By on February 23, 2015

 

HL_B5_E39_97_DP_A_BLK_PLUS_UHP_LED_W_PLUS_HID_G

Obligatory E39 Photo. (photo courtesy: bimmerforums.com)

John writes:

Hi Sajeev!

I’m still only three years into the car business and I still haven’t wrapped my brain around one thing: xenon headlamps. As a used car manager I’ve replaced plenty of xenon bulbs (pricey) and even some ballasts (really pricey).

Are you sold on their usefulness? To me it seems like a giant waste of money.

The sales people tell me they really help on rural roads at night. Then again what $500 (to replace a ballast) means to me versus what $500 means to the average new car client here is pretty different. Is that an option you keep unchecked? What about the B&B?
Thanks!

Sajeev answers:

Good on you for considering your end of this business relative to the rest of the world, especially about High Intensity Discharge (HID) and Xenon lighting. Because there are hidden benefits to Xenon lighting: consider the lifecycle from the first geeky R&D engineer to the last junkyard scavenger.

Take the factory: they want to innovate, having gee-whiz tech to trump the competition. (If only for a couple of years!)They’ll love that extra profit, fatter margins. Even if they’ll sadly bundle Xenon lighting with some BS “technology” package that’s outdated against your smartphone.

Take the Junkyard Scavenger: depending on uniqueness of the make/model, finding a working HID lighting assembly, the ballast (or even bulb) is great eBay fodder.  Even if it’s just a unique mounting bracket or harness plug on a universal part, the owner gets something for cheap and the scavenger makes a tidy profit.

Take the customer: Xenon lighting to legal specifications (i.e. almost always never the eBay stuff to slap into your non-HID headlight body) does indeed give an amazing beam of light in rural areas, or urban roads with sparse street lighting.  Former TTAC staffer Daniel Stern has a great resource if you want to dig into the science and practice of headlight designs.

I love HIDs and gladly pay for the privilege.  I did the upgrade on my Mark VIII back in the early days of the automotive interweb, and (just last weekend) I spent $300-ish on new HID bulbs for my mother’s 2006 Lexus.  Nine illuminating years was a good run: a fantastic safety feature, especially for Mom’s well-being.

Take your Boss, the General Manager: Assuming you work in the typical New/Used/Service/F&I/Parts type of franchised dealership, let’s think about the GM.  They want to give the customer what they want. In turn, he makes a little more money in sales, hopefully a bit more on service/parts when the vehicle returns after several years…or after a front-end collision.

It’s one of those Rising Tides Lifts All Boats things.

Except when the used boat needs new ballasts. (sad trombone) Off to you, Best and Brightest!

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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142 Comments on “Piston Slap: The HID-den benefits of Xenon Lighting?...”


  • avatar
    Onus

    I’m with the article. I hate that HIDs are only available in super expensive models or you need to buy tons of other unnecessary equipment to get them.

    The plus side is bi-halogen projector lamps seem to be becoming more popular which is not nearly as good as HIDs but, still much better than regular halogen lighting.

  • avatar
    carguy

    I Totally agree on the safety benefits of HID headlights. HIDs are superior for driving on unlit rural roads as well as the detection of pedestrians wearing dark clothing.

    Now that LED’s are finding their way into economy cars, I hope that all LED lighting will soon be standard on all cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

      I’m not sure if LED’s are the panacea. Consumer Reports tested a current model A8 with the optional (at the time) LED headlights, and they said they were horrible. Not very useful forward brightness, and poor range due to a sharp cutoff.

      For me, the gold standard is how many seconds of forward visibility you have traveling at highway speeds, say 70 mph. 5-6 seconds is amazing, 3 seconds is mediocre, 2 seconds or less is downright dangerous. Most halogen equipped cars I’ve driven barely clear 3 seconds. Those sealed beam halogens from the 70’s and 80’s never had more than 2 seconds of visibility.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I’m sure some will disagree, but I prefer them. I just find the light to be stronger, safer, and better dispersed. And yes, I think they just look better. I personally have never had to replace a bulb. Only once did I have to replace an assembly and that was done out of warranty.

    FYI, that E39 has an aftermaket kit. Not sure I would spend the money to do that.

