Difference Between Halogens & LED Headlights : Which is Better?

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Difference between Halogen and LED Headlights

Parameter Halogen LED
Mechanism Tungsten wire Semiconductor
Popularity Very High Nascent
Brightness ~1,200 lumens ~2,500 lumens
Color Temp. 2,500 Kelvin 6,000 Kelvin
Lifespan 950 to 1,250 hrs 30,000 hrs
Reflectors Need reflectors Can function without reflectors or projectors
Flickering Can flicker. No
Up-front Cost Low High
Maintenance High Low
Energy Consumption High Low
Aesthetics Limited Many designs / patterns
Intelligent Light Systems No Yes

Headlights – An Overview

Electric headlights in cars have been around since the early 20th century and have used fuels, oils, and filaments to produce light.

However, since the 1960s, halogen lights became standard across Europe and were made mandatory in America in 1978.

After enjoying decades of popularity, however, halogen headlights started to face challenges from newer technologies developed from the 1990s onwards.

One of the most recent of these technologies are LED headlights.

LEDs first became popular for use in computers and electronics and then for home lighting.

For a long time, they were just not capable of producing a beam of light powerful enough for headlights .

However, recent advancements have meant that it has become one of the most cutting-edge technologies.

It is now regularly used in high-end cars, because of its technological capabilities, and is now steadily being made available at mid-range price cars as well.

This article will explain these two types of headlights, giving you a detailed insight into both while also giving you a general idea of traditional headlight technology as well as the newest advances in the field.

All About Halogen Headlights

Halogens refer to a group of gases which include chlorine, fluorine, bromine, and iodine. Before halogen lights, car headlights used bulbs with filaments surrounded by an inert mixture of argon and nitrogen.

In halogen lights, a tungsten filament is heated up to generate light while it is enclosed in a glass envelope filled with a halogen gas.

Initially, halogen lights used iodine gas but it was replaced by bromine, which is the standard gas now used.

How do halogen lights function?

Halogen lights came in two variations: the old sealed-beam model and in bulbs, which are now the standard. In a sealed-beam model, the entire filament was sealed inside a single glass enclosure.

Therefore, if your filament stopped working, you had to replace the entire headlamp rather than just a bulb, as you would do now.

Sealed beams are no longer used in new car models but some base-model older cars which are still manufactured today do still use them.

However, these are very rare.

Generally, you will encounter a halogen bulb which uses halogen as an inert gas to extend the lifespan of the tungsten wire that produces light.

The halogen also helps produce a fuller and more well-diffused light than a standard tungsten bulb.

Lifespan and Maintenance of Halogen

The halogen used in halogen lights had another function which hasn’t been mentioned above. This function was to prolong the life of the tungsten filament inside the bulb.

This use of halogen resulted in a lifespan of 950 to 1,250 hours.

While this was a major step up from previous bulbs and sealed beams, contemporary bulbs are capable of lasting much longer.

HIDs, for instance, can last 2000 hours and upwards while LEDs can last as long as your car.

Because of this low lifespan, you can expect to change your bulbs up to twice as often as newer cars which don’t use halogens.

Cost of Halogen headlights

Out of all the options available for headlights on the market, halogens are the most inexpensive.

Because they are generally available for cars of all costs and price ranges, you can find both expensive and affordable options for cars with halogen headlights.

This is not the case with LEDs which are still mostly confined to higher end cars

As far as replacement costs go, your expected cost per bulb would be around $15 to $ 20.

By comparison, HID bulbs, which last twice as long if not slightly more, cost around $ 100.

Thus, even though you have to change these bulbs more often than other types, they still work out cheaper.

Halogen – Lighting, Color, and Brightness

Halogen lights produce multi-directional light, which means that they emit light in all directions. Because of this, the light they emit has to be focused using either projectors or reflectors.

In projector headlights, a lens is used to the focus the beam of light while reflector headlights use mirrors around the bulb to focus the light.

Reflector headlights used to be the most popular option but since 2000, projector headlights have greatly increased in popularity.

The tungsten filament in halogen bulbs glows at a heat of around 2500K to 3200K.

This results in an orange colored light rather than a white or bluish light produced by Xenon HID bulbs.

As far as brightness is concerned, halogen bulbs produce a brightness of 700 lumens on the low-beam setting and a brightness of 1,200 to 1,300 lumens on high-beam .

Halogen bulbs which are slightly brighter, such as those with a maximum brightness of 1400 lumens, are also available but do not have a significantly higher brightness than this average value.

LED Headlights

LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode.

LEDs are based on semiconductor technology: basically, they consist of a chip which emits light when a small electrical current passes through it.

Because they are based on semiconductors, LEDs are also much smaller than traditional bulbs which use filaments encased in a gas.

They can be as thin as a sheet of paper.

Because of this, they can be manipulated to create new shapes for headlights, giving cars a fresh look and modern aesthetic appeal.

How do LEDs function?

Because LEDs are smaller than regular halogen bulbs and even newer bulbs such as HIDs, multiple LEDs have to be placed together to produce the required brightness of a car headlight.

However, even though each headlight is made of multiple LEDs, they still consume much less power than even the energy-efficient 35W HID bulbs.

