HID vs LED headlights | Are LED headlights better than HID?

Halogen bulbs, once the preferred choice for car headlights, are now being replaced by newer LED and HID options. Although these technologies have been around for some time, they are only now gaining prominence in the manufacturing of car headlights.

Which is better, and what sets them apart? Let’s find out.

LED headlights are known for their brightness and durability, outperforming HID headlights in both aspects. However, HID headlights are more affordable compared to LEDs. While both types work well in projector housings, LED headlights are the better option for reflector housings, as long as the bulb is compatible with the car or the bowl is replaced.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg as there are several factors to consider when comparing LED and HID headlights. Let’s delve deeper into:

  • The primary distinctions between LED and HID headlights
  • Whether they can be used with halogen housing
  • Which of the two bulbs is brighter.

Distinguishing LED and HID headlights: A Comparison

To begin with, it is essential to understand the distinct technologies and their functioning before delving into performance comparisons. This will provide valuable context for comprehending why the bulbs demonstrate varying performance levels. LED, which stands for Light Emitting Diode, is an electronic light that generates light when a semiconductor in the diode passes a current. In contrast, HID, which stands for High-Intensity Discharge, operates differently. These bulbs contain an inert gas, typically xenon, and two separate conductors. When a current flows between these conductors, the gas arcs, causing a reaction that generates light. Despite being two vastly different technologies, both are widely used in modern headlights. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so let’s compare them side by side to determine the better option.

HID vs LED Headlights

The following table provides a comparison between HID (High-Intensity Discharge) and LED (Light-Emitting Diode) technologies:

Energy EfficiencyLess efficient, consumes more powerHighly efficient, consumes less power
LifespanShorter lifespanLonger lifespan
Color TemperatureLimited options, usually warm whiteWide range of options, including cool white and warm white
Heat EmissionEmits more heatEmits less heat
Start-up TimeLonger start-up timeInstantly on
CostLower upfront costHigher upfront cost, but lower long-term cost due to energy efficiency and longer lifespan

Overall, while HID technology may have a lower upfront cost, LED technology is more energy-efficient, has a longer lifespan, and offers more options in terms of color temperature. Additionally, LED technology has the advantage of instant start-up, making it a better choice for applications where immediate illumination is required.

For the sake of comparing, let’s look at a number of criteria.

I’ve included halogen too, because it’s interesting to see how much better the modern headlights are compared to older bulbs.

CriteriaLED headlightsHID headlightsOld halogen headlights
Effective distance300m / 985ft300m / 985ft100m / 328 ft
Bulb lifespan30,000 – 50,000 hours2,000 to 8,000 hours450 to 1,000 hours
Energy use25 watts30 watts55 watts
Ballast required?NoYesNo
Cooling required?YesNoNo
Start-up timeInstantUp to 2 secondsNear-instant
Energy efficiency>90%70-80%20%


LEDs and HID headlights are significantly brighter than traditional halogen bulbs. While LEDs are marginally brighter, the difference in visibility between LED and HID is negligible as both provide excellent illumination.

Effective distance

LEDs and HIDs have significantly surpassed halogen bulbs in terms of effective distance, tripling their capability. However, due to their increased brightness and range, it is crucial to ensure proper light direction to avoid blinding other drivers on the road.

Bulb lifespan

LEDs offer a significantly longer lifespan compared to HIDs and halogen bulbs, which is sufficient for the entire duration of your vehicle ownership and usage, even if you frequently drive during nighttime.

Energy use

LEDs and HIDs consume comparatively lower power as bulbs, albeit the difference is negligible. The effect on your battery may be insignificant as the bulbs still draw a comparable amount of power initially before regulating it to the appropriate level required to operate the bulb.


Halogen and HID bulbs emit a lot of heat, while LEDs have a tendency to run cooler. However, the heat generated by LEDs is still present and needs to be dissipated through a heatsink or a fan. Interestingly, some drivers prefer HID bulbs over LEDs in wintry conditions because the heat from the bulb can melt the snow on the headlight. On the other hand, since LEDs don’t produce enough heat to melt the snow, their headlight performance may be affected.

Ballast required

HID headlights necessitate the installation of a ballast to regulate the bulb’s voltage. Without it, the bulb will continuously consume more power until it burns out. Although it adds an extra step to the installation process, it ensures proper functionality once completed.

Cooling required

To ensure proper functioning of LED bulbs, a cooling mechanism such as a fan or a heatsink is necessary. However, this may affect the installation process and may require customization of the dust cap that covers the headlight housing to accommodate the cooling method.


LED headlights are the priciest option, but they boast the longest lifespan. Meanwhile, HID bulbs are costlier than halogens, but offer numerous advantages. If you reside in a snowy area or don’t frequently drive at night, you might find HID bulbs more affordable than LEDs.

Start-up time

When it comes to turning on headlights, LED and halogen bulbs activate instantly while HIDs require a brief warm-up period. Although this delay is typically only a matter of seconds, it is recommended to switch on HIDs and wait before driving, which can be a minor inconvenience.

Energy efficiency

Halogens are highly inefficient when used as a light source as they waste 80% of the power they draw as heat, with only 20% being utilized for generating light. HID bulbs, on the other hand, vary between 70% and 80% efficiency. However, LEDs are the most efficient light source, with 90% of the power they draw being utilized for generating light.

Is it possible to use LED and HID headlights with a halogen housing?

In order to determine whether LEDs and HIDs can be used in halogen reflector housings, it’s important to understand the difference between reflector and projector housing types. Halogen headlights typically use a reflector housing with a reflector bowl that reflects the light as a beam. On the other hand, projector housings are designed for bulbs that direct light in a single direction without scattering the light. HIDs are designed for projector housings and cannot be used in halogen reflector housings. If you want to install HID bulbs in a car with a halogen reflector housing, you’ll need to replace the entire housing. With LEDs, the answer is not as clear-cut. While they work well in projector housings, they can sometimes have issues in reflector housings. However, you can purchase LED bulbs that are designed for use in reflector housings. These bulbs have diodes positioned to create the desired beam in an existing reflector bowl. If you currently have halogen headlights, it may be easier to upgrade to LEDs, but it’s important to use compatibility checkers to ensure that the bulb you choose is a good fit for your car.

Do LED headlights provide greater brightness compared to HID headlights?

When it comes to brightness, LED headlights outshine HID headlights with typically 9,000 lumens, occasionally reaching 10,000 lumens. On the other hand, HID bulbs usually have an average of 8,000 lumens. However, in practical terms, the difference between the two is insignificant. The additional 1,000 lumens will not significantly enhance your visibility on the road since both values are already exceptionally high. Even though LEDs are brighter, HID bulbs are already sufficiently bright.

Concluding Remarks

Determining whether LED or HID headlights are superior is subjective and depends on your driving habits and vehicle specifications. For individuals who frequently drive at night, LEDs are a wise investment as they have a long lifespan. However, if you primarily drive during the day or reside in a snowy climate, the more affordable and warmer HID bulbs may be a better option. Have you already installed a specific type of headlight in your car? Are you contemplating switching to a different bulb in the near future?