Catherine Hiles
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Which Car Headlights Work Best?

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which car headlights work best?
Photo: Steve Johnson via CC

Unless you’re Lightning McQueen, car headlights are a necessity. Even if you don’t drive in the dark much, your headlights can help increase your visibility during inclement weather like rain, snow, or fog. There are several different types of car headlights on the market today, each with a list of pros and cons. But which type of car headlights works best?

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Halogen headlights

2020 GMC Canyon
The base model GMC Canyon comes with halogen headlamps
Photo: GM

Halogen headlights are the most common type of headlight used in cars today. Halogen headlights have a pretty long lifespan (about 1,000 hours), which is ideal since you want your car’s headlamps to withstand the test of time. They are also cheap to produce, which means car manufacturers aren’t adding to the cost of production, and you as an owner can replace them for fairly cheap if they do burn out.

However, halogens do have their downsides. They produce a lot of heat, which makes them tough to handle. Typically when handling halogen bulbs you’ll need to wear gloves, because the oil and moisture from your skin can damage the bulb and cause it to blow prematurely. Because of the amount of heat halogen bulbs produce, they are also energy wasters, which isn’t ideal if you’re energy-conscious.

LED headlights

The J.D. Power award-ranked Buick Enclave
The Buick Enclave Avenir comes with standard LED headlights
Photo: Buick

LED headlights have gained popularity in recent years, though they have not yet replaced halogen as king. LED lights are much brighter and more energy efficient than halogen lights and also last longer, which means they are more expensive. You’ll typically see LED headlights on higher-end vehicles rather than entry-level mass-market ones, but if your car currently has halogen headlights you can fairly easily retrofit it with LEDs.

LED headlights omit a slightly blue-tinted light, so they are easy to distinguish when you’re driving at night. Because they are brighter, they also improve visibility and therefore make nighttime driving safer.

Xenon headlights

2020 GMC Terrain SLT Elevation Edition
The GMC Terrain SLT comes with standard HID headlamps
Photo: GM

Xenon headlights are also known as high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights. The bulb itself is filled with xenon gas, which produces a bright white light with a slight blue coloration. That means they emit a brighter light to make it easier to see in darkened driving conditions. Xenon lights have two main cons: they tend to be expensive (and therefore are usually offered on luxury cars) and they can create a glare that can be irksome and distracting to other drivers. According to The Vehicle Lab, some countries have places limits on xenon headlights for this reason.

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Which ones work best?

The answer to that is that it depends. In general, halogen headlights work well enough for the everyday driver, but if you are able you’re better off either buying a car with LED headlights or retrofitting your existing car with LEDs. They might cost more up-front, but in the long run they are more efficient and last longer than halogen bulbs, and are less annoying to other drivers than xenon headlights.

Which type of car headlight do you like best, and why? Feel free to tell us in the comments!