As someone who came of age carving the best driving roads of southern California in the dead of night, good illumination was paramount to driving fast safely. As a result, I’m very passionate about automotive lighting. Unfortunately, as HIDs have become more popular, a lot of misinformation has gotten out there about high intensity discharge lighting systems and their proper use, so we had to set the record straight.
What are HID headlights? What do they do?
High Intensity Discharge, or HID headlights are completely different from the incandescent bulbs that are OEM from many manufacturers. Also sometimes referred to as “Xenon” lighting, the HID system uses a bulb filled with metal halide gas, illuminated by an arc of electricity (which creates the light output). The HID system has two parts, the bulb and the ballast. Without one, the other will not work. In recent years, aftermarket HID “retrofit” systems have become popular, which convert non-HID cars over to HID, however, these do not change the housings which were designed to reflect the light source from an incandescent bulb and as a result will “glare” and blind oncoming traffic and has a messy light output pattern.
Benefits of Xenon / H.I.D. Technology
- Instantly Deliver 3 Times the Light Output of Halogen
- Consumes 40% Less Power Than Halogen
- 5x Longer Lifespan Than Halogen (2000+hrs vs. 500hrs)
- Intense, Bright Light Similar to the Sun (4800k is closest to “daylight” and offers the highest Lumen output)
- See Further and Wider
Can I put HIDs into my stock non-projector headlights?
Not really. While yes, a bulb conversion type HID system will fit and function, this should still be avoided as the reflector is not designed for HIDs, and as the point along the bulb at which the light is generated is different than OEM, the light refraction is no longer as it is designed- the light is scattered and can blind oncoming drivers. If you have these now and people regularly flash their high beams at you, it’s time to consider projectors to keep using HIDs.
What are projector headlights? What do they do?
Projector Headlights have been popular since the mid-1990’s, and feature a projector headlight unit with its own domed lens behind the main outer headlight lens. The lens design “projects” the light further onto the road than a conventional reflector. An internal block-off plate obstructs part of the light, creating a neat “cut-off” line where the light stops. This allows for the use of brighter headlights without blinding other drivers in oncoming traffic.
Can I put HIDs in aftermarket projectors?
YES! Using an HID bulb in an aftermarket projector typically works just fine, however this may not technically be legal in all areas. Simply replace the bulb that it came equipped with with a HID bulb of the same size. Be sure to check local regulations to ensure you are compliant with any relevant laws. It’s important to note that you should only use a 35 Watt HID system with aftermarket headlights. 55 Watt HID systems are designed for glass lens applications and can actually melt the lenses of plastic headlights.
Does it matter what kind of Ballasts I use for my HIDs?
YES! Using a lower quality ballast will result in a dimmer HID light. For instance, a bulb might be brighter with one style of ballast than another. Be sure you are acquiring high quality projectors when buy your HID conversion kit. That’s why we only offer high quality ballasts with the plug-and-play HID Projector systems we offer.
What is HID Color Temperature? What is the best HID color temperature?
This is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. Light output for HID headlamps is highest in lumens between 3400k (more output) and about 6500k (less output) – the higher the number, the more “purple” the light will appear to be and the less actual visible light there is. 12,000K HIDs are still putting out light – it just happens to be light that is in a spectrum not visible to human eyes. Don’t be “that guy” with dark, purple HIDs because you didn’t understand what you were ordering. The higher the “K” (kelvin) number of the color temperature, the DARKER the light will be. Most manufacturers typically use 3400k-4300k bulbs for their OEM HID systems. The best HID color temperature is 4800k, as this temperature has the highest lumen output and is the closest to daylight.
4300k = 3200lm (lumens)
4800k = 3800 (lumens)
5800k = 3300 (lumens)
7000k = 1790lm (lumens)
7000k = 1390lm (lumens)
8000k = 780lm (lumens)
Key Terms to Know about HID & Projectors
Watt- Measure of electrical power (w)
Volt- Measure of electrical charge (v)
Kelvin- Measure of color temperature (K)
Lumen- Measure of light brightness (lu)
Capsule- technically correct term for a HID “bulb”.
Candela- Measure of light intensity (cd)
Ampere- Measure of electrical current
Cut-off- A distinctive line of light produced by the shield in a headlight that blocks light above a certain height in order to prevent blinding of other motorists.
Beam Pattern- The pattern of light that is projected onto the ground which includes angle of lateral dispersion, width and depth of illumination.
Capsule- Another term for an HID bulb. Some refer to HID bulbs as gas discharge capsules.
Optics- The lighting control assembly structured around the bulb, which effects the dispersion of light and it’s characteristics to a great degree.
HID (High Intensity Discharge)= Gas Discharge
If you’re interested in converting your car to HID, consult a Modification Expert to have them direct you to the setup that’s best for your application.
Thanks for reading and hopefully we’ve made it a little easier to understand HIDs, how they work and the pitfalls to keep in mind when using HIDs.
Story by Nicholas Gregson