Skip to main content

Car Bulbs Guide: Halogen, LED, Xenon Bulbs

By 28.03.2021October 19th, 2021Guide

Choosing bulbs in the car: what is the difference, what brands to choose?

Stable working lamps of dipped and high beam, fog lights – the key to the safety of the driver and all those around him on the road.

Car Bulb Finder

But what lamps to choose from? After all, manufacturers are trying hard to decorate their packaging with bright colors and loud claims of increased efficiency by 60-90% or even 150%! Of course, you can go the usual way and ask the store for advice on auto lamps. However, you can carefully approach the selection of headlights and individual elements of the lighting system to be aware of what’s going on.

Car Bulbs Guide

Car Bulbs Guide

In this article, you will learn the advantages of each type of car lighting, what the market has to offer car lamps, what to stop choosing and which of them show the best results.

Car lights are an indispensable part of automotive lighting, and motorists will always have questions about them. This is an important aspect of safety, and in our material, we will explain in detail all the subtleties of choosing car bulbs.

The design of headlights, as well as other light sources, provides for the use of lamps of a certain type, for example, with H1, H4, H7, H11 etc. sockets. You can look up the type of bulb in the vehicle’s datasheet or on the marking on the burnt-out bulb. As a rule, automobile manufacturers install in their assembly lines lamps with basic characteristics that meet the requirements of the law. When a standard bulb needs to be replaced, the car owner can install a similar or choose a bulb with improved characteristics.

Automotive bulb types

To understand which lamps in car headlights are the best to choose, it is necessary to decide on the existing types. So, the lamps used in car lighting are:

  • Halogen headlight bulbs are lit by filaments made of halogen and tungsten. These elements heat up and create light without causing thermal damage to your car. These are the most common type of headlight bulbs for cars because they usually come with cars and are very inexpensive.
  • HID Xenon Bulbs. If you’ve ever driven by a car with bright white headlights, chances are they were HID xenon bulbs. Hidden or high-intensity discharge bulbs have gas that is charged and ignited by electrodes. However, they take longer to reach their full potential because the gas needs a few seconds to fully charge. These bulbs typically emit a brighter light than halogen bulbs, so they can be dangerous.
  • LED bulbs. These bulbs are usually chosen for their intense light output without much power consumption. They are considered some of the brightest headlight bulbs you can install, but not bright enough to harm other drivers. Recently, almost all manufacturers have started installing them in new cars because of their good performance. Typically, LED headlight bulbs have a longer life than other bulbs because of their ability to resist overheating and use less electricity.

Halogen Headlight Bulbs

Today, manufacturers offer various modifications of halogen lamps. There are “halogens” coated, thanks to which the visual effect of xenon light is achieved – the luminous flux becomes white and with a blue tint. Such lamps are often signed by Xenon or Xenon Effect, thus misleading inexperienced motorists.

Lamps marked Long Life and DayLong offer longer life and are suitable for round-the-clock use, for example, in daytime running lights. All-Weather are more suitable for rainy and overcast days. They usually emit a yellowish light that is less scattered by precipitation.

If you see on the box labeled + 30%, + 50%, and so on, you’re looking at a lamp with a higher light output. The latter is achieved through a special combination of filament thickness and material, as well as the chemical composition of the bulb filler.

Its electrical power is standard, so it is easy to upgrade the original optics without the risk of overheating the diffuser and wiring. In practice, the increase in light power may be far from the declared manufacturer, but it is the most economical option.

The disadvantages of halogen bulbs are the efficiency of 10% and relatively short life.

Philips H7 RacingVision
Popular halogen lamp is Philips H7 RacingVision + 150% 55W. Its characteristic feature is an increased light output with standard electrical characteristics

Xenon Headlight Bulbs

In automobile lamps the “filler” was xenon gas with impurities, so they are called xenon lamps.

They have a huge efficiency of about 90%, so xenon lamps consume less electricity and almost no heat. The latter has a good effect on the longevity of headlights.

The luminous flux of xenon lamps is noticeably greater, they do not have a spiral, which is afraid of shaking and bumps, so the resource is several times higher. But compared with the “halogen” xenon lamps are more expensive.

Xenon lamps need a special ignition unit (“ballast”) to work, which first provides the start with a high voltage (about 25 kilovolts), and then keeps working at a lower voltage, about 85V.

The ignition of the arc in the lamp does not happen immediately but with some delay, however noticeable. This can be annoying, for example, when “blinking” the high beam, then this delay is most noticeable.

When substituting halogen bulbs for xenon bulbs, you must install a headlight washer and an autocorrect if they were not there originally. This will ensure a clean diffuser and the correct direction of the light beam so as not to dazzle oncoming drivers.

