Piston Slap: The HID-den Benefits of Xenon Lighting?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the hid den benefits of xenon lighting

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 Even if they’ll sadly bundle Xenon lighting with some BS “technology” package that’s outdated against your smartphone.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 t he 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!

[Image: Shutterstock user ParabolStudio]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.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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2 of 142 comments
  • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Mar 01, 2015

    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.)

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Mar 02, 2015

    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.

  • Bkojote I think it's a home run that VW is bound to bungle.For the anti-CUV crowd there's a cool factor here as pickup trucks have become so cartoonish. This will absolutely embarrass the neighbor with a GMC pavement princess pile in the driveway. Even better, the VW van fandom hasn't ruined these the same way it has the Sprinter, and honestly the design looks tight. And believe it or not there's huge demands for minivans- look no further than the unobtanium that is the Toyota Sienna.So here's what's going to go wrong-These are going to be priced on the premium end and they'll be hype for the first 3 years. The owners (whom The MKIV coil packs and dieselgate disasters a distant memory) trading in their post-college Rav4's and CR-V's are going to quickly discover the whole host of Volkswagen failures- bad sensors, glitchy software, leaking roofs, and hell it'll probably have an emissions scandal of its own somehow. This on top of the already terrible haptic controls VW has, the unreliable charging network, and terrible range. And they'll have the privilege of endlessly fighting with Sleazy Sam's VW dealership after the 4th flat bed tow.They're gonna make the same mistake the kids did in the 80's with the rabbit, the 90's with the Passat and Jetta, and the 00-10's with the TDI's- think VW finally turned the corner and stopped making garbage before doing the trade of shame back to Toyota and Honda.
  • Buickman the only fire should be in the board room.they just hired an executive from Whirlpool.that should help them go do the drain.
  • Mike Beranek I don't care about the vehicles. But I'd be on board for inspecting the drivers.
  • Art Vandelay Coming to a rental lot near you. And when it does know there is a good chance EBFlex and Tassos have puffed each other's peters in it!
  • Art Vandelay I doubt there is even room for EBFlex and Tassos to puff each other's peters in that POS