-saving features that are relied on every time you get behind the wheel and drive.