This is because each individual LED takes only a small current to light up.

However, each individual LED produces a large amount of heat. Because of this, any LED headlight also requires a heat sink or, more commonly, a fan system behind the headlights to continuously cool the LEDs.

LEDs also have a very fast start-up time, coming on almost instantly. This makes them particularly useful for use in brake lights.

LEDs are much brighter than halogen bulbs. Furthermore, their light is unidirectional, which means that it only spreads outward in one direction.

Because of this, they can be focused very easily and thus very often come without a reflector or projector.

LEDs can also be designed and laid out in unique shapes, which means many unique shapes can be created with them for headlights.

It also means that their beam of light can be optimally calibrated for road conditions.

However, the result of this is also that there is no standardization in LED headlights and they vary not just from company to company but also from model to model.


LEDs are by far the most expensive headlights currently available on the market.

Because of this, they are almost exclusively limited to high-end cars produced by companies such as Audi .

However, some recent cars with a mid-range price have also used LEDs .

The cost is mainly due to the custom-made circuit boards and multiple components that make up a single LED headlight .

Because of the lack of standardization in making these headlights, the cost of manufacturing is also far higher.

Lifespan and Maintenance

The high up-front cost of LEDs is balanced by the fact that their lifespan is several times longer than that of any other type of headlight on the market.

They have a projected life of at least 30,000 hours and many manufacturers state that the LED headlights will last as long as the car itself .

Therefore, maintenance costs are out of the question.

As far as maintenance goes, LED lights do not function like usual bulbs as they do not flicker or stop working entirely.

Rather, they undergo a process called lumen depreciation wherein their brightness gradually decreases over time.

When the brightness reaches 70% of its original value, the LEDs are regarded as having gone through their lifespan.

Lighting, Brightness, and Color

In terms of lighting, LEDs are capable of directing light in highly concentrated beams in the required areas while driving, making them extremely useful to drivers.

In fact, the latest LED technology, called an LED matrix, uses sensors and cameras to continuously modulate your headlights and the light beam to perfectly suit the road and lighting conditions around you .

As far as brightness goes, you can expect to find LEDs with a brightness of around 2,000-3,000 lumens, which is significantly higher than that of halogen bulbs .

Color is a major factor in favor of LEDs as they can have a variety of colors. Generally, they produce perfectly white light for use in headlights, comparable to that produced by HID bulbs.

Advantages of Halogens over LEDs

Halogens are an old technology and therefore do not really have too many pros in their favor.
This is especially true because new headlight technologies such as LEDs were developed to overcome the shortcomings of halogens. Still, the few advantages of halogen bulbs are:
  • Cost: They are the cheapest headlight option, costing only $15-$20 to replace
  • Availability: They are available for cars at all price points, rather than being restricted to high-end cars like LEDs currently are
  • Compatibility – You will be easily able to find halogen headlight compatible for your car anywhere in the world.

Advantages of LEDs over Halogens

LEDs are the latest commercially available technology for headlights.
Because of this, they have a number of features which make them superior to the older halogen bulbs. The advantages it has over them are as follows:
  • Long lasting: LEDs have the longest lifespan of any headlight technology, lasting as long as your car itself. This is many times longer than the 950 to 1,250 hours of a halogen bulb.
  • Brightness: LEDs have a brightness of around 3,000 lumens, which is more than twice the brightness of halogen bulbs.
  • Aesthetics: LEDs can be shaped into novel headlight shapes to give a unique look to a car which is different from the someone standard headlights used to house halogen bulbs.
  • Instant response: LEDs turn on almost instantly, rather than needing a warm-up period. This makes them particularly useful for blinkers and brake lights along with headlights.
  • Energy efficiency: LEDs are much more energy efficient than headlights, requiring only a minimal amount of current to function.
  • Unidirectional light: LEDs produce light in a single direction which allows for a more precise calibration of the light beam and its direction.

Are LED Headlights better than Halogen?

It will be wrong to say that.

According to a report by Consumer Reports, while the LED headlamps may be brighter, it is not necessary that they make a better headlight always.

They noted that in some cases halogen headlights performed better than LEDs. For example, in their test with 2016 Honda HR-V, 2012 Nissan Versa – halogen lights performed better – both in high and low beam.

On the other hand for 2015 Cadillac Escalade, LED performed better.

In some cases, LED performed better in Low beam while halogen in high beam situations.

Thus, it is important to consider all important aspects before going ahead and investing in a LED headlight and they are expensive.


When Halogen headlights first appeared on the market, they were a much-needed improvement over older technologies.

In the following decades, they have become ubiquitous and the standard option for most cars. They are common, hassle-free, and inexpensive.

However, technologically they have been surpassed by newer headlights. The latest of these are LEDs, which are more energy efficient, brighter, as well as more aesthetically appealing.

New LED matrix technology is also making car headlights adaptive, which means that they adjust according to the driving and road conditions.

However, this technology is not yet available in America but is restricted in popularity to Europe.

They are also restricted to mainly expensive and high-end cars currently.

The choice, then, is not simply between an old and new technology but also between more common and accessible headlights versus less standardized LED technology.

Weighing the pros and cons of both will help you decide which headlights are suited for your needs as well as the accessibility.

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