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Xenon and LED Headlights: What is the Difference?

If you’re thinking about buying a new or used car, you may have noticed that some models offer a choice between xenon and LED headlights.

While halogen headlights used to be standard in automobiles, xenons and LEDs are now more popular. So what are they, and what’s the difference between them? Which one is best? And which one should you get?

This article will answer all your questions and help you determine which headlight works best for you.

What is a Xenon Light?

A xenon — also known as a high-intensity discharge or HID light — is a gas-filled, very bright, and energy-efficient light.

Xenon lights are fairly common in luxury vehicles you see on the road today. However, they are popular for those who want to install them themselves. One reason why xenon lights have gained in popularity is due to their extreme brightness. It’s often brighter than both an LED light and a standard headlight.

These brighter headlights do come with a trade-off, though. They use much more energy than the LED light. Unfortunately, this increased energy consumption leads to the bulb dying quicker, which means that it will need to be replaced much sooner than the LED.
Besides its superior brightness, the Xenon light doesn’t have many advantages compared to the LED light.

What is an LED Light?

An LED (light-emitting diode) is a durable, very bright, energy-efficient light.

While xenon headlights have been around in cars for much longer than LEDs, the LED lights are quickly becoming favorites among car drivers and manufacturers. These types of lights also bring sizeable advantages.

For one, LEDs last longer than halogen and xenon, while using less energy in the process. Drivers tend to favor this light because of its small size. The small size means many of these little lights can go into one headlight lamp, giving a better overall illumination of the road. They are easy to install, and they come in multiple colors, giving drivers the ability to customize their headlights.

The LED light is more expensive than the xenon upfront, but the cost evens out with the money you save from their durability.

Which is Best?

If you’re looking for the best possible illumination, we think LEDs usually outshine their xenon headlight rivals. Of course, it depends on exactly how many LEDs are present — but most modern cars with LED lighting technology seem to offer better illumination, a warmer light, and an illuminated area that’s a little larger than it is in most cars with xenons.

That said, xenon lighting technology has come so far over the years — and xenons aren’t exactly low on light. In most popular cars using xenons today, the overall illumination would probably fall just short of LEDs — if you can tell the difference at all. And while LEDs will last longer than xenons, both will last for many years — likely longer than most drivers will own their vehicles.

When it comes to safety, both headlight variants are pretty safe. They both allow for high-beam assist, which automatically turns on the high-beams in dark areas. Both types of headlights also offer curving technology, meaning they allow the light to “bend” around corners in conjunction with the wheels. And that tech helps lighten the road.

While the safety of the lights can vary depending on the vehicle, cars with LED headlights tend to have safer headlight ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS.

RELATED STORY: New Chevy Blazer Just Misses Top Safety Rating Due to Headlights

According to the IIHS, nearly half of traffic deaths occur in the dark. Since the LED light does illuminate better, some drivers might choose them because they can see farther down the road.

Which Should You Get?

If you have the opportunity to buy a car with LED headlights at roughly the same price as a model with xenon lights, we suggest going for the LEDs.

They use less energy, they offer slightly better illumination, and they’ll last longer. But if the cost is dramatically more, we’d probably skip it. That’s because xenon headlights are also excellent. However, as LEDs become cheaper to make, expect to see them in a wider range of vehicles.

Related Articles on Car Headlights:

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published. Austin Morris contributed to this report.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I am looking for the BRIGHTEST LED possible (retrofitting a 16mm projector).  How do I go about finding the LED replacement bulb for a car that would out-shine all the others…in other words, the brightest LED bulb on the market.  I won’t have any problem getting a power-supply for whatever bulb I can come up with.  I just need to find an off-the-shelf LED bulb that I can substitute for the existing incandescent in the projector.  There is plenty of space; I am just looking for the brightest thing out there. 

  2. Be aware that some vehicles will not work correctly with led lights for example :- my X type rear lights have a combined bulb IE. brakes and rear lights on one double filament bulb. I bought led double bulbs and fitted them, when I put the lights on all of the led,s on both bulbs lit up at once leaving me without brake lights !!! I asked at “Halfords ” where I bought them and they told me some cars wont accept led, they were kind enough to offer me my money back.

  3. If your car came with halogen lights stock, you can easily switch them out for LED bulbs. They’re about $30-$50 a pair online. Simplest car mod, ever.

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