Different Types of Headlight Bulbs?

Headlights will give maximum visibility while driving at night or during bad weather conditions. A properly functioning headlight is essential to your safety on the road. In case of malfunctioning headlights, you have to fix them or replace them right away.

If this is your first time purchasing headlights, below are different types of headlight bulbs to help you choose the perfect lighting system for your vehicle. We have included the pros and cons of each type as well as some vital facts so you can decide wisely.

Halogen Headlights

Halogen headlights have a filament inside the bulb that is filled with halogen gases. Each time you turn it on, the filament will heat up and glow. The halogen gases are responsible for intensifying the light produced and providing a bright light perfect for nighttime and daytime driving.

If you are looking for the cheapest and simplest bulbs in the market, the halogen bulbs are for you. This is what makes them famous, but they are slowly being replaced with more efficient, very durable, and brighter bulb types. You can choose from different types of halogen headlights:

  • H1 bulb – made of quartz glass and filled with halogen gas for getting better performance and more brighter lights.
  • H4 bulb – a double filament headlight that is used in small cars.
  • H17 and H18 bulbs are smaller than H4 but more powerful.
  • H8, H9, and H11 bulbs are self-sealing bulbs that do not require to sit inside a waterproof unit, so they are used as fog lights most of the time.

Compared to others, halogen produces the lowest amount of lumens which is around 1000 lumens, for the regular bulb with the lowest color temperature between 2500 K and 40000 K. The life expectancy of halogen is about 2000 hours.


  • This type of headlight bulb will not cost you that much. Most of the time, it cost only around $20 per bulb to replace, but you should pick the one made of a reliable brand.
  • Replacing halogen light is easy. Some vehicles may need removing parts from the engine compartment or maybe the splash shield.


  • It can burn a slight yellowish shade that measures around 3,000 Kelvin on the color temperature scale. Others can burn 3400 to 4200 Kelvin halogen bulbs, but those are not legal in the street.

Light Emitting Diode or LED

LED headlight bulbs are illuminated by electroluminescence. It means that electrons are fired on positively charged holes in a semiconductor, releasing particles of light known as photons. Light-emitting diode has been replacing xenons on cars because it is more energy-efficient, enables car markers to produce unique light shapes, and lasts longer.

Unlike halogen with filament or arc, the LED bulbs have several light-emitting diodes where electricity passes. It produces light similar to xenon bulbs in brightness, but LED generates more heat, so they are more efficient and thus cheaper.

If the electronics in an LED bulb fails, the whole light will not function and need to be replaced, which is quite expensive and thus not practical when cars are older. The life expectancy of LED bulbs is 30,000 hours.


  • The small semiconductors of LED can be arranged to fit tight spaces. Thus, manufacturers can produce sleeker headlights and can design other components like turn signal lights.
  • LEDs are made to emit any color of the spectrum. They can provide a bright, white light that brightens as far as one mile without distracting the other drivers.
  • LED lights range from 4000 to 6000 Kelvin on the color scale.
  • Energy-efficient and can easily be turned on or off.


  • Compared to others, the price of LED headlights is higher because the structure is a bit different since it has a heat sink that should be built into the lights to avoid overheating the base emitter.

Hight Intensity Discharge (HID) or Xenon Bulbs

The high-intensity discharge, also known as xenon bulbs, has an arc rather than filament or LED between the two electrodes. The law states that it needs to be functioning at 80% capacity within 4 seconds you turn it on, requiring a high-voltage starter to pump up the gas and a control unit to keep the bulb light. Xenon could be the gas that starts the arc, but it’s the metal salts that provide power and keep it alight.

At present, most vehicles with xenon lights require headlight washers and a mechanism for self-leveling to keep the light beams directed downwards regardless of how heavily loaded the vehicle is. As a result, it is quite expensive to produce one, which is why most car manufacturers have been stuck with halogen for quite some time. 

Good thing bulb manufacturers were able to produce xenon bulbs with lower light output and thus, do not require a self-leveling system or even lens washers to lower the cost. The xenon lights are offered mostly for smaller vehicles and cheaper trim levels.

Compared to other brands, xenons usually last longer, but their light output may decrease fast, making them unsuitable for night use. Manufacturers recommend changing xenon headlights every three years. The typical life expectancy of xenon headlights is 10,000 hours.


  • Xenon headlights produce light with a bluish-white hue around 4000 to 6000 Kelvin, providing a farther range of illumination.
  • HID lights last longer.
  • The latest Xenon bulbs produced do not require a self=leveling system.


  • HID headlights have a delay of about several seconds before achieving the maximum output.
  • They tend to become too bright that might distract other drivers.

Laser Headlights

Compared to other types of headlights, laser headlights are a recent breakthrough in the automotive industry. These lights brighten through the process of chemiluminescence, which means they generate light by triggering a chemical reaction.

Laser beams are injected into a chamber that makes the phosphorous gas glow inside. The light in front of your vehicle comes from the gas and not the actual laser beam. The lasers reflect the light into a lens filled with gas in the headlight unit to produce a strong light beam.


  • More efficient compared to LED bulbs. Produces 1000x the amount of light but uses less energy than LEDs.
  • 10x smaller than LEDs, enabling the manufacturers to make a shallower assembly.
  • Laser headlights have better adaptability, can illuminate farther, and are easy to switch on or off.


  • Produces more heat compared to LED, thus requiring more sophisticated built-in cooling systems.

At present, the laser headlights are available for utilization in high beams and can be paired only with regular LED, HID, or halogen headlights. Audi and BMW have started using laser beams, and it is only approved in the U.S.

The typical lifespan of laser headlights is 50,000 hours and requires very low energy input to function for a long time.

Two Types of Headlight Systems

The basic headlight design is divided into two. The reflector and the projector headlights:

Reflector Headlight Systems

The light source of the reflector headlights is mounted in a parabolic reflector that intensifies the light and directs it into a glass or plastic lens with several small, ground mini-lenses that direct the amplified light from the reflector to illuminate the road properly.

Since the reflector headlight systems are sealed-beam assemblies, you cannot replace the headlight without removing the entire assembly.

At present, reflector headlight systems depend solely on mirrors placed inside the housing. You need to replace the entire system.

Projector Headlight Systems

The projector headlight system has a lens in front of the light source where the bulb’s light is directed to a lens. Just like the reflector headlights, they come with an encased bulb surrounded by mirrors. Making them unique from others, but the system includes a lens that intensifies the headlight’s brightness.

Luxury cars were the ones that used projector headlights in the ’80s and became a favorite choice in modern vehicles. 

Composite headlamp assemblies replaced the old round or traditional square headlamps in 1984. Federal law modified to the point that manufacturers have shaped the headlights in various ways to match the shape of the car’s fenders and grille.

Final Thoughts

Car owners know how essential headlights are. The illumination the headlights can provide will depend on the type of headlamps you choose. You need headlights not just for your night vision but also for the sake of your car’s visibility to other drivers. When choosing the right type of headlight, consider the brightness it can provide. Also, make sure that the lights you select are energy-efficient and affordable.

The two types of headlights systems are projector and reflector. The different types of headlight bulbs are as follows – Halogen, LED, laser, and HID. Each bulb type has its pros and cons. It is essential to learn these things before deciding so you will not get frustrated. Most types of headlights can be upgraded to provide a better lighting experience. If you have questions or want to share your ideas, you can comment below.

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