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LED vs. Halogen: The Pros and Cons of Each Lighting Technology

Lighting technology has come a long way in a surprisingly short amount of time. Many new vehicle manufacturers have upgraded their standard headlight options, which helps with driver visibility and, therefore, safety. And many customers now demand the extra illumination that LED lights offer for even greater visibility in night-driving situations. More manufacturers than ever are offering them straight from the factory. And aftermarket options have come a long way, too.

Whether you want to change your existing bulbs, upgrade to different aftermarket headlights or add auxiliary lighting, it is essential to know the differences between LED and halogen lights. Each technology has pros and cons. Knowing what those are before making a purchase can save you money and frustration. Let’s dive into the differences between them.

Halogen: The Old Guard

Most cars on the road still use halogen lighting because they are inexpensive and easy to source. A thin tungsten filament is surrounded by a gas (halogen in this case) and is heated by an electrical current. Once the tungsten reaches 2,500 C, it glows and emits light.

Cheap and common are terms usually not associated with performance because they have the lowest output of all automotive lighting options, averaging around 1,000 lumens. Besides a lack of lumens, most dislike halogen bulbs for their color temperature, which produces a more yellowish hue. Sunlight is around 5,000 K, and most halogen bulbs have a color temperature near 3,000 K. The tiny filaments of halogen bulbs also make them more susceptible to vibration. While they have drawbacks, halogen bulbs are highly affordable, and you can get them from almost any auto parts store nationwide.

Pros: Cheap and readily available

Cons: Shortest life span, least energy efficient, lowest output and color temperature

Color Temperature: 3,200-5,000 K

Lifespan: 400-1,000 hours

Output: 1,000 lumens (average)

LEDs: Dancing Photons Make Great Light

Light Emitting Diodes (LED) work differently from halogen lights. An electrical current passes through a semiconductor material (the diode) in LEDs. As power is applied to a small junction inside the diode, electrons move across it. The movement of those excited electrons creates light through the principle of electroluminescence.

For many good reasons, LEDs are quickly becoming the industry norm in OEM and aftermarket applications. LEDs are much more efficient, using 85% less energy than halogens. That efficiency helps lead to a much longer life. LEDs are also bright, with most automotive replacement bulbs making 3,600-4,500 lumens.

Quality aftermarket replacement headlights, like these Oracle Oculus headlights for new Ford Broncos and Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators, throw even more light with over 5,000 lumens. With their extreme efficiency, multiple LEDs can be used in off-road light applications to create a staggering 15,000 or more lumens. LEDs are very rugged and ideally suited for withstanding the elements and vibration, such as found in off-road use. There really aren’t many drawbacks to LED lights, which explains their popularity.

Pros: Highly efficient, high output, rugged, available in a vast array of sizes and very long life

Cons: Large heat sinks or fans on some bulbs may cause fitment issues, may not generate enough heat to clear snow

Color temperature: Any (5,500-6,500 K in most automotive applications)

Lifespan: 50,000+ hours

Output: 3,600-15,000+ lumens

Know Before You Go

LEDs may seem like the obvious choice because the pluses massively outweigh any of their minor cons. But one important consideration is their intended application. When talking specifically about replacement bulbs, LEDs are better and brighter for reflector-style headlights. Regardless of whether you choose to upgrade to HIDs or LEDs, it is important to get the right lighting technology for your application.
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