Car Headlights – Everything You Need to Know

If you’ve ever driven at night on a dark and lonely road, you’ll appreciate how important your car headlights are. You might know that there are different types of car headlights, but you probably don’t know just how many options you have. From LED headlight bulbs to halogen bulbs and laser headlights, there are so many options to choose from.

If you’ve ever been to the car shop and was confused when the salesman was asking what kind of car lights you wanted, then this article is for you. We’ll cover the different types of car headlights that there are, explain their uses, and select the best one for your car.

Ready to get started? Let’s light it up.  

Car Headlights Basics

Call lights have come a long way from the original tungsten filament light that was first introduced and was subsequently replaced by the halogen bulbs in the early 60s. Halogen bulbs remained the standard for almost 30 years until the early 90s when BMW released the HID headlamp, and 13 years later, Audi released the LED headlights.

While the halogen headlights are still among the most commonly used car lights today, it will eventually be replaced by newer technology such as LED, HID, and even laser headlights.

We’ll go into detail of the different types of headlights in a bit, but first, let’s cover some car headlights basics. 

Did you know that your headlights don’t point straight forward, but are actually aligned towards a side depending on your country’s drive side? For countries with left-lane traffic, the cars have low-beam headlights that dim to the left, which distributes the light with a downward/leftward bias. This bias helps drivers see the road and signs ahead without blinding oncoming traffic. For instance, this means that you cannot buy a headlight in France if you’re going to drive in Ireland unless you get the lights calibrated.

If you move to a new country, or get a new car, or are replacing your headlights, your car headlights must be appropriately calibrated, so that they do not blind oncoming drivers.

This is where a headlight adjustment chart comes in. It is an important document that you’ll need during your headlight assembly. It will give you the proper instructions for aligning your headlights.

Now that we know a bit more about car headlights, let’s define some terms that we’ll need going forward.

Auto-Leveling/Load Adjustment: This is usually used on trucks. It means that the headlights will adjust themselves and dip the beam downwards so that other drivers don’t get blinded if the vehicle becomes higher or lower based on the load carried or it’s acceleration or deceleration.

ECE & SAE: As you can probably guess, this is a standard rating. ECE means that the lamp can be used in the EU and most industrialized countries outside it. The SAE is the rating used in the US.

Lumens: This is the standard used to measure light output.

In case you are wondering how many lumens is a car headlight (how bright a car headlight is), most cars use 700 lumens on Low Beam headlights and 1,200 on high beam headlights.

What are the different types of headlights?

Alright, now we can get to the fun stuff. Let’s look at the different car headlights types that you can use. We’ll also answer some common questions that you may have about car lights such as: what are HID headlights?” and “can I put LED bulbs in my headlights?

Reflector and Projector Beam Headlights

A reflector headlight is a headlight configuration where the light comes from a bulb in the center of the headlamp and is reflected off the sides of the housing. This spreads the light from the bulb unto the road in front of the car. Projector headlights, on the other hand, project the light rather than simply reflecting. The housing of projector headlights is different, which allows more control on the light beams as they are emitted from the housing.  Reflector headlights are the most common style of headlights and are mostly found in older models.

Halogen Headlights

halogen headlights

Halogen headlights usually contain a gas, usually a combination of nitrogen and argon, and a tungsten filament, all encased in a glass tube made to resist very high temperatures. When the halogen bulb receives electrical current from the car, the tungsten filament heats up and creates light. Halogen bulb headlamps are the most common headlights that you find in the automobile world and is estimated to be installed in as much as 80% of all cars worldwide. It became standard in the 60s because it was cheap and easy to replace, which meant that car owners could easily replace headlights. In addition to these, halogen bulbs come on quite quickly.

However, there are some disadvantages to using a halogen bulb headlamp. The first is that they are inefficient and dim when compared to other light options. A standard halogen bulb would produce only 1300 lumens. Halogen headlights are also extremely sensitive to substances, and oily residue on the glass will affect the heat distribution and lower the lifespan.

HID Headlights

High-Intensity Discharge (HID) or xenon headlights contain a mixture of gases and rare metals that are heated to generate a bright white or blue glow, which looks great. HIDs are about two to three times brighter than standard halogen bulbs, producing over 3000 lumens. They require more power to start but consume lesser power to continue running. They are also known as Xenon headlights, as they contain Xenon as one of the chief gases in the bulb.

The major disadvantages of HIDs are their high price and the glare that they can cause to oncoming drivers.

LED Headlights

car led headlight

Light-emitting-diodes (LED) car lights are some of the most energy-efficient headlamps available. They became available quite recently, and are considered one of the best headlight bulbs on the market. They are versatile and can be made into different shapes other than a bulb, giving designers more design options, as they could great small and big headlights as they wanted. LED headlamps are also much cooler than other headlights, which makes them last even longer. However, they still require heat sinks and cooling to function optimally.

Laser Headlights

laser headlights

Lasers are being proclaimed as the next best headlights on the market. They are a very new technology that uses lasers to create light. Not to worry though, it’s completely safe as the lasers are emitted from the headlamps, rather, the headlight assembly uses lasers to excite gases instead of electricity.

The major advantage of laser headlights is that they are really energy-efficient, putting out over 1000 times the energy output of LED headlights, but at just a fraction of the energy cost.
car laser lights how work

It is also very versatile. Laser and LED bulbs are the most adaptive headlights., able to switch between high and low beam headlights under a second if an oncoming car is detected. While Laser headlights are very new and might take a while to become mainstream as they are only found on luxury cars right now, they offer significant promise in the future.


So, now you know your car headlights, and the next time you’re planning to buy new car parts, you know what else to add to your list of “must-haves.”

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