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How Do I..... Improve My Headlights?

Headlight technology continues to improve, even as the standards used in the U.S. (and by default, Canada, since ours largely mirror those used south of the border) keep us from getting the flexible output, cutting-edge lighting used elsewhere in the world.
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Headlight technology continues to improve, even as the standards used in the U.S. (and by default, Canada, since ours largely mirror those used south of the border) keep us from getting the flexible output, cutting-edge lighting used elsewhere in the world.

As is the case in many products, some headlights are better than others, even among those using the same bulb as a light source.

So what to do when your headlight performance is subpar? Provided the lenses of the lamps aren’t dull and cloudy from age (we covered repairing that in the Aug. 7 “How Do I”), lacklustre performance may simply be due to aim. It’s not unusual for lamps to be improperly aimed right out of the factory. A small adjustment can make a big difference.

If your headlights are halogen, then the bulbs themselves can be replaced. Please resist the urge to hit Amazon and buy the first set of LED drop-in bulbs that look promising. Due to the considerable differences in the optical properties between the two light sources, it is actually impossible for an LED bulb to perfectly match the output of a halogen bulb. They may appear brighter, and they will be “whiter,” but for reasons we don’t have space to delve into here, LEDs will always compromise the beam pattern and dramatically increase glare when used in a halogen lamp housing.

headlight halogen

Instead, for a less dramatic, but likely more functional upgrade, consider higher-output (though shorter-lived) halogen bulbs, such as Sylvania SilverStars or Philips’ “Vision” product line. These bulbs draw the same power as the originals, so no wiring changes are necessary.

While many vehicle models now offer one or more designs based on trim level or option selection —Ram’s 1500 pickup line has three available types, for example — changing them after the fact is often impractical. Firstly, there is the issue of price. Then you have to consider that the electrical architecture of the vehicle is likely specific to the type, too. Another alternative might exist: complete aftermarket upgrade lamps are available for many popular models (trucks and SUVs particularly). Be forewarned, the good quality ones will be expensive. Look for lamps that meet SAE/DOT, or E-code standards.

Lastly, you may laugh, but a simple thing that’s often overlooked and that can profoundly improve your night-time vision is cleaning the inside of your windshield. Low cost, too!

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