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Your headlights are one of the most important features of your car, allowing you to see after dark and allowing other people to see you. Even the best headlights wear out over time, however, and can become dim or burn out completely. While you may need to take your car to the shop for an oil change or tire rotation, changing out your headlight bulbs is something you can do at home. Check your vehicle’s service manual to make sure you know the right bulb type and size, and you can find anything you need online. There are dozens of LED alternatives—or even real LEDs if you’re willing to pay for them—but be advised that it’s illegal to add them to your car unless it came with them from the factory. I went in search of the best replacement bulbs for a variety of applications. Let’s get to it.
These bulbs are a great replacement for aging stock headlights, and they provide excellent white light for night visibility.
- Great value
- Striking white light
- Easy installation
- Not as bright as others
- Don’t last as long
Sylvania XtraVision High-Performance Halogen Headlight
This Sylvania halogen headlight is a perfect drop-in replacement for stock bulbs with no fuss.
- Economical and reliable
- Street legal.
- Good performance in bad weather
- Not as bright as LEDs
- Limited lifespan
Philips CrystalVision Ultra Upgrade Headlight Bulb
These bulbs provide a strong HID-like effect for a decent price, although they are more expensive than comparable bulbs.
- Upgrade from stock halogen headlights
- Reliable, factory-like fitment
- Whiter light from a halogen bulb
- Relatively short lifespan
- Lower raw light output
- Color temperature is white compared to halogen
I looked at more than two dozen headlights to find the best value pair, the best performing pair, and a few honorable mentions that are worthy of your consideration. Specifically, I looked at brightness, beam pattern, lifespan, and ease of installation, with cost factoring heavily into our consideration. We also avoided products with subpar bulb lifespan, overly cool color temperature, or overly warm color temperature in the name of performance. Further explanation of the process can be found here.
Best Aftermarket Headlights Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on Aftermarket Headlights
We chose the Torchbeam LED Headlight Bulb Kit as the best overall aftermarket headlights. They’re a great plug-and-play option to improve visibility. Those on a budget should check out the Sylvania XtraVision High-Performance Halogen Headlight Bulbs, which are a reliable, no-fuss option.
What to Consider When Buying Aftermarket Headlights
Headlights are one of the most commonly modified and most important parts of a car that allow it to be a 24-hour all-weather machine that you can depend on. There are a few headlights you can consider with three major types: halogen, HID, and LED. All have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to brightness, beam pattern, lifespan, and cost. While the options can be complicated, the end goal is simple: you’re looking for a bright bulb that works well with your vehicle’s lighting system.
Types of Aftermarket Headlights
Halogen headlights are simple, old technology that uses electric current flowing through a thin filament encased in glass with an inert gas that allows it to shine brightly. That same filament is how halogen lights wear out and eventually break. With good light output and low cost, halogen headlights come standard in most carsand can vary in quality, longevity, and brightness.
HID means high-intensity discharge. They are the brightest headlights you can buy but require extra parts that the LED and halogen lights don’t require. A large, dedicated aftermarket for HIDs exists with specialist websites specifically created to sell HID systems so you can customize them more than any other light style. Their excellent brightness is offset by a high cost of entry, easily double that of LED bulbs, along with the need for a ballast and ignitor module that the other lights don’t need because of the high energy demands of an HID. They also are not recommended to replace halogen bulbs because of their intense glare on the road.
LED means light emitting diode, which is a semiconductor that emits light. Think of a laser or a computer chip specifically designed to shine brightly. LEDs require miniscule amounts of energy to run compared to halogens and HIDs and have the longest life of the three bulbs. Their only disadvantage is that the light source itself is a small chip compared to the entire bulb of the halogen or HID light, which can cause strange issues that can affect the beam pattern. Be aware that adding LED lights to a car not already equipped with them is against the law. Do not purchase LED conversions for your vehicle if it did not come that way from the factory.
Consider inquiring about a headlight’s service life before purchasing it. Lights with a longer service life last much longer without requiring repairs and replacements. Such headlights save you money because you do not need to purchase new headlights so frequently. You will also have some peace of mind when you don’t have to worry about your lights going off unexpectedly.
