Every time you turn around, there’s another car with xenon headlights. But what are they? And why are they considered better than the standard halogen headlights? Keep reading to be enlightened about what halogen and xenon lights are and how they work. Plus, which type is best for your car?

What are Halogen Headlights?

Halogen headlights can be found on approximately 80% of the cars on the road today, making them the most common type of headlights currently available. They offer many advantages: they’re cheap to manufacture, easy to replace, give a bright, yellow-white light, and last up to 1,000 hours.

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How do they work?

A halogen headlight consists of a thin tungsten filament surrounded by a halogen gas in a glass filament capsule that is extremely resistant to high temperatures. It works by sending electricity through the tungsten filament inside the glass capsule. The electrical current heats up the tungsten to approximately 2,500° Celsius and it starts to glow (incandescent process). The bulb uses an inert gas and a small amount of a halogen such as iodine or bromine.

What are Xenon (HID) Headlights?

Xenon headlights are more popular on high-end cars of the last decade, where they have a premium, stylish look. Also known as High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps, xenon headlights deliver a white-blue light, approximately two to three times brighter than a halogen, last approximately 2,500 hours, and are energy efficient.

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How do they work?

A xenon (HID) lightbulb is a transparent quartz housing with tungsten electrodes at each end and filled with a mixture of gases. The lights work in three steps:

  1. Ignition. A high voltage pulse produces a spark that ionizes the xenon gas and creates a connection of current between the electrodes.
  2. Heats up. The temperature quickly rises, ionizing the gas mixture, lowering the resistance between the two electrodes.
  3. Bright light. The ballast switches to continuous operation with a constant supply of power so the light won’t fail. The ballast is a capacitor that creates and regulates the high-voltage that xenon lights need to operate.

The xenon gas is only used during the start-up to give instant light while the other gases are still heating up to their operating temperature. Even so, it can take a few seconds for the light to turn fully on.

Xenon vs. Halogen Headlights

Xenon vs. Halogen Headlights

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to ask: which type of headlight is best? And why?

  • Energy Efficiency: Compared to xenon headlights, halogen lights require less energy to start up, but more energy to keep going. They also generate large amounts of heat, which is wasted energy. As xenon lighting uses gas as its energy source, it needs less electricity to generate the light. But, even though xenon headlights are slightly more energy efficient, the differences are fairly small that you probably won’t notice a major difference.

  • Lifespan: Xenon headlights last a lot longer than halogen ones - 2,000 to 2,500 hours for xenon headlights compared to 400 to 1,000 for halogen.

  • Cost: In general, halogen lights are cheaper than xenon headlights to produce, purchase, install, and repair.

  • Colour: The color generated also differs. Xenon headlights have a color temperature of 4000K-6000K, which is a bright white-blue light similar to natural daylight. Halogen headlights have a color temperature of 3200-5000K, which is a warmer, yellow-white light.

  • Illumination: Xenon headlights are over twice as bright as halogen ones, offering approximately 3,000 lumens and about 90 Mcd/m2 compared to 1,400 lumens and about 30 Mcd/m2 for halogen lights. The difference in lumens explains why halogen lights don’t illuminate the road as fully as xenon lights. However, xenon headlights are less effective in foggy weather conditions compared to halogen lights.

  • Installation: Installing halogen headlights is straightforward as they simply click into position. Xenon headlights require a ballast, which makes installation a little more complicated. You need a mandatory light washer when installing xenon bulbs, as dirt on the light module might be dangerous for drivers coming from the opposite side.

  • Construction: While both types of headlights are fairly robust, it is important to be careful when handling halogen lights. Touching a halogen light with your bare hands could put grease on the bulb, weakening it and resulting in it breaking. Additionally, halogen headlights contain high-pressure gas, so it is a good idea to have some kind of shield in case they shatter. Some versions of xenon headlights contain toxic substances, such as metal mercury, which has a negative impact on our health if they break.

  • Safety vs. Glare: Studies demonstrate that drivers react faster and more accurately to the situation on the road when they have good xenon headlights compared to halogen ones. This means that xenon headlights contribute to road safety. However, as xenon headlights are brighter, they can potentially dazzle other drivers. For that reason, it’s important to use your automatic beam leveling control and light module washer installations.

  • Start-up Times: Halogen headlights are at full brightness as soon as you turn the headlights on. Xenon headlights, on the other hand, require a few seconds to warm up to be able to reach full brightness. During this start-up period, the headlight uses the xenon gas to produce light. As soon as the filament is at the operating temperature, the other gases are used.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are xenon headlights legal?

A: Yes, xenon headlights are legal, but they need to meet specific requirements regarding their positioning, beam direction, and intensity. Make sure to check your local regulations before installing xenon headlights.

Q: Can I upgrade my halogen headlights to xenon headlights?

A: It is possible to upgrade halogen headlights to xenon headlights, but it requires additional components such as a ballast and wiring harness. It's recommended to consult a professional for the installation.

Q: Can I replace xenon bulbs with halogen bulbs?

A: No, xenon bulbs and halogen bulbs are not interchangeable. Xenon headlights require a specific ballast and wiring to operate properly.

Q: Do xenon headlights use more power than halogen headlights?

A: No, xenon headlights are more energy-efficient than halogen headlights. They require less power to produce brighter light.

Q: Are xenon headlights maintenance-free?

A: Xenon headlights do not require frequent maintenance, but over time, the light output may diminish. It's recommended to have them periodically checked and replaced if necessary.

In conclusion, the choice between xenon and halogen headlights depends on your priorities. Xenon headlights offer longer lifespan, brighter illumination, and contribute to safety, but they come with higher costs and installation complexity. Halogen headlights are more affordable and easy to install, but they lack the same brightness and lifespan as xenon headlights. Consider your budget, desired illumination, and local regulations when making your decision.