    • 0 avatar

      Had a hard time finding an E39 pic with the low beams on, damn near everything on Google Image Search was of the angel eyes only. And I wanted to stick with E39s, so I’ll stand by this flawed image.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Why not just drive around with your high beams on? You’d look just as much of a jack A$$ to the rest of us.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I was gonna say, there weren’t HIDs at the time of the E39, right? Any of these are gonna be aftermarket?

      http://s653.photobucket.com/user/V8-Cruiser/media/530dfrischpoliert004.jpg.html

      Also yes to BMW angel eyes. Still like em.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      When I had an E39, I ended up spending the money to remove the aftermarket assembly installed by the previous owner. The aftermarkets were ok for a while, but once I lost one of those bulbs it was non-stop problems with bulbs and ballasts. Aftermarket replacements were temptingly cheap, but they are all crap. By the time I finally lost patience, I had enough practice that I could pull the headlight assembly in the dark. Fortunately the pre-2001 OE lights are undesirable because of the lack of “angel eyes”, so you could find them for reasonable prices and put an end to the aftermarket misery.

      Some people like to modify cars, yet somehow my time and money is always spent rolling things back to OE equipment :-(

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “Xenon lighting to legal specifications (i.e. almost always never the eBay stuff to slap into your non-HID headlight body) ”

    Yeah, this is the stuff that blinds you in oncoming traffic and actually provides the driver with worse night lighting because of the scattered beam caused by the incorrect housing. These guys are douches

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I just give them a long blast of my own high beams. Turnabout is fair play.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        The one instance when reciprocal douchiness is acceptable

        • 0 avatar
          olddavid

          Among truckers of a certain age, a quick high beam blast both head-on and overtaking (to show you’re using low beams on approach) is a courtesy usually acknowledged by a quick trailer light on-off. I have had the good fortune to have made a couple of long trips – in an excellent cruiser (’98 FN10) recently and have found very little of the old time rituals still in play. Regardless, the HID headlights are a necessary safety device when travelling at high speed in rural settings. Montana, with its low population and wide road variety, usually has me more worried about a 1500# moose than traffic. Especially at 3 a.m. on a dark state highway. The difference in night driving between a run of the mill halogen and high intensity can be the difference that can save your life.

    • 0 avatar
      kmoney

      I think this is probably why so many people hate HIDs in general. Probably not so much now, but I remember when they first became popular, maybe a third of the cars I would see with HIDs had the blinding aftermarket kits in them. The self-leveling, properly mirrored and lensed factory setups are nowhere near as bad.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I’ve put 65k a car on three different cars (one of which started at 36k) from 2004 to now and never had to replace a HID light or balast or anything else. Compared that with the halogens in my wife’s MkV Jetta that were replaced at least 5x per side over 120k miles.

  • avatar
    Dawnrazor

    Hopefully the point will soon be moot with regard to HIDs.

    It seems as if LEDs are poised to replace HIDs in a lot of applications. For example, the new Acura MDX (as well as some of the new sedans) use LEDs exclusively, with no HID option available. I rode in a new MDX at night recently, and the beam quality and projection distance seemed at least as good as HID, if not better. LEDs power supplies are cheaper and more reliable than HID power supplies (their only requirement is current regulation, which is not difficult or expensive to accomplish), and the entire system could theoretically last the life of the vehicle (with no maintenance required).

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    Xenon or LED, I look forward to the day that cars have zero incandescent bulbs, anywhere from interior to exterior.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Until you have to replace a tail lamp.

      I’ve seen my share of domestic and foreign cars with tail lamps that are not working at all. Replacements are in the hundreds of dollars as the entire unit must be swapped out. Coming from the OEM side that manufactures these parts, I’ve seen enough warranty to push me against LED’s for the moment.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I completely disagree on their usefullness, especially for the other drivers. I drive rural roads all the time at night, and Xenon bulbs are especially bright and blinding for oncoming traffic. This is what the “brights” are for. Turn them on when one can’t see then turn them off when there is oncoming traffic. Most of the HID lighting, even the factory installed Xenon lighting, is simply too bright and sends light too far out. If people slowed down then they wouldn’t overtake their lights.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      I disagree. I find that oncoming traffic using xenon/HID to be easier on the eyes than a lot of halogen headlamps. It is the DB’s using the aftermarket crap like silverstar bulbs that blind everyone.

      • 0 avatar
        Daniel J

        The uber white light some of these put out is glaring/blinding and absolutely kills night/dark adapted vision.

        • 0 avatar
          kvndoom

          The Silverado behind me on my work commute this morning had aftermarket headlights AND foglights that were so bright you’d think he had put spotlights in the sockets.

          It was straight up *painful* to my eyes. VA law needs to classify illegal HID’s as reckless driving (i.e. big money) so that the cops will actually do something about it. Blinding traffic is a hell of a lot more dangerous than 71 in a 60.

