Explained: The Different Types of Headlights

Headlights. Arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment on your car, as without them you can only drive during daylight hours. With Britain not particularly known for its prolonged sunny climes and instead it’s long, dim wintry nights, your lights are going to be needed more and more. But did you know that when it comes to headlights, they’re very much not one size fits all. In fact there are so many different types of light that can be used to illuminate the road ahead, that we at Scrap Car Comparison thought it’d be a good idea to enlighten you as to what they are, and where the differences lie.

What are halogen headlights?

The most common type of headlight on British roads today, halogen lights use a combination of gases (often nitrogen and argon) and a glass tube containing a tungsten filament to illuminate the area ahead of the car. While these lights are the most populous on our roads, they are beginning to fall out of favour a little due to their inefficiency. While they are cheap and very easy to replace, they give off a lot of unnecessary, and unused, heat once up to temperature. Not only that, but they do not focus their light, meaning the illumination isn’t quite as high as it could be on other styles.

What are LED headlights?

Standing for light emitting diodes, LED lights are pricier than their halogen counterparts, but are also more efficient and adjustable. LEDs are able to be made in much smaller sizes than a halogen bulb, and work over 250 times faster, too. As a result, LEDs are often used for brake lights and indicators. 

An LED works by a semiconductor emitting light when a current is passed through it. This current is relatively small, meaning it is a much more efficient form of light than a halogen or a xenon (more on those later). LEDs are incredibly simple, and therefore have a longer expected shelf life than halogen lights – we say expected as there is not yet enough data to make that a definitive answer.

LEDs are beginning to become regular fixtures on the front end of cars, with most new cars coming with LED daytime running lights. While not industry standard for the main beam, they are beginning to creep in and could well be the dominant light fitting in just a few years, despite their higher price tag.

What are xenon headlights? 

Xenon headlights, often referred to as high-intensity discharge (HID) are named based on the gas that is burned within the bulb. It is easy to tell that a car is running with xenon headlights as the light will give off a blue hue as it burns. Rather than burning a filament, the light is created by an electric arc between two electrodes. The xenon gas is used to help create this arc at lower temperatures, but becomes less important at higher temperatures.

If you were to read the law and take it as it is written, technically a xenon headlight would not be legal. However, a loophole where European type approval regulations allow them means that they must be allowed on any car registered in the EU driving in the UK. The same applies if looking to replace a halogen light to a xenon light. The Department for Transport states that the sale and use of aftermarket HIDs is illegal, but again, due to European regulations, exceptions are made. These are outlined below:

• The headlight must be of a type approved by the supplier

• The headlight must have self cleaning and self-levelling capabilities

• The headlight must be maintained properly, although this is the case with any type of headlight.

Are tinted headlights legal in the UK?

Headlight tinting is where you intentionally modify your lights to either dim or alter the colour emitted by your lights when they’re switched on. If you’re considering changing the colour of yours, stop. MOT regulations state that front lights must be either white or yellow, with rear lights red. Any other colour is against the law and you will be punished accordingly. 

If you’re planning on tinting your lights, however, then this is allowed – if done correctly. Lights cannot be dimmed more than 50%, i.e. you should be able to see the majority of the light coming through the bulb. In light of this, even if you’ve not got any tinting on your headlights, it’s worth giving them a clean once in a while to ensure that they’re not being masked too much by general road grime.

When should you dip your headlights?

Dipped headlights, or ‘low beam’, are the most likely type of light you are going to use when on the road. They bridge the gap between your side lights and the full beam, the latter of which should only be used when the road ahead is totally clear to avoid dazzling other drivers.

Many modern cars are now equipped with daytime running lights, but more often than not, these only illuminate ahead of you, not behind. As a result, drivers often mistakenly believe they’re driving safely, when in actual fact, they’ve no lights on at the rear at all. Whenever it gets dark, it’s always safest to just pop your dipped lights on.

When should you flash your headlights?

It has become common practice in many circles to flash a driver to allow them out at a junction, or to say thank you, or even to warn other drivers that they may unknowingly still be running with their full beams up. However, reading the Highway Code verbatim, this is very much not allowed. As stated in Rule 110, you must ‘only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or intimidate other road users.’ 

Scrap Your Car for the Best Price with Scrap Car Comparison

Are your headlights starting to fail at their job of lighting the road ahead? Why not replace your tired old car with something new, shinier and, importantly, brighter? By scrapping your car with Scrap Car Comparison, we can guarantee you the very best price possible. When using our nationwide network of scrap and salvage experts, we trawl through quotes to provide you with the highest valuation. On top of that, with our buyers dotted all over the country, we can even come and collect your car direct from your driveway, at no extra cost to you.

Get started today with Scrap Car Comparison and get your price within 60 seconds, allowing you to motor out of the darkness as soon as you can.

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