Cars with LED headlights

Learn why this bright type of headlight is becoming the norm and search for cars with LED headlights

BuyaCar team
Oct 19, 2021

In the market for a new car and wondering whether LED headlights ought to be on your radar? Below is everything you need to know about LED headlights to decide whether you want a car with this type of technology.

LEDs - light emitting diodes - are widely used in a number of day-to-day devices such as TV remote controls and even the lights in your house, and they offer a number of benefits compared with other types of lights. So the fact they've crossed over into car headlights is not a huge surprise.

You might not pay too much attention to your car’s headlights, but LED ones are an improvement on old-style yellow-ish halogen bulbs. They provide a much brighter (and in some cases longer) beam of light, making it easier for you to see and be seen. LED headlights are also more efficient, and last much longer than halogen lights.

Car manufacturers have been slowly introducing these new headlights across their ranges, and we've got to the stage now where cars with LED headlights are becoming more common than those without. Once the preserve of high-end luxury cars, even the cheapest superminis are now being fitted with LED technology.

So should you buy a car that's equipped with LED headlights? Read on to find out more.

What is LED headlight technology?

LED technology doesn't rely on light bulbs. It uses long-established electronics called semiconductors that emit light when a current is passed through them.

LEDs are controlled by integrated microprocessors and because these can get very hot, are cooled by a small fan or heat exchanger. They are a lot more sophisticated than a normal bulb and more expensive, too. However, this cost is balanced out by the fact that they last longer than normal bulbs, so you shouldn't need to replace them as frequently.

What are adaptive LED headlights?

These use an array of LEDs that can be selectively operated in response to instructions from sensors and cameras in the headlight that monitor oncoming vehicles or, for example, pedestrians.

The direction and intensity of the light beam is changed as a result. You can think of adaptive LED headlights as providing full-beam brightness for you without blinding other drivers. Another term for these is matrix LED headlights.

Pros

Bright and crystal clear light
Last far longer than conventional halogen bulbs
Require around 25% less energy than conventional bulbs

Cons

Some argue that they are too bright
Much more expensive to fix (an LED light unit for VW Polo GTI costs £846, compared with around £18 for a bulb for a lower-spec model)

Which cars have LED headlights?

There are currently 24478 cars with LED headlights available on BuyaCar, priced from £4,950. Most have just LED foglights and daytime running lights. LED headlights have generally been found only on more expensive models until recently, but now it’s becoming unusual for a car to be revealed without LED lights.

Taking Mercedes as an example, LED headlights are standard on the A-Class hatchback from Sport trim upwards. On the C-Class they are also standard from Sport trim but multi-beam or matrix LEDs are fitted to more expensive Mercedes-AMG versions.

Lower down the price scale, Kia offers what it calls LED Bi-Function Headlights with Adaptive Lighting System on the Sportage SUV, while, on the Ford Focus, LED headlights are now fitted as standard, having only been fitted to the top-spec Vignale before 2020.

Now, some latest-generation superminis like the Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio and Dacia Sandero all feature LED headlights as standard. This means that even if you're on a relatively tight budget, there should be some models available with LED headlights.

Are aftermarket LED headlights available for older cars?

Yes but they are not road legal unless fitted in an appropriate headlight unit. A car with aftermarket LEDs fitted in place of the car’s conventional headlight bulbs, and in the original light unit, will fail an MoT test, so it's worth bearing this in mind if you're considering retrofitting LED headlights to a car that wasn't designed to use these. 

Other bulbs, such as sidelights and reverse lights, can be changed to LEDs without too much fuss, so this is one easy way to add LED lights to an older car.

LED daytime running lights and LED headlights: what's the difference?

If a car has daytime running lights, these will be on all the time when you’re driving. They became a legal requirement for all new cars a few years ago, and make it easier to see approaching cars. LED daytime running lights are bright white, often located in a slim strip, and are brighter than halogen bulbs to improve forward visibility and to make the car itself more visible.

LED headlights, meanwhile, are where your main ‘dipped beam’ lights - the ones you should use at night or in gloomy conditions - consist of LEDs. With your headlights on, your tail-lights will also be on, while the rear of your car won’t be illuminated with just daytime running lights on. LED headlights are more powerful than LED daytime running lights, so the beam is much further.

If you have a car with LED daytime running lights, it's worth getting to grips with the controls to understand exactly when you have only the front LED daytime running lights on - and the rear lights are off - and when the main headlights and rear lights are on.

It's now common to see people driving at night with no headlights or rear lights on, with them potentially mistaking the glow from the LED daytime running lights with the headlights being on. This can be highly dangerous with the driver themselves having a poor view of the road ahead and cars behind potentially not seeing the car until it's too late. Spending a little time familiarising yourself with your car's headlights, therefore, can be very valuable.

Can I buy a headlight bulb that emits light similar to an LED?

A number of brands offer LED lookalike bulbs, which emit a whiter light than traditional halogen bulbs. Many upgraded halogen, xenon and LED light options are available - depending upon the technology fitted to your car - with some of these offering whiter or bluer light as something of a fashion statement and others focusing on offering the greatest possible illumination.

It can be wise to focus on the brightness of the light you choose, rather than its colour, as extra brightness should reduce eye strain at night and keep you safer on the road as you'll have a better view ahead, while the difference in colour may not be obvious from behind the wheel. 

 

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