The headlight situation hasn’t changed very much since the first automobile was designed. They go in the front of the vehicle, and are used to light up the driver’s visual range in darkness, rain, and other weather and atmosphere conditions.
However, the types of headlights and headlight bulbs that are used on vehicles have changed a lot since they were first used. If you’d like to learn more on this topic, keep reading!
Types of Headlights
The main different types of headlight bulbs are halogen, LED, HID, and laser. In this article, we’ll go over each of them, along with what types of headlight housings they go into: reflective, projector, and more. These are the types of things you’ll want to know when shopping for headlights for your vehicle.
Since the internet can be confusing, with different terms that describe the same car parts, we’ll break it down in section lists, with explanations of the different terms and their definitions, so keep reading!
There are three different main kinds of housings/assemblies. The housing/assemblies are not the light bulb itself, but what the light bulb sits in, which are listed as follows:
- Reflector/Sealed Beam Headlights
- Projector/Composite Headlights
- H4 Conversion/Semi-Sealed Beam Headlights
Reflector/Sealed Beam Headlights
Dating all the way back to 1937, a two-year designing process was started to create a headlight system that all vehicles on the public road would use in the U.S.
In 1939, that final product was introduced as the reflector/sealed beam headlight.
A bill was passed, and from 1940 and beyond, all vehicles on the road would have to use the reflector/sealed beam headlight.
This would ensure consistency, availability, and most importantly, safety.
This law stayed in place for some 45 years. Along the way, the design and sizes would change, but ultimately the product was the same until 1984.
After newer technology hit the market, the law was squashed when better working headlights came to the market.
These better-looking and performing headlights were mostly seen on only very high-end vehicles, until about the very late-90s – early-2000s.
Now more and more, reflector headlights are becoming a thing of the past.
However, they are still used today, and even come on brand new low-optioned vehicles straight from the factory.
What They Are: reflector/sealed beam headlights are a one-piece assembly part. If your headlight burns out, the whole assembly has to be changed.
Each assembly has a halogen bulb in them, either a glass or plastic lens, forward-facing reflectors, and are lower maintenance.
They are also stronger and more durable than the other headlight housings in this list.
The downside is that they illuminate more of the road around you instead of in front of you.
As well, these headlights are dimmer and have a greater tendency to shine in the eyes of oncoming traffic.
These are the headlights that are slowly taking the place of reflector/sealed beam headlights.
Projector/composite headlights use a series of more sophisticated reflectors and a magnifying lens to make sure you see more of what is in front of you than areas of the road you don’t need to see.
They also accept, not only halogen bulbs, but also LED and HID bulbs (which we’ll discuss further below).
Projector/composite headlights also offer two very important features that have made them the more used headlight option for automobile companies these days.
They are much more attractive than reflector/sealed beam headlights, and are designed as multi-part pieces.
This means that when you blow a bulb, the whole headlight assembly does not have to be replaced, just the bulb does.
H4 Conversion/Semi-Sealed Beam Headlights
This is an attractive option for people who want to upgrade to a multi-part headlight assembly from the reflector/sealed beam headlight without spending a lot of money.
If you still have the reflector/sealed beam headlight, you might not want to change the whole look of your front-end.
It could be too expensive to convert to a projector/composite headlight, and it probably won’t look right.
This H4 conversion kit allows you to use the same sized headlight that will fit into your OEM stock headlight spot, but with the perks of two things.
You would be able to choose what bulb you want to use in them i.e., halogen, LED, or HID, and you will be able to change just the bulb when it blows, not the whole headlight assembly.
Headlight Light Bulbs
Although there are many different brands and sizes of light bulbs that will all offer you a claim of a certain performance, there are only 4 major types of automobile light bulbs:
These light bulbs are the least expensive, and have been around the longest.
They also offer the least amount of illuminated light, at 700 lumens at low beams and 1,200 lumens at high beams.
They also last the least amount of hours than the other three options at 500-1000 hours.
However, the upside to these light bulbs is you won’t break the bank buying them, and they are very trustworthy in performing their duties.
LED (Light-Emitting Diode)
LED lights have been around for a long time, but not till the turn of the 21st century have they become such a hot commodity for automotive headlights.
The reason for this is the automotive industry’s ultimate search for more efficiency out of their automobiles.
LEDs only flow current in one direction, and put a lot less stress on a vehicle’s battery and engine.
So, that’s why you see a lot of new vehicles using LED Daytime Running Lights (DLRs).
They come with a few other perks, like a lighting area of 2,000-4,000 lumens, and a life span of 10,000-50,000 hours!
With a reputation of oftentimes lasting up to 10 years, you might not feel so bad when you find out the prices on LED headlights are a little on the expensive side.
HID/Xenon Headlights (High-Intensity Discharge)
These lights send out a light-emitting plasma that is created from a combination of xenon gas and vaporized salt, creating an electrical arc between two poles.
To put it simply, they’re the bright blue-tinted headlights you see when you’re driving.
The HID headlights have a reputation to replicate the sunlight better than any other headlight on the market.
They light up 2,400-3,400 lumens, and last upwards of 2,000 hours, but have been known to last as long as 8,000 hours.
The upside to these headlights, compared to their LED competition, is that they are a little less money to purchase, but still more than a halogen bulb.
Laser headlights are a new thing that is coming to the US. President Biden signed a bill that removed the ban on laser headlights or adaptive headlights in late November 2021.
They have been active in other countries, especially on high-end vehicles, but they will now see their way here to America.
Although these headlights only appear in a very select few vehicles, you can expect this technology to expand.
What makes these lights so important to our future is they create up to 1,000 times more intensity than LED headlights, and use only half the power.
The lasers set back in the headlight assembly like the other bulbs.
Instead of pointing out at the road, a series of blue lasers point at a yellow phosphor, producing a very bright white light that would be bounced off into the road in front of you.
To know more about headlights, you can also read our posts on how long do LED headlights last, why do headlights flicker, and when to turn on headlights.
With all that headlight information, you’re probably wondering which way you should go, or if you should just stick with what you have.
Well, the best way to pick the headlight housing and headlight bulbs that best suit you is by understanding what your nighttime seeing situation is, and whether you feel safe the way things are or if you need to make a change.