    • 0 avatar
      Frownsworth

      This. Luxury cars and their HIDs are not considerate on others in the opposite lane. Especially with their raised stance (CUVs and whatnot), their lights are really blinding. Coupled with the fact that these vehicles are mostly driven and used in the city and in the suburbia, it makes my encounters with them at night very annoying.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Rather than legislate backup cameras, I would rather see legislation for a voice warning when a driver forgets to lower their high beams. It would work with a light sensor (to sense oncoming traffic), it would make the blue high beam indicator flash extra bright (give the driver a taste of their own medicine), you would not be able to disable it (under penalty of law), and it would say, in a loud voice, “Hey, DUMBASS, lower your high beams. You are F—ING blinding everybody, you inconsiderate A—–!”

        Who would rather see this before mandatory backup cameras?

        (Well I’m off to the patent office!)

    • 0 avatar
      Slicker

      “I drive rural roads all the time at night, and Xenon bulbs are especially bright and blinding for oncoming traffic.”

      I think part of the problem is that the US doesn’t mandate auto leveling systems for HID headlights like they do in Europe.

      I’ve noticed only European makes appear to have the leveling systems only the models they sell in the US, while other manufacturers don’t bother (see Acura with their older HID systems).

      • 0 avatar
        Power6

        The U.S. Does mandate leveling systems for HIDs.

        • 0 avatar
          Slicker

          “The U.S. Does mandate leveling systems for HIDs.”

          Interesting. I thought they didn’t. I was under the impression that US DOT examined the issue but ended up determining that auto-leveling was not necessary: http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/rulings/glare.html
          http://www.danielsternlighting.com/nhtsa/NHTSA.html

          Also, I’m almost positive the current model RDX with HID does not have auto-leveling.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      Around here (Middle TN) the popular thing apparently is to drive full time with the fog lights on.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        It’s not just a Tennesee thing. It’s an everywhere thing. I’m guilty of it too.

        The REAL a-holes defeat the switch that keeps fog lights off when the high beams are turned on. Now talk about blinding somebody!

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          Factory fog lights aren’t that bad. They’re usually low and aimed for improved close-in vision. Every vehicle I ever had that had them it was just one extra click past “Headlights” to have them on. No need to defeat any switch

  • avatar
    Perc

    It’s obviously annoying and expensive when you have to replace a pair of bulbs or perhaps a ballast, but there’s no question in my mind that the HIDs are worth it if you do any amount of night driving at all.

    Halogen is obsolete crap that has no business in new cars. IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      ItsMeMartin

      “Halogen is obsolete crap that has no business in new cars”

      It might be obsolete but it also keeps car prices down to a certain extent, and is a proven, if relatively ineffective, technology.

      I would argue that it has its place in several segments, with city cars – subcompacts, compacts – being the most obvious one.
      It is one of my biggest pet peeves: Just because something has been developed does not mean that we should immediately consider it essential.

      The automotive world is not only Caymans, Q7’s and S-classes. It is also Versas, Patriots and Sonics. There is a lot of reasons why mature technology has its place in today’s cars. I would even say that we embrace every innovation too eagerly.

    • 0 avatar
      Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

      The best low beam lights I’ve đriven with have been a 2002 ES300 with HID and a 1999 Ford Windstar with halogens. Both cars had at least 6 to 8 seconds of forward visibility at 110km/h. The downside with the Windstar was that it used the same bulb for low and high beams, so the high beams were useless.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        I’ve noticed well designed Halogens work just as well as HIDs. Unfortunately, few Halogens are designed as good as they can be. I wonder if manufacturers do it on purpose to make people want HIDs.

        • 0 avatar

          This.
          In the 2003 version of BMW headlights, the low/high HID is the outside lamp. There is a shutter inside the unit, for high/low.

          The center halogens, same as the base light, only light up for “flash to pass”.

          If you have the lights on HID high beam and pull in the lever, you get the halogen high beam and the shutter comes down. A perfect a/b comparo.

          Other than the different shade of light, pretty much zero difference with the stock bulbs. The halogen lights are lovely…the HID lights too. Unless you want to bolt 200 w of H1 to the bumper, you’re good.

          I infer that the car makers can pretty much fill the box the regulations provide….

      • 0 avatar
        EMedPA

        Back when my wife and I were first dating, she had a Subaru Impreza. Awesome halogen lights on that car. You’d have sworn they were off an EU-spec car.

      • 0 avatar
        sproc

        I think that’s fairly common. My ’02 RSX uses the exact same type of bulb for both low and high beams. The difference is in the shape/pattern of the reflector and how they’re aimed.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Other than the auto-aiming systems, these should not be as expensive as they are, especially the ballasts. In just about any other (non-automotive) application, the ballast is much cheaper.

