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What are LED Headlight Bulbs?

March 13, 2024
LED Headlight Bulbs

Table of contents

Many consumers expect LED headlight bulbs to be brighter but not much beyond that. This can lead them to make the wrong choice when they go shopping.

In this article, we will be shedding light on how LED headlight bulbs work, their key components, the performance that consumers can reasonably expect from them, and how to choose the right bulb for their car. Read on to understand why there is more to LED bulbs than brightness.

How do LED Headlight Bulbs Work?

The secret to the operation of an LED headlight bulb is the light-emitting diode or LED. A light-emitting diode is a device that emits light when an electric current passes through it. This light is the energy released by electrons in the diode as they move to an electron hole.

Front LED headlights in car.

All LEDs, including the ones you’ll see in your home or streetlights, follow this basic principle. Some unique aspects of how LEDs operate are:

  • Unlike halogen and HID technology, LEDs don’t need heat to produce light. This makes them more energy efficient.
  • The brightness of LEDs is lower at higher temperatures.
  • LEDs don’t heat the things around them because very little of their heat is radiated.
  • LEDs are usually marketed as being cool to the touch, but they still convert a lot of the energy they consume to heat. This is why good cooling solutions are required.

Main Components of LED Headlight Bulbs

Certain components must be present for an LED headlight bulb to work. These are:

  • The LED chip
  • A PCB
  • LED driver
  • A cooling mechanism

The LED chip is the heart of the LED headlight bulb. This is the actual device that emits light and it is made using a special semiconductor material. 

Different types of LED chips are used in car light bulbs today such as surface-mounted (SMD) chips, chip-on-board (COB) chips, and chip scale package (CSP) chips. These different chips each have their advantages and disadvantages.

There are different ways of assembling LED chips on the light bulb. Some feature only two large chips on opposite sides, while others have multiple chips on either side. Some bulbs even have chips on all four sides of the bulb. These are called 360 LED bulbs.

The PCB or printed circuit board, is the surface to which the LED chips are mounted. This board also serves as the electrical circuit that powers the LEDs. 

Close-up of green printed circuit board (PCB)

The LED Driver controls the voltage and current that goes to the LEDs. These drivers are necessary because LEDs have different power requirements compared to traditional bulbs. Drivers can be built into the bulb or they can be external

The driver converts the alternating current (AC) from the alternator to the direct current (DC) which is required to power LEDs. The driver also regulates the voltage and current to minimize fluctuations as this can affect the temperature of the LED and, thus, its performance.

The cooling systems used in LED bulbs are classified as active or passive. Active cooling systems use a fan and a small heat sink to keep the LED cool. Passive cooling systems only use a heat sink which conducts heat away from the LED chip.

Regular heat sinks are rigid and made using alloys such as aluminum 6063. Some heat sinks are flexible and are made using braided copper. Some LED bulbs also have a copper heat pipe. The fluid trapped inside the heat pipe transfers heat away from the chip faster than the solid copper metal.

How Long Do Car LED Headlight Bulbs Work?

LED headlight bulbs in the market today quote lifespans ranging from 30,000 to 50000 hours. This means they are likely to outlast your ownership of the vehicle. However, certain conditions must be met to achieve the maximum possible lifespan of an LED light bulb. 

These conditions include:

  • Installing the LED headlight bulb in a compatible housing.
  • Pairing the LED with the right cooling solution and the cooling solution must not fail, e.g., a stalled fan.
  • The LED bulb must be protected from high temperatures and moisture.
  • The power supply must be well-regulated.

Meeting these conditions can be a challenge if your car does not come with factory-fitted LED headlights. A housing designed for a halogen bulb may not be 100% compatible with LED bulbs.

Some LED lights may have smaller than optimal heat sinks so they are more compact. This will affect cooling. Issues with the driver or alternator can also affect the power supply to the chips.

LED headlight bulbs will still last around 8000 hours in less-than-ideal conditions, far better than halogen bulbs. However, the lifespan is just one of the things to consider when you want to buy the right bulbs for your car. 

How to Choose LED Headlight Bulbs

The number of LED headlight bulbs in the market today can make selection an overwhelming process. This is where our handy guide below can help. Here are some of the key factors you should consider when choosing your next LED car bulb.

1. Brightness

Brightness is the first consideration for many drivers. Many cars come off the factory floor with halogen headlights and many people find their light output inadequate. 

Car with bright headlights in dark street

Some LED bulbs are said to output over ten thousand lumens but the brightness of most headlight bulbs in the market is around 2000 to 4000 lumens. For comparison, halogen bulbs put out 1000 to 1500 lumens. 

At between 2000 and 4000 lumens, your headlights will cast enough light for you to see the road ahead without blinding other drivers.

2. Beam Pattern

The pattern of the beam from an LED headlight is another key consideration. Getting the right beam pattern requires the right bulb and headlight housing. This is why some LED bulbs are said to perform better in projector-style headlights. 

The correct light beam pattern is also determined by your location. Headlights in the US use the DOT standard while those in Europe use the ECE standard

3. Color Temperature

LED headlights can achieve a wide range of color temperatures but most of the bulbs in the market have color temperatures of between 4300K (warm white) and 6000K (cool white). Some experts recommend choosing a color temperature of 5000K to 6000K for the best visibility. 

You can also get LED bulbs that offer color temperatures below 4300K and above 6000K. However, the yellow light at around 3000K doesn’t offer great visibility and the light at 8000K and above can be more blinding to other drivers, and may offer worse visibility plus eye strain.  

Vehicle with blue color headlight bulbs

4. Compatibility 

Automotive headlight bulbs have different power requirements (wattage) and different bases. Some bulbs won’t be powered correctly in your car while others won’t even fit in the socket.

Additionally, some bulbs are manufactured for single-beam headlights while others are for dual beams. These two are not interchangeable and this applies whether you’re fitting LED, halogen, or HID bulbs. 

Confirm the specifications of your headlight bulb so you can choose a compatible LED bulb.

5. Manufacturer

If you choose the right LED light bulb manufacturer you can be confident in the claims they make about the performance of their products. Many headlight bulbs in the market promise more than they can deliver and it is easy to end up with a disappointing experience.

How Do I Know if My Headlight Bulb is LED?

If your car doesn’t already use LED headlights, you may need an LED conversion kit to use LED headlight bulbs. There are several ways to know if your headlights are LED such as:

  • LED lights don’t have glass bulbs like xenon and halogen lights.
  • LED bulbs have small yellow chips mounted on opposite faces of a, typically, flat surface. 
  • An LED bulb may have a fan at the base or a solid base with fins.


LED headlight bulbs are rapidly becoming the main headlight solution for many drivers. These bulbs can last as long as your car while outperforming HID and stock halogen bulbs in many aspects. 

Getting the best out of an LED headlight bulb requires installation in compatible housing and a cooling system that will remain reliable for the bulb’s long lifespan. To choose the right bulb, you’ll have to consider additional factors beyond lifespan such as manufacturing quality.

Get Your LED Headlight Bulbs from Carlightvision

When you need a manufacturer who can stand behind their products, Carlightvision is the company to call. With more than 15 years of headlight manufacturing experience, we continue to serve many brands with our high-quality and customizable products. Check out some of our product offerings here and contact us for more information on our manufacturing capability.


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Hey there, I'm Mark Yang, Hope my blog posts can help you. I have been in the car light field for more than 20 years. So if you have any questions, I'm always happy to help you.
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