Do LED Bulbs Work in Projector Headlights? Answered

Modern cars are making a dramatic shift towards LED lights, not only for the headlamps but daytime running lights, taillights, and even fog lamps as well are increasingly using LED lights. In the past, only high-end cars were factory fitted with LED lights.

Today, the story is different, we now have many lower-priced vehicles equipped with factory-set LED lights.

If you’re reading this, you probably own a vehicle fitted with projector headlights, and so you want to know if LED bulbs work in projector headlights. 

Do LED Bulbs Work in Projector Headlights? Yes, LED bulbs can be used in projector headlights. They are a better alternative to HID and halogen bulbs in vehicle headlights. Keep in mind that LED bulbs can only be used in projector headlights but not reflector headlights.

The vehicle headlight industry has witnessed many evolutions in terms of design, power efficiency, and longevity. In this article, I’ll focus on the benefits of LED bulbs for use with projector headlights, light intensity, and how they compare to Hid’s, but first, let’s digress to talk a bit about projector headlights and how they work.

What Are Projector Headlights?

Projector headlights are high-performance headlights that were selectively available in high-end luxury vehicles. They are famous for their high-intensity discharge(HID), in conjunction with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that would be unsafe to use with traditional reflector headlights.

Projector headlights are designed in such a way that they can project more road surface, at longer distances when compared to traditional reflector headlights. The light beam emitted from projector headlights is more focused than that of reflector headlights, allowing for more light in the needed direction, instead of a scattered beam. 

How Do Projector Headlights Work?

Projector headlights are made up of a headlight assembly with a replaceable bulb, similar to reflector headlights. Besides having a reflector component, there are no other similarities to reflector headlights. The concept behind reflector headlights is to be able to focus light with the help of a specially-shaped reflector, in conjunction with a shutter to project it on the road with a beam pattern that produces an evenly distributed and tightly -organized beam. 

Types of Projector Headlights: Halogen, HID, LED, Halo

All projector headlights operate based on the same design principles, however, they can make use of a wide variety of bulbs, including LED bulbs. I have made a list of the main types of projector headlights fitted on most vehicles, including a brief explanation of what sets each one apart from the rest:

  • Halogen projector headlights: These projector headlights were considered the first, and they were designed to work with halogen bulbs, just like reflector headlights. The light emitted from these headlights is more even than reflectors, characterized by a sharper cutoff between light and dark, even though they were fitted with older halogen bulb technology. 
  • HID projector headlights: These were the second to arrive, they used HID bulbs, and are still in use to this very day. HID bulbs are a lot brighter compared to traditional halogen bulbs and can last longer. Installing HID bulbs into projector fixtures designed for halogen isn’t such a great idea, this is because they are so much brighter. 
  • LED projector headlights: LEDs are the rave of the moment, they are the by far the most efficient and reliable bulbs on the market. They easily outperform the likes of halogen or HID headlights. Without damage, LEDs are capable of outliving the manufacturer’s stipulated operational lifespan of the vehicle they’re installed in. 
  • Halo or Angel Eye projector headlights: This refers to the distinctive halo or ring of light visible in some projector headlights. The manufacturers of these lights also refer to them as halo or angel eye projector headlights. The design of the rings incorporates many different technologies such as LEDs, cold cathode fluorescent lighting (CCFL) tubes, and even incandescent bulbs.

 HID vs LED Headlights

HID and LED headlights are unique in their designs. They share similarities in certain areas while also having several differences. Both HID and LEDs are bright enough to produce excellent light at night. 

While both are considered bright and excellent sources of light, LEDs are slightly brighter, in the sense that they do not emit glare like HID lights might. Both LEDs and HID lights rely on different technologies to produce light. LEDs produce light with electricity and diodes, while HID lights rely on xenon gas to function. LEDs are considered reflector headlights because they are enclosed in a steel bowl. 

Specialized Mirrors within the bowl reflect the light in an outward manner to create a projection. HIDs are often projector headlights with several similarities to reflector headlights. However, HIDs contains a lens that serves as a magnifying glass to increase the brightness of the light. LED light technology is amongst the fastest-growing technologies today, with new and innovative styles and functions readily available on the market.

