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If one of your headlights is burnt out and it’s time for headlight bulb replacement, the variety of bulbs available at the auto parts store might seem a little mind-boggling. The different types of bulbs that you can choose from are halogen, xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) and light-emitting diode (LED).

Halogen Headlamps

Halogen headlight bulbs operate like incandescent bulbs, using a thin tungsten filament within a glass capsule filled with halogen gas. They offer increased light output on the road and a longer light beam that can offer an increased reaction time when driving at night. Halogen bulbs are the most common headlamp type in use today, offering low cost and a working life of between 500 and 1,000 hours. However, halogen bulbs also generate excess heat, use a lot of energy and require cautious handling to prevent reactions with other substances on the glass.

Go Big With Xenon

Xenon HID headlights are around two to three times brighter than halogen lamps — which is great for the driver, but not so good for oncoming traffic, as the glare they cause can be particularly annoying if the lamps are not properly aimed. They use less power to operate than halogens and are good for as many as 2,000 hours of use.

HID lights do not use a filament, but work much like a fluorescent bulb and contain an enclosed tube filled with gases. The electric current is ignited by a charge — similar to a ballast — that passes through electrodes at each end.

LEDing the Way

Recently, manufacturers have started outfitting cars with LEDs because they are very energy efficient, have a high lumens-to-watt ratio and boast tremendous lifespans. They burn cooler than other bright headlight types. Their small size also allows them to be used in more creative lighting designs.

BMW is pioneering laser lighting on its new i8 supercar, advertising that the new headlamps are smaller, more energy efficient and can illuminate the road up to 600 meters ahead of the i8. That said, it may be a while before this cutting-edge lighting technology goes mainstream.

When it is time to choose a headlight bulb replacement, here are some pointers to keep in mind:

  • If you’re on a budget, halogen headlights may be best, as they provide good overall performance for a relatively lower cost than other types of headlights.

  • Xenon headlights emit a very strong light and may be preferred by buyers who drive in dark, secluded areas often.

  • LEDs are typically popular with buyers who prioritize long life and efficient energy consumption.

Ultimately, when choosing a headlight bulb replacement, you should evaluate the brightness and temperature at which the replacement bulb burns. Choosing the recommended OEM replacement bulb will prevent your headlight housing from being damaged by a burning-hot bulb. Some buyers may choose a headlight based on the hue of its light; if you’re choosing style over function, remember to check any headlight regulations or laws regarding bulb color and brightness.

Check out all the vision and safety products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on headlight bulb replacement options, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

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