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What is better: Halogen, Xenon or LED headlights technologies?

While driving through a clear day is all nice and well since visibility is at its highest, during night time a source of light is needed in order to be able to drive safely. Right now, halogen headlights are the most used in automotive industry and, while they are definitely an improvement from the acetylene lamps used a century and a half ago, there is still room for improvement.

Different headlight technologies are available on the market; however, the two most used and affordable ones at the moment and halogen and xenon headlights. HID xenon technology has been brought to the wide public way more than half a century later than halogen, but still has its drawbacks in terms of compatibility. So, which headlight technology is better between them?

Halogen technology

So, why is the halogen headlamp so widely spread throughout automotive industry? Their main advantage is represented by the long life expectancy. In other words, halogen bulbs should last more than your car if not tampered with or physically damaged in any way. Still, even if it happens to fail, replacing a halogen light bulb is cheap and doesn’t require advanced mechanics knowledge to do it, but only common sense and some practical abilities.

Halogen Light Lamp

If halogen head lamps are able to last for so long, why are there alternatives at all. This happens mainly because halogen bulbs are not so efficient in lighting the road as they are in withstanding the test of time. To better understand the downside of halogen head lamps, one must first be familiar with how it works.

Halogen headlights are made using a tungsten filament attached to a high quality glass envelope which is able to maintain functionality even in high temperature conditions. Inside the glass envelope, rare gases are inserted, such as nitrogen or argon. Everything works when electricity is received by the tungsten filament and, when it reaches around 2,500 degrees, it starts the incandescence process, providing light. The process is not very energy efficient as lots of power are lost through heat dissipation. This is also the reason why sometimes halogen lightbulbs fail: tungsten evaporates from the filament, causing the light to burn.

HID Xenon technology

On the other side of headlight buyer choices, there are xenon lamps, also known as High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps. The first difference noticed by the naked eye is the different color temperature of headlights running HID technology. Since the bulb contains xenon instead of argon and nitrogen, a slight blue tint finds its way onto the road.

HID Xenon

Xenon lights are known to be more efficient in terms of light projected on the road. Still, this can be a major drawback for other traffic participants, when the illumination angle is not properly set-up. Putting them head to head, it is revealed that xenon headlamps offer 3000 lumens while halogen bulbs generate only 1400 lumens.

2011-audi-A4-quattro-headlamp
2011 Audi A4- uattro Xenon headlamp

Yes, xenon headlamps don’t come in as many sizes as halogen ones do, but producers are focusing more and more attention towards this segment, thus soon we will witness the same broad spectrum of xenon bulbs as halogen ones. Fortunately, the advantages don’t end here. Again compared to their halogen counterparts, xenon headlights are more efficient in terms of energy consumption, allowing for a better car mileage and reduced CO2 emissions. Differences may not be huge, but are noticeable.

Drawbacks? Xenon technology is definitely more complex and requires an extra system called ballast, in order to regulate the high operating voltage required by the headlamp in to function. Increased complexity leads to increased acquisition and maintenance costs.

LED technologies

Recently, another type of headlamps have been implemented in the premium and luxury range of vehicles. LEDs or Light Emitting Diode technology seem to be the best solution for the future, although there are several drawbacks coming out to sight at a closer inspection. The main advantage of LED over halogen and xenon systems is the very low power consumption; LEDs require very little energy to provide alot of light.

LED headlight

However, although LEDs do not produce too much heat, they only work at full capacity when cool, thus advanced cooling systems are required. Without and adequate cooling systems, LEDs would melt because of the energy passing through them. Although LEDs allow for different shapes and provide a warmer light than xenon and brighter than halogen, production costs are currently high, not making them an option for small and middle class vehicles.

LED Headlight Audi A8
LED Headlight Audi A8

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