In practice you may need to replace the diffuser itself, especially if it has a corrugated surface, it is also desirable to install the lenses.

The inner bulb without a spiral and the characteristically curved second electrode is a typical portrait of a Philips D2S X-treme Vision xenon lamp

Xenon lamps are used in low- and high-beam headlights. There are also combined so-called bi-xenon systems. They usually have one bulb, and switching is done either by a special shutter or longitudinal movement of the bulb.

Philips D2S X-treme Vision

In cheap systems this mechanism is loose, and while driving you can clearly see how the light beam wobbles.

Bi-xenon bulbs have a metal shield for proper light flux formation. In addition to the high voltage connector, there is also a switch control circuit connector.

LED Headlight Bulbs

LED bulbs, because of their small wattage, were initially only light sources in auxiliary lighting fixtures.

But times change, and today there are quite a few halogen headlight conversion kits on sale. And automakers offer options for their products in the form of LED headlights.

The principle of operation of LEDs is simple – the emission of light by a semiconductor crystal under the influence of a particular polarity.

The light source can be any size, it can be easily scaled both in size and quantity. For headlamps, the headlight matrix is not suitable because of the difficulty of focusing, but here will save the situation heavy-duty LEDs.

Philips X-treme Ultinon LEDBrand PHILIPS Ultinon LED H7 Bulbs: the low and high beam uses three high-power LEDs, which are cooled by a ribbed radiator at the base.

PHILIPS Ultinon LED H7 Bulbs

Product information:

  • 6200 Kelvin
  • 160% brighter
  • Lifetime up to 8 years

★★★★★ 4,8 Rating

Check Price

The LED bulbs are highly economical, long-lasting, and highly reliable. Energy consumption compared to conventional “halogens” is about 10 times less.

It is important to remember that the LED is a current device and it can not be directly connected to the power supply, otherwise, it will instantly burn out.

Therefore, low-power lamps refer to a limiting resistor, and for high-power models, you need a driver – a special current stabilizer. Many drivers can operate in the voltage range of 9-32V, so powerful LED lamps are used in cars and trucks. Drivers are usually made in the form of small external units, but in some lamps are built inside the body.

LEDs have strict requirements for polarity connection, they fail when overheated. The first is more a feature than a disadvantage, but the second should be considered, especially for headlight bulbs.

As a rule, the headlight bulbs have a cooling system – passive or active. The first is a ribbed or ribbon radiator with a large area. The active CO has a small fan in addition to a small radiator. This option is louder, less reliable, but it cools the bulb better.

One of the problems with LED headlight bulbs is the clarity of the light field. In cheap kits poor focus, due to which you can not see the road and blind the drivers of oncoming traffic.

To avoid such problems, buy branded, tested by other users models with good reviews or check the quality of the light on your car to exchange or return your purchase if necessary.

In some lamps is a simple adjustment of the position in the headlight, with which you can correct the light beam.

The cardinal way to solve the problem is with LED lenses. They are structurally similar to xenon lenses and focus the light emitted, directing it to the desired part of the road and cutting off everything unnecessary. So far, these lenses are on sale a little, but the idea is correct, it remains to wait for the expansion of the range.

LED auxiliary light bulbs have been competing with “halogens” for quite a long time, second only to them in price and head of superiority in terms of light and range.

Of course, there is a temptation to buy a cheap LED lamp, but then there is a chance that it will quickly burn out. So it’s better not to save money once and never come back to this issue.

Useful tip: if you replace the halogen lamps in the parking lights with LED lamps, the “lights” on at night will not discharge the battery.

Types of bulbs and socket

There are many types of lamps, each of which is used in its own way.

The configuration of the lighting system depends entirely on the manufacturer. It is he who chooses what will stand, for example, in the headlights or taillights. The same bulbs can be used for the turn signals and the reverse signal.

Automakers have a huge range of creativity, so there’s no such thing as one type of bulb fitting all cars. In order not to make a mistake when buying, study these diagrams for your car

  • The D1R / D1S bulbs are characterized by an aluminum box in which the high-voltage part is placed. This increases operational safety and reduces possible obstructions to the car’s equipment. These models have high life and quick ignition, but they are noticeably more expensive and have larger counterparts.
  • The D2R / D2S lamps were created by Philips. Their maximum brightness is 4300K.
  • The D3R / D3S lamps are environmentally friendly bulbs, thanks to the absence of mercury in the phosphor. They, like the D1R / D1S, have a high-voltage unit in an aluminum box. Their color temperature is 4300K.
  • D4R / D4S bulbs are used in Toyota / Lexus cars to replace the D2R / D2S. Their bulbs contain mercury, so they are considered environmentally friendly. The supply voltage for D1-D2 lamps is 85 volts and for D3-D4 it is 45 volts.
  • Now let’s look at the types of lamps for auxiliary lighting.