    Again, I could see the aiming systems being expensive, but that’s it.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Counter-argument. How effective are HIDs after the face has aged about five years and tens of thousands of miles? I mean the cumulative effects of dirt, grime, and bugs hitting your headlights at highway speeds and gradually fogging them up.

    Serious question- how many of the B&B actually bother to put in an hour or two of elbow grease and polish these things back to good-as-new? (Using the squeegee at the gas station is nice but it doesn’t count for my question.) Makes a big difference on a >5 year old car, my friends.

    I’m quite content with my 65w halogen high beams (and regular halogen lows), having “grown up” on much less powerful incandenscents- and much less powerful brakes. I’m skeptical about just how much better HIDs are, although I am open to suggestion. And I have thought about shelling out the cash for LED auxiliary lights.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      All depends where you drive. We vacation in Northern WI, and it’s very dark with lots of critters off the side of the road. HIDs with their wide dispersement of light are great for spotting things just off the shoulder.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        “HIDs with their wide dispersement of light are great for spotting things just off the shoulder.”

        Good point, although I think that has more to do with lens design and selection rather than HID vs other- and aiming your low beams slightly “bug-eyed” (outwards) can accomplish the same thing. A long time ago I did that when I had a rural paper route (30~40 miles between 2-6am each day). I did it mostly to help see names and addresses on mailboxes but it certainly helped me spot the critters.

        • 0 avatar
          bunkie

          Even better than plain HID lighting is adaptive HID lighting. I *love* this feature. When traveling dark, curvy country roads at night, it makes a big difference to have the headlight point to where you are actually going.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Remember turning lights? They were great, not sure why they were done away with

          • 0 avatar
            ItsMeMartin

            I drove an XC90 with that feature and, frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference between adaptive and non-adaptive mode. Maybe in your car the effect is more noticeable.
            I don’t know how they do it in the US but in Europe the turning lights have been almost completely phased out, although many recent cars (VAGs mostly) have this feature where one of the fog lights lights up when the car is turning. It might be less effective at higher speeds than true adaptive lights but it is also much simpler and easier to implement. I am frankly surprised that Euro manufacturers, usually intent on foisting every fragile, expensive-to-replace tech upon the consumer, came up with something that simple yet effective.

            Wow, I actually praised Volkswagen. I guess there’s a first time for everything.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Final car with turning lights:

            2011 DTS?

          • 0 avatar
            darkwing

            In the US, Audis with LED headlights do something similar — when you turn the wheel, the “all-weather light” on the appropriate side of the car comes on to illuminate ahead of the front corner.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      “Serious question- how many of the B&B actually bother to put in an hour or two of elbow grease and polish these things back to good-as-new?”

      I’ve used a lot more than elbow grease. I’ve used 3M’s headlight restoration kit on a couple of cars now (wet sand them with drill attachments using progressively finer grit, then polish). It certainly improves things cosmetically, though hard to tell how much better the light is. I’ve heard that this sands off the UV coating, so you will have to either use a protective film or constantly apply something like Aerospace 303 protectant to prevent them from quickly fogging up again. I’ve abandoned hope and don’t bother with either.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      re: serious question,
      Not my elbows. I paid a detailer to do the kit thing with polishing compounds and clear my covers. Suddenly the lights work.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Mismanagement of lighting is a symptom of the real problem – poor driver discipline.

    Drivers that can’t be bothered to manage low-high beams, drivers that run fog lamps constantly, drivers with poorly installed aftermarket lighting are the same people that don’t maintain their vehicles, don’t have speed discipline, don’t have lane discipline, and may try to kill you because they can’t be bothered to control their 2-ton machine.

    Like any number of natural and adopted behaviors – these are signals to avoid these people to the extent that you can and be aggressively defensive in their midst.

  • avatar
    ItsMeMartin

    The automotive lighting equipment is one of the only areas in which meaningful progress has been recently made. The new headlight technology (not only Xenon but also LED and laser) trumps halogen tech in every way except for cost; and it truly and objectively impacts the way we drive cars (unlike other recently developed tech whose sole aim is to enable the consumers to play bullshit signaling games with each others).
    When it comes to new cars, in my opinion, if you drive much or frequently drive during the night, then upgrading the lights to HID or LEDs might be worth the price. The high cost is additionally offset by the relative longevity of those lamps.
    If you drive mostly in the city or during the day I would not bother with HIDs. You would save money while sacrificing exactly nothing.
    If you can buy a used car with HIDs, I would say go for it. Worst case scenario, even if they do fail and you have to repair/replace them, you probably won’t need to do that again. From my experience, they’re surprisingly durable.
    But, for the love of all things holy, do not change stock halogens to aftermarket xenons. Seriously, please. There is nothing more blinding than a car with misaligned HIDs and most of those who install aftermarket kits do not bother with such petty things as alignment, regulator motors.
    And about putting HIDs into standard housings, is it even possible? I thought that the HID lamps share no parts with halogen ones. Or do you mean high powered blue halogen lamps that imitate xenons?

