In a nutshell, LED headlamps throw an extremely intense beam of light while drawing very little power from your car’s electrical system. Nowadays, it’s quite easy to get a simple plug in LED kit for your car in the aftermarket, that ideally swaps the halogen lamps. But is switching to LED car lights a good idea?
Inside an LED Lamp
An LED is a type of a diode that converts electrical energy into light. A diode is an electrical component that can only work in one direction. In that sense, an LED is an electrical component that produces light when electricity passes through in one direction, ideally from the Anode (positive) to the cathode (negative) side. In fact, LED is an acronym for Light Emitting Diode.
LED are simply tiny bulbs that only require less power to light up and are comparatively much more efficient in producing light compared to say incandescent lamps. Electricity is passed through a semi-conducting material, which spark up light emitting diodes and produces a small amount of heat in the process.
With incandescent bulbs, electricity is used to heat a metal filament until it becomes hot, thereby producing light. Since the filament has to be heated up, incandescent bulbs are notoriously inefficient, as most of the energy is lost as heat. Although the LED lamps don’t get nearly as hot as the incandescent lamps do, they still produce a small amount of heat. A heat sink is typically used for thermal management, which is an important factor to ensure that an LED performs well over its lifetime.
A halogen light is simply an incandescent lamp that adds a parabolic aluminized reflector in order to improve the focus of the light produced. As such, while a halogen lamp is inherently omnidirectional, LED lamps can only project light from the tiny diodes. As such, most kits usually feature a few diodes, which ideally increase from extremely bright on a low beam setting to the ‘retina cleansing’ high-beam setting.
The first production units on a car were found on the 2004 Audi R8. Because they are small in size, LEDs give more flexibility for headlamp manipulation, and vehicle manufacturers can create different assemblies and shapes to match their car models – so, they could mean an end to the unsightly dome reflectors!
Why LED Headlamps?
From a practicality perspective, LEDs are ultra-bright and can theoretically last an extremely long amount of time. They also draw much less power from the electrical system compared to a typical halogen lamp.
On the other hand, who cares? Wasn’t the car designed to run with the installed factory headlights? Well, LEDs takes some strain off your car’s electrical system and can actually help your battery last much longer, especially if you have extra accessories in your car such as a powerful stereo or a fridge.
LED technology in the automotive industry is aimed at improving the lighting performance in a number of ways. Aside from their efficiency, LEDs produce a much better lighting from a small headlight, which could be used to reduce the curb weight of the car, such as in the current Mazda Miata design. Here are other points to consider:
Kelvins is the unit used to measure the color of both natural light and the light produced by light bulbs. In simple terms, this unit measure the temperature of light. The warm white color is typically measure in the temperature range of 2500 to 4000K, while the cool white’s temperatures range from 5000 to 8000K. LED headlamps typically produce the lower end of cool whites, measured from 5500K to 6500K. This makes the light much closer to the natural light, translating into better vision and clarity when driving in the dark.
The brightness of bulbs is measured in Lumens. One LED headlight bulb tends to reach about 3000 lumens or higher. However, it’s important to consider the amount of lumens a bulb consumes in order to produce actual light, since some of the luminosity is lost as other forms of energy like heat during the process. One way is installing extra LED projectors inside the headlamp assembly, which helps to focus the light more rather than scattering it. Another solution is based on the type of LED chips used, and picking the high performance hid bulbs online.
LEDs typically don’t produce heat as infrared radiation, as halogen lamps do. However, they do produce some heat as the semiconductor junction within the device. And since they are semiconductors, their performance greatly depends on temperature. This means that they need to have very efficient heat sinking and thermal management systems to keep the temperatures low and stable, in order to maintain a continuous light output and ensure a longer lifespan.
Keep in mind that these cooling systems are located inside the engine bay, which is usually not that cool for the lighting system to adequately maintain a decent temperature. That’s perhaps why LEDs are difficult to design and implement on a car. So, be sure to consider the heat dissipation of the LED headlamp into consideration when purchasing LEDs.
Aside from the performance enhancements, LED headlamps provide vehicle manufacturers and the vehicle owners looking for aftermarket LED lamps more control over the lighting style of their vehicles. Since LEDs use a series of smaller bulbs, the manufacturers can arrange the bulbs in different patterns. This enables the production of different shapes for the headlamps and gives the buyer more choices on how the style of the headlamps.
- Environmental Benefits
LED headlamps don’t contain mercury, and in many cases, various steps are being taken to replace the solders contain lead (which are usually used to fix the LEDs on a circuit board) are made using a lead-free material, in line with the directives made by the EU. Their energy efficiency also makes them environmentally friendly and are usually the source of lighting for vehicles such as the Toyota Prius.
On the down side, LED headlamps usually have a very high cost when it comes to replacing the bulbs. Although the bulbs last longer, they are usually much more expensive to replace compared to halogen lamps. Furthermore, they can sometimes be borderline dangerously bright for the oncoming traffic.