People who know little about automotive lighting don’t know if the two are the same or serve the same purpose. Even fewer know which is the best choice for their car.
In this article, we explain what LED bulbs and LED conversion kits are. We also discuss the installation process and how the two compare before explaining how to choose the best option for your car. Read on to learn the difference between LED bulbs and conversion kits.
Understanding LED Headlight Bulbs
LED bulbs are different from regular glass bulbs and don’t even have a glass tube. In this section, we explain what these bulbs are and how they work.
Basics and Types of LED Bulbs
The part of an LED bulb that produces light is called a light-emitting diode. This is a special semiconductor material that emits light when an electric current runs through it. The placement of the LED in the bulb is supposed to mirror the location of the filament in traditional halogen bulbs.
LED bulbs have cooling systems at their bases to dissipate the heat they generate. These are usually fins that radiate the heat out but may also include a fan for better heat dissipation. The light output of high-quality LED bulbs is significantly greater than that of halogen lighting.
As far as the cooling system goes, there are three main types of LED bulbs. These are:
- Fanless bulbs with aluminum heat sinks: These bulbs have a heat sink made using an aluminum alloy. Heat dissipation is achieved through thermal radiation.
- Fanless bulbs with copper braided heat sinks: These bulbs are also cooled via thermal radiation. However, the heat sinks are made using flexible tin-plated copper. These can achieve a wider surface area and better cooling levels.
- Bulbs with fans: These LED bulbs have a heat sink and a fan to improve cooling levels. A high-quality cooling fan is important for noiseless operation.
LED bulbs have other differences apart from their cooling systems. Some LED light bulbs have external drivers while others have inbuilt drivers. Bulbs with inbuilt drivers may not perform well if the driver is exposed to high temperatures during operation.
Pros and Cons of LED Bulbs
There are upsides and downsides to installing LED headlight bulbs. Some of the upsides of LED headlight bulbs are:
- The light output from a regular LED headlight bulb exceeds that of halogen headlights.
- LED bulbs are more energy efficient, emitting less heat and consuming less power than their halogen counterparts.
- LED bulbs last for tens of thousands of hours and may never need to be replaced.
- Some LED bulbs are designed to be direct replacements for halogen bulbs.
- LED lighting comes on immediately unlike HID lighting which takes a few seconds to reach full brightness.
Some of the key downsides of LED bulbs are:
- A standard LED bulb will cost more than a traditional halogen bulb and even some HID bulbs.
- The halogen bulb housings in many cars can’t be safely used with LED bulbs due to glare.
- Installing aftermarket LED lighting as headlights is not yet legal in many jurisdictions.
- Conversion kits are needed to use an LED headlight bulb in many cars.
- A poor quality or poorly installed LED light bulb will perform worse than a halogen light bulb.
Exploring LED Conversion Kits
Many new vehicles are shipped with halogen headlights, and some have HID lights. This means that you may require an LED conversion kit to get the best results when using LED bulbs.
What is an LED Conversion Kit?
An LED conversion kit is a set of components used to replace the original halogen bulbs with LEDs. LED headlight bulbs are included in the kits which also include wiring harnesses and other components needed to make the LEDs compatible with a specific car.
LED conversion kits are important because they ensure LED bulbs function properly when installed. The wiring harness ensures the LED light bulb can be correctly connected to the car’s electrical system. The CANbus adaptor prevents the generation of false error messages from the onboard computer.
Advantages of LED Conversion Kits
The benefits of using an LED headlight conversion kit are:
- Conversion kits enable the installation of LED headlights in vehicles that don’t come with factory-fitted LED headlights.
- LED Conversion kits result in better light beam patterns and light output.
- They help to prolong the life of LED bulbs through proper regulation of power input.
- LED conversion kits are available for many different types of cars.
Installation Process and Ease
Installing LED bulbs directly is a faster process than putting in a headlight kit. However, using a conversion kit may be unavoidable.
Installing LED Bulbs
If your vehicle was factory-fitted with LED headlights, installing new ones is as easy as it gets. Some LED bulbs are also designed to be swappable with stock halogen bulbs with no need for kits. The process you’ll use usually follows the steps below:
- Confirm your headlight bulb type. This means you should check if your current car headlights are LED, HID, or halogen. Additionally, check whether the headlight uses a dual beam bulb or needs two bulbs for low and high beams. You can check physically or consult the owner’s manual.
- Ensure your parking brake is on, the engine is off, and the keys are removed from the ignition.
- Open the hood of the car and locate the back end of the headlights you want to change.
- Unplug the wiring connected to the bulb. You may have to detach a few clips first and you may need to gently nudge these with a flat screwdriver.
- Remove any clips holding the bulb in place and turn it until you’re able to pull it out.
- Plug the new headlight bulb into the wiring and put the bulb back in place, twisting it until it’s locked in.
- Confirm the new bulb is working as expected and make any necessary adjustments to ensure the light beam pattern is similar to the previous bulb’s and aimed correctly. This is critical to ensure the road is well-lit without blinding other drivers.