    Having said that, I gotta admit, I would like to practice what I preach. Sadly, I cannot afford to do that as of now. As it stands, my S40 currently has misaligned HIDs with no regulator motors present and no way to align them manually. This strange contraption is set up in such a way that it somehow doesn’t blind anyone. The bad thing is, they light reaches less than 100 feet in front of me, though. Such are the joys of owning a US-spec car shoddily modified to meet Euro standards by the previous owner.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      There are unfortunately way to many “conversion” kits sold online that use an HID bulb designed to fit into the opening for a halogen. Most of those blue or purple lights that blind you use these. It’s kits like these.
      http://www.xenonhids.com/bulb-size/9007-hi-lo-full-xenon-hid-conversion-kit.html?gclid=Cj0KEQiAvKunBRCfsum9z6fu_5IBEiQAu4lg4gTE5bkAttdNJbM6b6RQEiVSTDTsFW_1N6NowthF53YaAo8c8P8HAQ

  • avatar
    smartascii

    I live in southeast Ohio, where there’s a great deal of nothing, and both of our cars have HID lights. When we got here, neither car had HIDs. The difference they make on a 1-2 hour backroad drive is enormous, particularly when paired with adaptive/cornering lights and auto brights. I never get anyone flashing their high beams at me because my low beams are bothering them. I do occasionally get that with the third car/boat towing vehicle (2000 Excursion), but that’s because it’s very tall, and its regular halogen lights are more annoying than correctly adjusted factory xenons.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “Drivers that can’t be bothered to manage low-high beams…..”

    I was going to write my personal rant, but you actually summarized it much better than my own response.

    But I feel the major culprits are aftermarket add-ons. I ignore whether their design is flawed or the installers ignore how to align them properly, but they are blinding.

    Coupled with the fact that the vehicle owners want to “show off” their new, expensive toys, and use them even in well illuminated roadways.

  • avatar
    jdash1972

    Yes, we all must have 10,000,000 candle power lighting that blasts 5 miles down the road, burning out the retinas of oncoming traffic and enabling us to drive 100 miles an hour on dark country roads. If you’re that old and blind you shouldnt have a license in the first place.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It’s not just brightness but the glare. All I see is a fog of blue light in my side mirrors and can’t tell if they’re in my blind spot or a ways clear. So I’ll leave my turn signal on for a few seconds before easing into the lane, wishing them good luck.

    • 0 avatar
      darkwing

      Sounds safe.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      The glare in the side mirrors is a huge problem, especially in a sedan surrounded higher-riding vehicles. In response to this, some side mirrors feature auto dimming or other glare reducing features.

      Edit: Right as I clicked submit, I realized my post included ‘s*de’, yet it still posted. Is the spam filter fixed? Derek is on quite a roll lately!

  • avatar
    Fred

    If you’re going to complain about costs, why not just go back to the old sealed beams. If you wanted brighter lights we would get the illegal foreign quartz iodine bulbs.

  • avatar
    Power6

    I swapped the OEM HID lamps into my ES300. Bought them complete off eBay for a couple hundred each. 13 year old ballasts and bulbs fired right up. I did replace the bulbs since 13 years ago the bulbs would go blue after a decade. They make them better now so they should stay white longer. New bulbs every 10-15 years I can deal with that even if it was $150 for two bulbs. In 2001 the HIDs were a standalone option $500.

    The improvement in visibility in night driving was outstanding.

    It does seem the HIDs in some newer cars are sort of dazzling, shouldn’t we blame the regulations that allow this rather than having the sharp cut-off of European beam standards?

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    My last 2 cars had factory xenon (VW and BMW) and I will NEVER go back.

    As someone who grew up in Idaho and as an adult spent much time in rural Michigan, the benefit here is beyond obvious. When it’s pitch black, I can turn night into day with these, and even late model (2012) Lexus and a Ford with halogen lamps can’t come close to the amount of light the xenon throw.

    I look at them as a convenience and safety item. 1) I can relax and focus more when I see better at night, and thst is worth money to me. 2) if I avoid even 1 collision with an animal they’ve probably about paid for themselves.