All three kinds of headlight bulbs have vastly different lifespans that are almost directly related to their cost. Halogens are extremely cheap to replace and have the shortest life, LEDs are moderately costly and have an extremely long life, and HIDs are the most expensive and boast a similarly long life with greater brightness. Headlights only wear with use, so consider how often you use them and determine if the extra cost of the upgraded LED or HID bulbs is worthwhile.
Voltage and wattage affect the quality of light that your headlights will offer you. A higher voltage enables your headlight to provide you with more stable lighting. A headlight with a higher wattage gives you a brighter illumination for a better driving experience. The right headlight is one that gives you the amount and quality of light that you require while consuming less power.
Generally speaking, wattage determines how bright headlight bulbs will be.
For halogen and LED bulbs, this isn’t something that is a huge consideration because wattage is related to the style of bulb socket that car makers design their headlights around. With HIDs, there are two major choices: 35 and 55 watt. The 35-watt option is what most car makers use in their systems, while 55 watt is an aftermarket upgrade that increases light output substantially at the cost of bulb life.
This is a consideration when upgrading your headlights from the stock halogens. LED and HID headlights emit considerable amounts of heat when lit, and this can present issues if there isn't room behind the bulb for LEDs or if the headlight housing itself cannot handle the heat of an HID bulb. Most LEDs have a heat sink or fan at the back of the bulb that keeps things cool, so this isn’t a worry in most applications.
The amount of energy that a headlight consumes should be considered before purchasing a headlight. A headlight with a high energy consumption derives a lot of energy from the car’s battery. When such a headlight is left running for a long time, it may drain your battery. LEDs consume the least amount of energy, while halogens consume the most. HIDs are power hungry when they first fire, but then settle into a lower energy consumption than halogen.
Aftermarket Headlights Benefits
As your car ages, its headlights can dim or burn out completely. Beyond the obvious problem of being cited for driving without a headlight, there are serious safety issues that arise from missing lighting elements. Properly working headlights light up the road at night, but they also help other drivers see you. This is especially important during inclement weather such as fog and heavy rain.
Aftermarket headlights should also be on your radar if you plan on doing any sort of performance or off-road driving. Stock lighting may not be bright enough or have the right beam shape for what you’re trying to do. It’s important that you choose the right bulb for the job and that you pay attention to state and local laws when shopping. Some bulbs are illegal or not recommended for use on the road.
Aftermarket Headlight Pricing
As with anything in life, you get what you pay for with headlights. The good news is that most bulbs are fairly reasonably priced. Expect to pay anywhere from a few dollars for a set of basic halogen bulbs up to over $100 or more for bright Xenon-style or HID headlights. Pricing also depends on your vehicle, as some require purchasing an entire headlight housing along with the actual lighting unit, which costs more. If your car came with LED or similar lighting systems, you may be looking at a trip to a dealer or shop and you’ll likely see a bill for several hundred dollars.
Tips and Tricks
As with anything you do for decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and using it. That’s the case with us and aftermarket headlights. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- Make sure the headlights you buy are compatible with your vehicle. Although some headlights are universal, it is important to check your manufacturer’s manual just to be sure you are buying the right fit.
- When aligning your headlights, make sure they are pointing slightly downwards to prevent blinding other motorists. As a courtesy, always dim your headlights when approaching other drivers.
- Since laws regarding headlights vary from state to state, ensure the headlamps you buy comply with the regulations in your area to avoid trouble with the authorities.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: Are aftermarket headlights legal for the road?
A: The aftermarket offers many options that include DOT-approved bulbs and non-DOT bulbs, which are recommended for non-headlight use like fog lights or turn signals. Make sure to look at your local laws for guidance if a non-DOT bulb is legal for your local roads.
Q: Can I install aftermarket headlights on my own?
A: Yes, it is possible to install headlights at home if you are armed with some simple tools. However, there are some headlamps that are difficult to install. In such cases, you need to consult a professional.
Q: Is brighter always better?
A: Not necessarily. It’s important to consider the kind of headlights your car has and what kind of bulbs they were designed for before you purchase bulbs. Often, the halogen works best with the best beam pattern even if it is dimmer than an LED.
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.Learn more