Guy Baker explains how a simple headlight bulb upgrade can transform your car’s lighting, making night time driving far safer, reducing your risk of being involved in an accident, and may even enhance your car’s appearance.
For as little as £35, a pair of up-rated headlamp bulbs could dramatically improve your driving vision at night, making for a safer and more relaxed driving experience. In fact in terms of bang for your buck, this is probably the best performance upgrade you could make on your car – yet few drivers are even aware they can do it.
Most cars are fitted with standard halogen headlight bulbs when they leave the factory, but they can be replaced with high performance xenon bulbs producing nearly twice as much light as the original equipment items, providing a considerable advantage in terms of safety. By reducing the size of the filament and burning it harder, these bulbs can produce 70, 80 or even 90 per cent more light, 75 metres in front of your car. Xenon gas prolongs bulb life, whilst manufacturers have redesigned the filaments and used high grade materials to optimise the light that is produced. The latest bulbs look almost identical to their halogen counterparts too and are also extremely easy to install. Whether your car uses H7 or H1 bulbs as standard, there are plenty of aftermarket suppliers able to provide safe and effective upgraded Xenon bulbs – like Philips, Osram and Halfords. And don’t worry – these upgraded car bulbs are completely safe and they are legal to use on public roads.
Blue or white?
Factory fitted bulbs use clear glass and emit white light, but upgraded xenon bulbs are available not only with clear glass but also with blue-tinted glass. Clear glass xenon bulbs are designed to emit the maximum amount of light, whilst blue-tinted bulbs imitate the gas-discharge xenon or HID systems found on premium models from the likes of BMW and Mercedes. These are more stylish, but the blue tint does restrict some of the light output, so most use the latest technology to boost output. Manufacturers like Osram and Philips also produce compromise xenon bulbs with just a partial blue tint, but if you want maximum lighting then it’s best to stick with clear xenon bulbs.
Fitting new xenon bulbs is simple – you are just removing the old halogen bulbs and installing the new xenons in their place. Of course the ease with which you can change your headlight bulbs does vary from car to car. Most current models give you plenty of room to access the bulb holders, but in some cars it can be more fiddly, requiring you to remove either the battery or air filter box to access the bulb holder. Normally the job takes 20 minutes or less and requires no specialist tools, and there is no need to cut or solder any wires. It is important, however, that you do not handle the bulbs with your bare hands. This is because the natural fats produced by your skin can leave a residue on the glass which causes it to overheat and could lead to the bulb blowing much sooner than expected. So we’d recommend you wear latex gloves when changing them. And it’s best to get the headlamp alignment checked after fitting any new bulbs.
You’re not restricted to headlamps either – interior lights, number plate lights, fog lamps and even sidelight bulbs can also be upgraded to look more stylish and produce more light. Most xenon bulbs are relatively inexpensive, but will make a big difference to your car’s appearance. And remember – although your car may boast a whole raft of safety features like anti-lock brakes, traction control and anti-skid stability programmes, if you can’t see where you are going these really won’t make much difference.