    In fact, I’m a bit concerned on my next purchase whether this will be available. Most standard cars (Honda, Ford, Subaru, etc) still don’t seem to have these as options or require the very top trim to get. Leaves a guy like me in a bind when it comes time to get the next car. Sometimes it isn’t just the headlights, you might have to get an expensive luxury brand to get the xenon as well.

    • 0 avatar
      EMedPA

      The Escape is available with HID lamps. I have them on mine, and they’re fantastic. They have a nice sharp cutoff, too, so I don’t think there’s an issue with glare for oncoming cars. (I base that on the number of times drivers have flashed their brights at me: maybe twice in two years.)

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I love me HIDs, and they’re vastly superior to xenons – in every way. So much clear light, and I can see much further down the road.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I have seen a lot of drivers use their highbeams on the highway as a tactic to “push” traffic. Generally, a person pulls up behind you with brights on you get out of the way at the earliest possible moment. Effective but also a good way to have other drivers retaliate with their own brights or worse.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I say;
    let’s go back to carbide-acetylene headlights!

    http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=acetylene+headlights&qpvt=acetylene+headlights&FORM=IGRE

  • avatar
    Preludacris

    I have nothing against HIDs, I have a major problem with badly aimed ones. The problem here is that any vehicle going over a bump, coming out of a dip, accelerating hard or even just loaded with passengers has badly aimed headlights. If there was a ever a system I’d like to see legislated into place in North America, it is auto-leveling headlights.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    The HID’s in my 2000 Lexus GS were great when I bought the car, but now seem rather weak. Do HIDs degrade over time, the bulbs are 15yrs old now. The best lights I’ve ever had were Lucas halogens I put in my 78 Chev Malibu.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Couple of things:

      -The 98-05 GS has xenon bulbs, not HID’s!
      -You’ve owned it <2 years, yes? That means it's either in your mind (as you grow accustomed to the look of xenon), or the degradation means the bulbs are going out.

      Here you can see where the 06+ GS has HIDs.
      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/10/TOYOTA_Lexus_GS430_-_2007.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Lightspeed

        From Sewell Lexus parts catalogue UNIT, HEADLAMP, (RH – RIGHT / PASSENGER SIDE) ( (HID, HIGH INTENSITY DISCHARGE HEADLAMP OPTION)) ( (HID, HIGH INTENSITY DISCHARGE HEADLAMP OPTION))

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      More likely your eyes are failing. You are 15 years older, and need more light to see. You think the Lucas halogens were bright because you were much younger then.

      HIDs do degrade though – they colorshift as they age, meaning the color temp increases from about 4500k (white with hint of yellow) that is typical of an OE bulb to 6000k (turning bluish) which is more typical of ebay kits, eventually turning pink once they have one foot in the grave.

  • avatar
    turf3

    So, really, there are three problems.

    1) Inappropriately bright low beams. I don’t believe auto-leveling works. There are these things called “hills” and “bumps” and when you go over one your absurd low beams flash up and down, giving a strobe effect. I say mandate a return to sealed beams for low beams.

    2) Idiots who drive on residential and in-town streets, speed limit 30mph, and a street light every couple hundred feet, with their high beams on. I say write tickets, lots of expensive tickets, for inappropriate use of high beams. High beams are made powerful because they are supposed to be used when there is not oncoming traffic, in remote areas where there’s not other lighting, and speeds are high enough that you can’t react in time. Those are the ONLY acceptable conditions for high beams.

    3) Idiots who turn their fog lights on when there’s no fog. The low position means that the light reflects off the pavement (worst in rain, but even dry pavement can be quite reflective) and causes intense glare. I say write tickets, lots of expensive tickets, for inappropriate use of fog lights.

    • 0 avatar
      DrGastro997

      Totally in agreement. What’s worse is when people install the fake/goofy blue, or even purple, lights for low beam and fogs. It serves no purpose whatsoever expect for making you look like a dumb idiot.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Ever notice how old people first stop driving at night? It isn’t a simple matter of visual acuity – corneal surgery leaves you with great vision measured by simple vision tests. The problem is visual purple – rhodopsin. It declines with age resulting in impaired night vision. Nothing like brilliant xenon headlamps to combat the problem. Poor headlamp aiming/rudeness are different issues. Encountering a jacked-up truck with or without lights misaligned is just as unpleasant and is independent of driver age.
    Re: lens design – I prefer the halogens in my 1998 A4 to the xenons in my 2004 A4 – crisper cutoff combined with good dispersion where you actually want light.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    HID lighting can be excellent if the optics are designed properly. HIDs are the one big thing I miss from my 350Z now that I drive my Civic daily. I plan to retrofit some OEM projectors into my Civic headlights to rectify this problem.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    oem HIDs are good. Any improvement to night time visibility increases safety.
    Experience something with auto leveling and directional (often called adaptive) lighting and it is a marked improvement.

