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HID Headlamps: Brighter, But Failing To Shine In The Mass Market

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Xenon headlights help save lives

Xenon headlights help save lives

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For some, the blueish, whitish beams of xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps are bothersome—or even blinding. But for most of us who have driven vehicles with them, it's hard to argue with their significantly improved visibility.

That opening line sounds, unfortunately, like it could have been written ten years ago. While it could be argued that HID lamps offer improved safety, their adoption rate has risen very slowly compared to other safety-tech features. According to HID supplier Osram Sylvania, in a press release from earlier this week, only about 22 percent of new vehicles in 2007 came with HID headlamps as standard equipment, and even by 2015 only 38 percent of vehicles are expected to offer it as either standard or optional. Demand, in cases where it's optional, is only expected to increase slightly.

Why? Part of the issue, as we see it, is that automakers have only offered HID headlamps as part of expensive option packages. And oddly, HID lamps seem to cost more in less-expensive vehicles. For instance, on the BMW 3-Series, they're a $900 standalone option, but on the 2011 Mazda3 they're only offered on the top Grand Touring model, as part of a $1,835 Technology Package, and on the 2011 Volkswagen GTI they're only included in the Autobahn model, which costs thousands more.

The other issue, of course, is that HID headlights got off to a rough start in the U.S. Initially their efficacy was questioned, and there was a lot of controversy over their glare—which can be made worse with a coating of road grime on lenses. Years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety administration logged thousands of complaints from motorists who were momentarily blinded by HID headlamps.

But it turns out, the positives of xenon lamps far outweigh the negatives. Safety studies failed to find any danger from the glare—just annoyance—and HID lamps produce three times the light output of halogen lamps, with better down-the-road illumination, a beam pattern that allows better peripheral vision while driving—something we've certainly noted over hundreds of test-drives—and whiter light that's better with the reflective paint used for road signs and lane markings.

Research has indicated that thanks to the higher illumination and the quality of the light, drivers of vehicles with HID lamps will see potential dangers 30 to 50 yards before drivers with halogen lamps.

Xenon HID lamps also use less power while putting out more light, and the lamps themselves last about 3,000 hours—three times that of halogens.

Meanwhile, Osram Sylvania has also advocated LED lighting in vehicles as a way to reduce electrical loads—especially for hybrids and electric vehicles. For the same light output as 240 watts of halogen high beams, the company's LED lamps draw 56 watts. Overall, according to a University of Michigan study from 2008, LED lights could save 50 percent of power in nighttime driving or 75 percent during daytime compared to traditional lamps.

[Osram Sylvania]

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Comments (12)
  1. I would love to have had the option of HIDs on my Mazda when I bought it, but it isn't even offered up in Canada. Great safety option and should be offered at a reasonable price instead of going to the aftermarket
     
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  2. Another argument that I've heard is that they are not as reflective as halogens, which makes it tough to see them coming as they approach you from the side. i.e. they do not light up/reflect up off of the road surface as a car approaches. Tough to explain without drawing it out. Imagine driving in N.Y. as you approach a green and the car coming from your left but behind a building has hid's and you dont see the lights approaching until you see the light source. I hope that was clearer.
     
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  3. My 2010 Lexus IS250 has HID headlights and although they are brighter I question some claims that they are 300% brighter than halogens. Although car manufactureres deliberately point the HID headlights lower than normal so as to not to dazzle or glare on-coming traffice; even if they are self-leveling like mine. This calibration from the factory caused the illumination down the road to be much shorter than halogens. I had to go back to the dealership and have them aim the beams higher and that corrected it. I think LED headlights will one day be more cheaper to produce and install than HID.
     
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  4. What the DOT needs to do is align their lighting rules with the rest of the world, North America all alone in allowing HID without auto-leveling or spray washers as mandatory features with HID. I love my HID's and hope I can always have a car with them, or in the future LED. Come on DOT, get off your hands and meld your specifications with the EU so that there is consistent automotive lighting around the world!
     
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  5. I concur with all of you my 02 MCS has the HIDS, I changed the bulbs to the PIAA 3800k and man was it fun until they past away last year. The problem is that that when installing the new bulbs the auto leveling (specially in my car) looses its calibration and then you have to have recalibrated and thats a chump change, if you do it yourself its a pain in the neck, trust me I've done it and man is it hard. But, nevertheless,my next car will have them unless LED do come thru.
     
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  6. HID lights are great until you have to replace one. My Acura TL Type S had a headlight broke in a minor accident. While drive able, water ruined $154 bulb and igniter which dealer wanted $490 to replace.
     
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  7. I love these new lighting alternatives that have come to the market place and all the benefits the bring. But buyer beware...these hi tech systems can cost into the thousands to repair. I recently priced an Infinti bulb which was nearlly $200 and was told "you better hope it's not the ballast" --which I was not aware they had---that's around $1300 to replace.
    In about 10 years there's going to be a lot of high end cars driving around with permanetly non functioning headlamps.
     
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  8. The self-leveling HIDs on my Lexus are superior to the fixed HIDs on my wife's last three Acura models.
     
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  9. The self-leveling HIDs on my Lexus are superior to the fixed HIDs on my wife's last three Acura models.
     
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  10. My 300C has HIDS and they are fine especially with Smart Sense auto dimming. However, my neighbor had a Prius, got rid of it because of the problems with the HIDS and Toyota's attempt to charge him for defective bulbs. They are expensive to replace and I doubt I will order them again.
     
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  11. Would recomend doing some research on replacement lamps bulbs and ballasts, some are incredibly expensive, do not think I would knowing purchase unless it was covered under new car warranty!
     
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  12. I had them on my Mazda and loved them! Much brighter than regular halogen lights. And better peripheral vision too. The only negative I found was a strong cut-off pattern way down the road. The lights just seemed to STOP abruptly compared to a halogen.
     
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