The prefix T indicates that the lamp base is flush with the bulb, for example, T4W. The prefix R indicates the lamp has a metal 15 mm base and 19 mm bulb, for example – R5W.

Lamps with the prefix P have the same 15mm base, but the bulb is larger, up to 26.5mm. These lamps are often used for reverse brake lights, such as P21W.

If the name has an additional index Y, it indicates an orange color, allowing them to be used in colorless lights.

The bulbs with the prefix SV (or C) are double-ended (soffit) and are used for license plate or interior illumination, e.g. C5W.

The lamps with index W have monolithic base-column, so they are also called socketless lamps which are often used for instrument panel illumination or as parking lights.

Often in the names of the lamps indicate in addition to the type of lamp also the type of socket. In order not to get confused in a huge variety of socket types, it is better to use reference materials.

The variety of sockets is shocking to any inexperienced person. Although there is nothing chaotic here if you know the basics of standardization

Usually, every lamp type has its own socket type and they hardly overlap, e.g. for H4 it is P43t and for H3 it is PK22s.

So there is no sense to keep in your head the nuances of sockets, it is enough to know only the type of lamp itself. Unless you have the desire to change the halogen auxiliary light bulbs to LED. Then, given the huge variety of LED bulbs will have to take care of studying this issue.

In this case, the marks in the prefixes will be important:

“BA” in the name of the base indicates the pin (bayonet) type, the number is the diameter of the base.
“BAY” – one of the pins is offset in height, this happens in two-strand stoplight/marker lamps.
“BAU” – the base pin is radially offset.

The letter after the diameter indicates the number of filaments, s (single) – one filament, d (dual) – two filaments. SV7 or SV8,5 are soffit lamp bases, the number indicates the diameter.
There is also such a characteristic of lamps as color temperature. So as not to go into physical definitions, it describes the color of the emitted light measured in Kelvin.

The temperature of halogen bulbs is 3000K, rarely up to 4300K. It is a yellow or white-yellow light. For xenon and LED bulbs, the temperature usually starts at 4300K

For halogen bulbs, the temperature range is 3000-4300K, so they shine with noticeable yellowing. Such light will be needed in bad weather conditions (fog, rain), so in fog lights yellow diffusers or lamps with a yellow light filter.

Color Temperature

Xenon and LED lamps to have a much wider range – 4300K – 8000K. The most popular models are 5000 – 6000K. For tuning, lamps are available with a higher temperature.

Important nuance: the white color of the luminous flux is the best solution. It well illuminates road objects and signs minimize eye fatigue. Blue light – a good solution, but in rainy or cloudy weather, the effectiveness of such lamps is markedly reduced.

Do not buy bulbs that are too powerful! The power rating is given in the vehicle documentation. Otherwise (if the bulb is very powerful) you risk damaging the reflector due to its constant overheating. And it promises to replace the entire headlamp, which of course, will cost a lot of money.

Manufacturers of bulbs

Currently, on the market, there are a lot of brands and manufacturers. Disregarding the obscure Chinese and other brands, the most common are the following: OSRAM, Philips, BOSCH, Sylvania, Hella.

The choice between them should be made on the basis of standard indicators – the availability in their line of the required model of the light bulb, warranty period, originality of the product, price to quality ratio.

Useful tips

LED – current device, and in order for it to work long and fully, you need to stabilize NOT the voltage, but the current. That’s why it’s best to use a driver with the appropriate wattage and so close the issue forever. The LEDs will work for a very long time, and will not flicker, which is often the case when connected through limiting resistors.

Xenon lights are a great thing, only if they are factory installed or by a competent installer. Dirty or unadjusted headlights start to glare badly, so a headlight washer and a corrector are just necessary. For the same reason, the fluted diffuser of the halogen headlight should be replaced with a smooth one. And the natural conclusion of the question of xenonization of halogen headlights will be the installation of good lenses.

You can’t use higher wattage halogen headlamps in normal headlamps, such as 90 / 110W. Otherwise, you will burn the wiring and melt the headlight, and before that, you will be blinding other drivers. Such bulbs are usually used only on rally cars. If there are no financial possibility to install xenon light – use “halogen” bulbs with higher light output, e.g. + 90%, etc.

If you change a halogen bulb yourself, don’t touch it with your hands so as not to grease the bulb. Grease stains will eventually dry out on the bulb, degrading its transparency and increasing the heat. The result is burnout.

Halogen and xenon lamps should be replaced in pairs. The exception is accidental burnout due to shortage or damage.

We hope that our material helped you to understand car lamps and wish you good light on the roads!

Leave a Reply

Close Menu


+1 646-845-7301
100 Church St, New York,
NY 10007, United States