    Having said that, I find that if I look at new car pricing, the bundling often makes it not worth it for me.

    Projector lenses with halogen lights seem to be a reasonable compromise and are now the base option I am seeing on several new cars. This is a good thing.

    Aftermarket headlight modifications are bad, as are people who don’t use high beams properly.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I generally agree that HIDs are better than halogens BUT I am not convinced they are enough better to be worth the difference in cost. HID has the advantage of a “whiter” light which increases contrast. LED has the potential to be the best of both worlds – better lights and reasonable cost.

    With either technology, the devil is in the details. Ultimately, the US puts a limit on how much light is allowed to be output from a vehicle. How you generate that light really doesn’t matter. What you DO with that light most assuredly does. Historically, the beam pattern that was legal to use in the US was complete and utter doggie poo dating back to the 1940s. Whether you put the light into that pattern by a HID source or by a halogen source really doesn’t matter much. I think most of the people who are blown away by HID lights simply have never experienced what a proper halogen setup can do. I have spent HUGE money over the years retrofitting various cars with the European spec halogen lights that they come with on the other side of the Atlantic. There is now a “converged” beam pattern that is legal on both sides of the pond, but it basically is a really dumbed-down version of the European pattern that just sneaks into legality over here, while being barely good enough for over there. Still much better than the old school US pattern.

    A good Euro halogen setup is easily the equal of a typical US HID setup – in fact I much preferred the Euro Halogens on my Saab 9-5 to other Saab 9-5s with the US-spec HID setup – the beam pattern was much better. The very best HID setups (ex: BMWs articulated lights) are better, but there ARE no halogen equivalents to that, as only the HIDs get the other technology for seeing around corners and anti-dazzle for the high beams. Fashion kills a lot of headlights output – to be effective halogens need LARGE reflector area and a well-designed lens. Or projector technology. And the modern preference for plastic lenses should be outlawed, as they go opaque in relatively short order. Automotive cataracts!

    Personally, when I ordered my 2011 BMW I did not get the HID lights. They cost $1200 up front, with very expensive repair potential down the road for a car that I plan to keep a long time. And I just don’t drive at night all that much. My new 2016 BMW will have the full-singing and dancing HID setup, because it is standard on that model. But given the choice I probably would have declined it again. If I lived in a rural area and drove extensively at night I might make a different decision. Or I might just do what I did when I drove moose infested roads all the time in college – 400W of Hella’s finest spotlights on the front bumper. Though they make those in HID now too!

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I find the cutoffs of my HIDs too low. Great light in the beam pattern, but I think they could stand to illuminate a little further down the road. I’ll have to check the leveling sensor on the control arm to make sure it isn’t out of position, but based on the power on self adjustment, I would be surprised if it is out of position. Maybe I’m losing my night vision a little early.

      Automatic high beams become more appealing every time I drive at night. Speak of which, wouldn’t that technology make HIDs less valuable on the cost benefit scale?

  • avatar
    thetallguy

    My problem is not the HID’s. It is all of the other lights and/or high beams that are used in combination w/ them. My photo-electric mirror dims HID’s very well. I drive an ’05 Park Avenue and have no HID’s or driving lights and have no problem seeing where I am going at all. My Buick also has cornering lights which are quite handy. I am also still mentally aware enough to dim my high beams for oncoming traffic.

  • avatar
    TybeeJim

    Have had Xenons since they became available on a variety of Benzes, Porsche, Audi, Mini and have yet to replace one! My wife’s 2006 CLS, purchased May ’05, has Xenons and cornering lights… no issues. My ’07 Mini Cooper S has Xenons working just fine as are the Xenons on my ’12 Audi Q5. Lighting standards are set by the Feds in the US and all these complaints are just BS unless the lights are improperly aligned or have been replaced by wacko aftermarket stuff. And the only reason adaptive LEDs ala Audi aren’t here yet is due to the Feds. The US lighting industry, GE, Phillips, Sylvania, et al have been the ones holding lighting development up in the US. We had to old round sealed beams long after the rest of the planet got rid of them.

  • avatar
    akatsuki

    I would never buy a car without Xenons.

    The LEDs I’ve seen so far have been mediocre. But, I can hope they will get better.

