LED Automotive Bulbs—Easy and Effective Vehicle Lighting Upgrades for Everything
LED vs Incandescent, Halogen, and HID
Halogen and other incandescent lamps have long been the standard for vehicle light bulbs, from headlights and taillights to the interior. These types of automotive bulbs are relatively cheap to manufacture, but also have relatively short lifespans and lower outputs versus more modern technology as they lose a lot of energy through the heat they generate to function. Other than minor improvements over time—like the use of halogen lamps for headlights—this technology has remained largely unchanged since the early 1900s when the first electric headlight systems were introduced. Due to the cost and ease of production, halogen and other incandescent lamps have remained on top until major technological advancements over the last thirty years shifted the availability and affordability of newer, more advanced technologies.
The first huge upgrade in relation to brightness were HID headlights. HID headlights were first used on a mass-produced vehicle in 1991 by BMW on their top of the line 7-Series cars. It took until 1997 for Ford to introduce the first American car using this technology, the Lincoln Mark VIII. HIDs were over twice as bright when compared to a conventional halogen and lasted two to eight times as long. The downsides being the cost, reliability, and complexity. HID car bulbs could be ten times more expensive than halogen bulbs, and while HID bulbs last longer, the ballasts required to run them often fail before the bulb does. This technology was only practical for headlights due to the high complexity and cost in addition to the technology's weakness in relation to power-cycling. For that reason, HID headlights became more of a luxury, top-end option for vehicles.
Fast forward a few more years and LEDs entered the automotive scene and were an instant sensation. Beginning largely as brake, reverse, turn, and tail lights before moving on to headlights, LED car bulbs have five to ten times the lifespan of the longest-lasting HIDs and are just as bright or brighter than halogen and incandescent car bulbs. While OEM marker, turn, and tail lights have been around much longer, OEM LED headlights have only been around in the US since Lexus introduced the first model using them in 2007. Even so, it still took several more years before the technology reached more common vehicles, like the Ford F-150 in 2015. LEDs over recent years have become increasingly smaller and more dependable, all while becoming more affordable at the same time. The lower power consumption and reduced heat needed to function mean components are designed to last longer. Due to the compact size, LED headlight bulbs not only can replace halogen headlights, LED car bulbs can replace virtually every bulb in your vehicle. LED automotive bulbs reduce wasted energy and maintenance costs drastically, increasing visibility and safety, and giving vintage and new vehicles an up-to-date or modern look—all at a similar cost to the outdated technology that has been around for 60+ years.
Compatibility: Determining the Right LED Automotive Bulb
Finding the right replacement bulb or upgrade for your vehicle can be challenging since automotive bulbs—especially headlight bulbs—come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are several easy options to help you find the perfect LED replacement bulb(s) for your vehicle whether it’s a boat, motorcycle, RV, car, or truck.
One way to tackle the compatibility problem is to use our vehicle bulb finder, which can help you narrow down your choices by bulb location to show specific results that fit your vehicle. Once you find the right bulb position and see what bulbs are offered, you can then select from available color, power, and fitment options depending on your needs.
To find automotive bulbs required for vehicles that aren’t easily referenced in catalogs such as custom vehicles and powersports, use the number of the original bulb pulled from the owner’s manual or the bulb housing itself. This is another area where LED automotive bulbs work well and have a unique advantage. Your original car bulb may have several variations with slight wattage and output differences, whereas the versatility of LED bulbs allows them to replace various bulbs that are the same physical size, making it easier to find one that will work for your application without sifting through countless car bulbs that at a glance are nearly identical. For more information read our ”Finding The Right Replacement Bulb For Your Vehicle” article!
Color and Color Temperature
When replacing your original halogen and incandescent bulbs, color and correlated color temperature (CCT) can be very important. The appearance, brightness, efficiency, and lifetime of LEDs are inherent advantages, but using the right color or color temperature can make a tremendous difference in overall performance.
For starters, depending on your local and state regulations—as well as DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards—certain colors of light may be prohibited or required for on-road use. It is always best to check these regulations beforehand if the automotive bulbs you are replacing or upgrading are intended for on-road use.
When it comes to headlights and foglights, you will most often encounter two different possibilities—yellow light and cool white light. Other than the differences in appearance, each has their own strengths. Typically, headlights will most often utilize cool white CCTs as these are more modern looking and help to keep driver’s aware due to the cool white light’s ability to stimulate the eye. While yellow lights can be used as headlights as well in most areas, they are more often used for fog lights (or in foggy and/or other inclement conditions for headlight styles that can switch between yellow and cool white). This is due to the warmer, yellow light’s ability to penetrate fog and precipitation. The yellow light also reflects less off the roadway, creating a safer environment for you and others on the road during these conditions.
When replacing smaller automotive bulbs—such as turn signals, parking lights, or brake lights—there are a few different factors that come into play. This relates to the intended output color of the light. Some housings use a clear lens and a bulb that has a color coating for applications like a turn signal. In these cases, the choice is pretty straightforward as you simply need to match the original bulb’s color. When replacing an incandescent car bulb from a light with a red or amber lens, it is important that the bulb matches the lens color in order for the output to be the intended color. This aspect is unique to LEDs and is often overlooked.
Mounting and Installing Our LED Automotive Bulbs
Using our vehicle bulb finder, mounting and installation should be a breeze! Mounting and installation itself should be a plug-and-play procedure as the LED bulbs will share the same base/connector and mounting flange as your original. Even so, there are a few factors to be aware of to ensure your installation goes as smoothly as possible.
Installation can vary slightly in some cases, more so with foglights and headlights typically due to space constraints. In these cases, the extra external parts or the angle of the plug may differ from your original. Our site offers detailed photos and dimensional drawings on the product page to make sure that you can be confident about every aspect of the product before making a purchase!
Hyperflash and Bulb Out Notifications
One of the ‘downsides’ of LEDs relates to the inherently lower power required to operate the lights. LED replacements are so efficient that in some cases the vehicle’s diagnostic systems do not realize the new LED bulb is installed and functioning, which can result in two distinct, but not mutually exclusive, symptoms. The first of which is hyperflash, which in the case of a turn signal / blinker will make the bulb flash extra fast as the required load is not on the relay resulting in the same behavior that happens when a conventional automotive bulb is just burned out. The other is “bulb out” notifications, which occur on vehicles equipped with interior notification systems to tell when bulbs are out on the vehicle.
Solutions for this vary by vehicle and by issue. Typically, automotive bulbs marked as ‘CAN bus’ compatible will alleviate bulb out notifications, but another solution may be required when those bulbs still have issues or when hyperflash is present. One solution in either case is to install a resistor kit which simulates a traditional car bulb more closely in terms of what a relay or control module sees. Another option, related to hyperflash specifically, is to replace the existing signal relay—where possible—with an electronic relay designed to operate with LED lights. To alleviate hyper flashing, please read our article here!
Vehicle Bulb Finder
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