Some headlights have a dust cover that must be removed to access them and some LED headlight bulbs have a mounting flange that must be installed first before the bulb is inserted.
Fitting LED Conversion Kits
Fitting an LED conversion kit may be simple or fairly complicated depending on the model of your car. Using an LED kit means the vehicle wasn’t designed to use LED bulbs in the first place. This means you have to consider the following:
- Is there enough space for the bulb and the driver? If space is at a premium, you may have to reconsider your choice of bulb.
- Are the reflectors/projectors compatible with LED bulbs? LED bulbs are typically not a good match for reflector systems due to glare. This means your headlight housing may need further changes.
- What is the wiring situation in your car? Some wiring systems may not accommodate LED conversion kits without some adjustments.
In the best case, the process of fitting a conversion kit is similar to putting in a new bulb. You simply need to connect one end of the driver to the bulb and the other end to the wiring harness. The drivers should be secured using zip ties away from moisture, vibration, and heat.
You may also need a CANbus adaptor along with the conversion kit. It will prevent the relaying of false warnings to the dashboard. The warnings are usually because LEDs draw a lot less power than regular halogen bulbs.
If the conversion kit requires some rewiring to install, it’s safer to leave the job to a certified expert. Interfering with the vehicle’s wiring can affect other components. Upgrading HID lights can also be dangerous due to the high voltage from the ballast.
LED Bulbs Vs. LED Conversion Kits
|LED Conversion Kits
|Lower than a full kit
|Costly and costs vary depending on vehicle models.
|Contain LED bulbs and drivers only
|Contain LED bulbs, drivers, a wiring harness, and sometimes the headlight housing.
|Excellent when used in compatible systems. Inconsistent in halogen and HID-designed systems.
|Better performance than LED bulbs alone when switching from halogen or HID bulbs.
|Not many vehicles will accommodate an LED bulb properly without a conversion kit.
|Kits are available to suit many vehicle models, but some models may lack compatible kits.
|For compatible vehicles, LED bulbs can be integrated easily since they don’t require much additional space.
|There has to be enough space for the driver. Some wiring changes may be necessary.
|Ease of Installation
|As easy as swapping out regular halogen bulbs
|Some kits are plug-and-play while others require additional steps for correct installation.
The table compares LED bulbs and conversion kits on several points including cost, performance, and integration with vehicles.
Selecting the Right Option for Your Vehicle
If you’re considering an upgrade to LED headlights, there are a few factors that can help you make the right choice between bulbs and conversion kits. These are discussed below.
1. Vehicle Compatibility
Your vehicle model and the type of headlights it currently has are the main determinants of whether you need a conversion kit or just an LED bulb. Some vehicles, especially those with manufacturer-installed LED headlights, will accommodate a straight swap of LED bulbs.
However, cars that come with halogen or HID lights usually require a conversion kit to ensure the LED headlights perform as expected. Some LED bulbs can be installed in such systems without a kit but their brightness, beam pattern, and lifespan may suffer.
2. Reflectors or Projectors
If your vehicle’s headlights use reflectors, neither LED bulbs nor an LED conversion kit may suffice. When used in reflector-style housing, LED bulbs are known to scatter the light unevenly. This can result in poor beam patterns and excessive glare.
In such cases, you’ll either have to stick to your halogen bulbs or change the entire headlight assembly.
Some conversion kits have relatively large drivers. This can present a problem if space is limited around your headlights. Small spaces require LED kits that are compact or LED bulbs that are swappable with the current bulb.
4. Ease of Installation
Some conversion kits and LED bulbs can be challenging to install. For example, in vehicles equipped with HID systems, it is possible to swap the bulbs without removing the ballast but this requires some wire splicing.
For a novice, it’s always advisable to pick the option that you can correctly and safely install. If the installation is anything but plug-and-play, it may be a good idea to have the bulb or conversion kit installed by a professional.
Adoption of LED headlights has been high but the market is littered with many low-quality options. Some manufacturers offer plug-and-play LED bulbs that perform poorly due to inefficient cooling, incorrect power draw, and other issues.
A conversion kit may be more expensive, but it is a better alternative if you can’t get your hands on a good-quality plug-and-play LED bulb.
Installing LED lights in your car can improve visibility and make it easier to drive in low-light conditions. Car owners considering LED lights can choose between LED bulbs and LED conversion kits, but the ideal choice between the two is dictated by multiple factors.
Neither bulbs nor kits are inherently better. The most important thing is to install the right solution for your car’s lighting system. This means consulting your owner’s manual and possibly having the installation done by a professional.
Why Choose Carlightvision As Your LED Headlight Expert?
LED headlights are hot right now but not every LED headlight is built the same. At Carlightvision, we go to great lengths to ensure our headlights provide customers with the premium experience that they pay for. We have a long list of satisfied clients and you can join them today. Contact us to find out which of our solutions will suit your business needs.