  • avatar
    BrunoT

    My wife and I both have poor night vision and the difference in xenons and regular headlights is amazing. I switched to my truck, which I use for work and therefore rarely drive at night, recently, and was shocked how dim even the high-sitting lights of my F150 were compared to a Volvo’s bending xenon lights on our curvy rural roads. My wife refuses to buy a car without them. If I had great night vision I might not value it so much. But they’re standard equipment on $23,000 base Mustangs, they must not cost all that much for a basic fixed set. Many cars have expensive headlight assemblies these days, xenon or not.

  • avatar
    carve

    HID’s are fantastic, with a few exceptions, but will soon be made obsolete by LED.

    The light is great and even, but the cutoff can be too abrupt. I had to aim mine up a little in my 335i (not enough to ever get flashed). This car also has automatic headlights that come on when it gets dark. Unfortunately, this is an awful feature with HID, whose life is mostly based on the number of on/off cycles they’ve been through. If you have a garage at home, and park in a parking garge at work, they’ll turn on in the morning, when you arrive at work, perhaps twice more if you go to lunch, and again when you leave work and pull into your garage at home. By not using this feature, I hope to have my lights last the life of the car. Sometimes, if it’s dusk and I’m near home, I’ll just use the DRL’s and parking lights to get me home.

    HID lights used to also dominate biking headlamps. They were top of the line and always big bucks, but in the span of about 3 years they were completely supplanted by LED’s, which are proving superior in every way. They’ve also plummeted in price, and I can buy a complete LED light setup with battery that’s twice as bring as my old HID for less than the price of a replacement bulb! You can also shut your light off at stops without worrying about cycling your light

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      HIDs aren’t quite that sensitive. It isn’t so much the number of on/off cycles, it’s allowing bulbs/ballasts to cool before igniting them again. In other words, having the lights turn on in your garage and then shut off when you drive out into daylight is fine, but if you immediately turned them back on again, that is not ideal.
      On to Off is OK.
      On, Off, On is not OK.

      Headlight manufacturers planned for this – it’s why bi-xenon lamps use a shutter and flash-to-pass is a separate halogen bulb. You can safely leave it on Auto and stop worrying about bulb life. On something like a 335i, the prospect of replacing a couple of $35 bulbs (Philips D2S on Amazon) once in the life of the car should be the least of your worries anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        beastpilot

        My wife’s ’04 3 series BMW has been turning on and off every day on AUTO as she comes in and out of the garage and drives, and we’re still on the stock bulbs. HID’s are pretty robust. And cheap now as was pointed out so it’s kind of irrelevant.

        I’ve got 4 cars, all with factory HIDs, and it’s one of the things on my list if a ever buy a car- it must have HIDs. They are that good. I live in Seattle so 1/2 of the year both my morning and afternoon commutes are in the dark. There are plenty of cars around here with factory HID, and they’re no more blinding than a halogen.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    I’ll never buy another vehicle w/out WELL DESIGNED HID headlights again.

    Once you drive at night with properly aligned, spec’d, white bright light pointing the way, halogen bulbs seem dirty.

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    You don’t have to buy a premium or luxury to get a car with HID or LED. The Corolla comes standard with LED made by Koito/NLA. It’s only a matter of time before most cars will be equipped with lights other than halogens. Look out for the upcoming laser. It’s already being used in Europe and Japan.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    My Accord Touring (in the avatar) has LED low-beams standard, which have got to be nearly the best headlights on any vehicle. Excellent range, good intensity, sharp cutoff, have only been “flashed” on low-beam once. Replaced the OEM fog Halogen bulbs with LEDs–beam pattern isn’t quite as low, but there is a little more light ahead, in addition to the side. (And the color temperature is a perfect match for the headlights, enough so that I may replace the high-beams with plug-‘n-play LEDs just to complete the look.)

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’m a believer. I travel on poorly lit bi-ways in the middle of the night for work. Best HIDs I’ve owned were on G37s,Enclave. Our Sienna’s are average. Worst were the ZKWs on my old e46.
    If your car has a projector housing, it’s worthwhile to upgrade to HID using a quality kit. I used The Retrofit Source. TRS stands by their products and use quality parts. No, I don’t work for them.
    I upgraded our ML 350 with their 35watt kit, night and day difference.Finding a used ML350 with the lighting package is about as rare as a TVR in the USA. Most are built with lease only popular options.
    You will never go back to Halogen once you’re used to HID’s. But you really have to travel in non-urban settings to really know the difference. Personally I think the Japanese have a leg (or beam) up on the competition with respect to lighting technology.


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