Headlights are probably the most fundamental part of a car, right next to wheels and engines. Since the first vehicle pumped out by Karl Benz, all the way to today, all cars have had headlights. But gone are the days of reflective halogen headlights. Now, thanks to increasingly advanced technological innovations, the market has become flooded with all new types of headlights, from High Intensity Discharge lamps, otherwise known as HID, to LED headlights, and now Laser lights, as seen on the very newest Audi’s, BMW’s and even Mercedes.
Let me walk you through the bewildering array of headlights, outlining the pros and cons of each, so I can help you justify which one best suits your driving needs.
Ah, the good old fashioned, trusty Halogen headlight. It’s been a familiar sight on a lot of cars, both old and new. I can list ten makes and models that still use halogens in their vehicles, just off the top of my head. And there’s a good reason why it’s still used, even in this day and age of high tech lighting sources. It’s cheap. Halogens on average cost less than HID bulbs, both in replacement and repair. They also provide some of the best high beam length of any other light source, making them a preferred bulb for those who live out in the country. Now, the cons. Halogens may have great high beam ability, but their low beams are particularly poor, especially when compared to newer types of headlights. The lighting pattern of halogens are all scattered, and are sometimes rarely focused onto the road, meaning they often loose focus on what they are supposed to be illuminating. Notice with HID bulbs, how they often have strong cut offs, instead of shining the light all over the place. The low beams also have incredibly low illumination range, making them a real trouble in dark areas of the state.
HIGH INTENSITY DISCHARGE (HID)
Now don’t get me wrong. I love all headlights equally. I pick no favourites… but with that said however, if I had to pick a favourite, it would be HID headlights. It might not be your favourite (I think you’re wrong, but hey, free country) but I definitely love HID’s. These recently developed headlights were once the stuff of uber-high end German vehicles. As an example, the very first HID headlights fitted to a mainstream vehicle was the $300,000AUD BMW 750il, and even then it was an optional extra! Soon, these headlights started to fall down into more mainstream, affordable cars, such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, you name it. Many manufacturers hold preference for HID lights as they often take up less space than normal halogens, provide better range and visibility at night, and focuses the light source onto the road, without excessive interference or light scatter. Their minimal space also allows car designers more flexibility with the contours and shapes of the vehicle. This lights are also praised by other drivers, who find that the more road focused beam means that they have less people blinding them at night. These bulbs are also the first port of call with adaptive cornering headlights, the lights that turn when you turn the steering wheel. Since the beams are so focused, and the housing being incredibly small, it has allowed for many vehicle to be equipped with cornering headlights. HID’s are not without their issues though. Firstly, they are pricey to repair. Despite being more energy efficient and drawing less power, they are typically more expensive and difficult to replace or undertake a bulb change. Secondly, they are known for their less than perfect high beam quality, with the light being somewhat dulled and restricted.
Before I move onto the next form of Headlight, a quick note. Whilst many may see a HID unit, it’s worth mentioning that they come in two different bulbs. One, primarily used in a lot of vehicles today, is Bi-Xenon HID bulbs. These bulbs contain an industry standard of 4300K lighting, but many of the aforementioned affordable vehicles (Toyota Camry and Honda Civic) contain only Halogen HID bulbs. Bi-Xenons are best preferred, since their lighting source best matches natural daylight colour, or even better, a bright white colour.
Just like Uber high end luxo-barges of the nineties, LED headlights have been seen as only a feature on the very highest end German vehicles. The first vehicle to offer it was the Lexus LS600hL, before being introduced on the flagship Audi A8 and the BMW 7 Series, and now, it’s made it’s way down to even the most affordable cars, such as the Honda Accord, Subaru Liberty and Toyota CH-R. LED headlights, while having fantastic range, for both low and high beam, are undoubtedly expensive to replace and repair. However, with the market becoming more and more diluted with LED light manufacturers, it will soon become a standard feature on many cars.
It’s Got Frickin’ Lasers!
Unfortunately, if you were hoping to live out your James Bond super villain fantasy, you’ll have to keep looking elsewhere. These are not lasers that can shoot and destroy the idiot driving in the outside lane but is doing 10 km’s under the limit. Laser technology has been developed for headlight use to provide greater, brighter and longer reach. While they are a relatively new development in the car industry, they are already available on the highest model offerings from Audi’s, BMW’s, Mercedes Benz’s and other high end luxury car manufacturers. It isn’t hard to see why laser headlights are becoming popular. Their range helps extend visibility by up to 600 metres, and have shown to increase braking time by up to 5 seconds, which is an incredible amount. While these frickin’ lasers are gaining popularity, it is worth mentioning that they are incredibly complex pieces of technology, requiring vast amounts of time and effort to be put into the manufacturing of them. Laser headlights are different from LED’s, HID’s and Halogens, as they generate more heat, meaning they require special cooling fans to keep them at optimal temperature. Since they are difficult to manufacture, then you should expect a hefty repair bill if they do decide to conk it. While the theory of Laser Headlights sounds incredible, it’ll be quite a while before we see it trickle down to more mainstream vehicles.