LED vs HID Headlights: Making the Right Choice

led and hid headlights

HID vs LED Headlights: And the Winner Is…

And the winner is… LED headlights because they are brighter of course.

In order to explain why LED is brighter, I need to go through a simple explanation about LED lights, including how to choose the right pair.

We’ve all done it, we’ve all spent hours on the internet doing our research about the next set of headlight bulbs for our vehicle. You’ve decided you want LED bulbs and after a full day of sifting through old discussion boards, Facebook groups, and Amazon reviews you’ve narrowed down the choices, but still have to decide which bulbs are the best.

You may ask yourself: Why one bulb is advertised as 15,000 lumens and another bulb 100 watts?
What the hell are lumens anyway and why do we use them instead of wattage for LED lights.

In the past, halogen bulbs were easy to compare because we used wattage to measure the intensity of a bulb. Wattage and output were directly related, because the more energy a bulb used, the higher wattage it was rated, and the more light that bulb dispersed.

Wattage is no longer a valid measurement when trying to consider headlights for your vehicle.
LED chips by definition use less power to produce equivalent levels of light as halogen bulbs. Anytime a LED bulb has a rating in watts the number is solely theoretical and the manufacturer does this to associate their bulb with a halogen bulb you are thinking about replacing. When buying LED bulbs to replace halogens, try to disregard the wattage rating of the LED because they are incomparable.

LED headlight bulbs are relatively knew in the marketplace and although they seem readily available, many of the big names have yet to release a “plug-and-play” LED headlight bulb. Most of the headlight bulbs you see available are made in China which doesn’t immediately infer that a product is bad, but in many cases we’ve seen that is the case.

Unfortunately, there is no universal testing procedure for the brightness of a LED bulb and that means manufacturers are free to test and rate their bulbs any way they please.
The saying “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” comes into play with most LED bulbs we see on the market.

Are Lumen Ratings Important?

Let’s talk about lumens and why they can be important when buying headlights, but they shouldn’t be the only factor considered when buying new headlight bulbs. One thing to consider when buying LED bulbs is that the rating in lumens is for both bulbs, but if halogen bulbs have a lumen rating they are for a single bulb. So a 2000 lumen halogen headlight bulb is the same as 4000 lumen LED headlight bulbs. That is one way that LED bulb manufactures confuse potential customers and as you continue reading you’ll see the others ways they “advertise”.

How is Lumen output actually Rated?

There are two main ways that a manufacturer rates the lumen output of their lights.

The first process involves sending the bulb away to a lab that specializes in lumen testing. This is an expensive process, but very accurate. Lab testing is much more common for household light bulbs and is rarely used to test LED headlight bulbs.

Calculations are the second way of rating headlight lumens and it’s highly inaccurate and unregulated. Each LED chip on a headlight has a maximum and minimum lumen rating that is achieved only when a number of factors are achieved. Ambient temperature, amperage, and cooling of a chip all influence the luminous output of an LED chip.

Our point is that you could technically buy 10 LED chips that have a max output of 643 lumens, you could glue those chips to a piece of cardboard and you could then claim that you have a headlight with 6,430 lumens. The process of calculating luminous output of a light is highly unregulated and that is why it’s hard to trust every claim of 10,000 plus lumens you see.

Check out this LED chip ratings chart:

Here you can see how a manufacturer could claim higher lumens in their headlight

Source: Cree.com

Now that we’ve told you not to use wattage rating and to be cautious of lumen ratings when considering new headlight bulbs, you’re probably more confused than when you started reading.

We strongly advise to ignore wattage ratings when buying LED headlights.

They can sometimes be useful when looking at LED light bars or work lights, but they are mostly useless when looking at LED headlights.

HID vs LED: The Pros and Cons

Now for Lumens, although there are many tactics that manufacturers use to sell you on their bulbs, you can still use the lumen ratings if you follow a few tips.

3 Things to Consider when Comparing Lumen Ratings on LED headlights:

  1. just remember that you get what you pay for. There is a good chance that the $45 bulbs that claim to have 15,000 lumens are not going to be as impressive as they are advertised to be.
  2. In some industries you pay more money because of brand names. In the LED headlight bulb industry the brand name bulbs may cost more, but that’s likely because recognized brands spend more money on research and development and producing quality products rather than charging you more because of their name.
  3. When buying a new car you should probably avoid paying thousands for an extended warranty, but for headlight bulbs you should consider bulbs that include a long warranty. All bulbs are regular maintenance items, but halogen bulbs will last for years and LED bulbs are supposed to be an upgrade over halogens. I would recommend buying bulbs that include at least a two year warranty and anything more than that is a bonus.

The second and third tip are important to consider together, because anybody on the internet can claim they offer a warranty, but in two years when you need support it is better to know which brand you need to call for replacements rather than scouring through Amazon to find the Chinese company you purchased your bulbs from.

led test comparison

LED Advantages Over HIDs

At the end of the day, upgrading your vehicle should be an exciting event, not something that causes headaches. Follow our three tips main tips and you should have no problems picking out your next set of headlight bulbs.

If you are still unsure of which bulbs to buy, check out our headlight bulb buying guide to hear our recommendation on the best LED headlight bulbs currently available. Our winner for the best LED bulb for 2019 is the NINEO Brand.