LEDs and HIDs are capable of projecting light beams up to 30 meters away. For energy usage, LEDs require lesser energy than HIDs. When turned on, LEDs start up instantly, while HIDs have a short delay before powering on. When it comes to lifespan, LEDs outlive HIDs by a significant margin. LED lights can last up to 45,000 hours, whereas HID lights can last up to 15,000 hours. 

Both HID and LEDs are available in a wide variety of colors and color temperatures and are considered excellent sources of light for night driving. Your vehicle type and your needs will greatly influence which of them will be best for you, choosing either the LED or HID will drastically improve your visibility over a traditional halogen light. Keep in mind that the ultimate decider would be whether or not your vehicle was designed for use with projector headlights. 

Projector Headlights vs. Reflector Headlights

Since most headlights use either a reflector or projector design, it’s only natural to wonder which one is better. More and more vehicles come equipped with projector headlights each year, and you can also retrofit an older vehicle with projector housings, but should you?

Since the vast majority of vehicles are factory fitted with reflector or projector headlights, one often wonders which one is better. Each year, more and more vehicles are shipped with projector headlights. You can also retrofit an older vehicle with a projector housing, but is it safe and reliable?

When it comes to projector headlights, the benefits are numerous, and I can only list a few drawbacks.

Pros of Projector Headlights

  • Brighter than reflector headlights.
  • Less likely to cause night blindness in other drivers.
  • More even light patterns and fewer dark spots than reflector headlights.
  • They produce an even light beam, with few dark spots compared to reflector headlights. 

Cons of Projector Headlights

  • More expensive than reflector headlights.
  • The headlight assemblies tend to be deeper and take up more space.
  • Retrofitting an older vehicle can be dangerous if improperly done.

If you’re considering a new vehicle, I recommend that you go with projector headlights instead of reflector headlights. While there are arguments when we take a look at HID projector headlights vs LED projector headlights, the most obvious benefit of reflector headlights is that they are more affordable. 

Are LEDs Bright Enough For Projector Headlights?

Right from inception, halogen or HID bulbs were primarily used in projector headlights. so how do LEDs compare? 

LED lights can get very bright, they are up to 300% brighter than standard halogen headlights and around the same brightness level as HIDs, meaning they are bright enough to be used as projector lights. 

While LEDs remain unchallenged in the brightness arena, they are largely criticized for their inability to illuminate long distances. An LED headlight will illuminate its foreground with an intense beam but will struggle to project further away, resulting in safety concerns.

At high speeds, LEDs will not provide optimal lighting conditions, this lack of projection means that LEDs can have potentially fatal consequences.    

What Brightness Is Best For Projector Headlights?

When we talk about brightness and headlights, the goal is to provide enough light to see the road ahead, in such a way that it does not pose a threat to other road users. 

Brightness in bulbs is measured in lumens. A typical traditional halogen will have a lumen output of around 1300, which is often adequate. In recent times, HID bulbs have seen an increase in lumen output to about 3000, a remarkable technological feat welcomed by drivers, due to the increased visibility provided. 

But the fast-paced innovative nature of the LED industry has yielded higher lumens. LED bulbs typically emit 2000 to 4000 lumens and have cooler color temperatures, which leaves one wondering, what level of brightness is too bright. 

According to RAC “Nine-in-10 drivers (89%) think some or most car headlights on the UK’s roads are too bright, with an overwhelming majority of these (88%) saying they get dazzled by them while driving, a new RAC study of 2,700 drivers’ views has found.”

Many motorists have complained that the brightness of car headlights appears to be off-putting, Sixteen percent of those who complain about the intensity of headlights say they avoid driving at night altogether, 22% of affected motorists are women, and those aged 65 and over (25%) much more likely to say they deliberately don’t drive after dark than men (9%).

Dazzling other drivers can lead to temporary loss of sight of the road, which is a recipe for accidents.

Can I replace my original HID bulbs with LED bulbs?

Yes, so long as you purchase the right set for your vehicle. LEDs run hot. Expect a typical unit will have a small fan attached to the back. There are several brands on the market to choose from when you’re ready to make a decision. 

HIDs require a ballast transformer, to be safely mounted between power wires and bulb. LEDs on the other hand, connect directly to your car’s 12-volt wires. You just have to connect them with the right polarity for them to work (kinda easy diagnosis right?).

Installing the LED bulb correctly may require some level of expertise. I advise you to check with a qualified professional when in doubt about any step of the replacement.