How HID Headlights Work & How to Upgrade to HID Headlights

Headlights are one of the most important features on any motor vehicle. While the average driver is likelier to think of the engine, wheels and passenger compartment on the shortlist of automotive essentials, headlights are close behind in terms of usefulness. Even though you don’t need headlights to actually run a car, you must have them to drive anywhere after dark. So if your driving times include both day and after-dark, like it does for most people, headlights are the vehicle part that make roughly a third of your driving commutes possible.

On today’s motor vehicles, headlights come in two basic types: halogen and xenon. Halogen bulbs are the long-established type of light that’s inexpensive and familiar to the majority of older motorists. Xenon headlights, by contrast, are a newer type of light that has swiftly grown in popularity among drivers as well as manufacturers.

That said, let’s take a look at some of the differences between HIDs and halogen bulbs as well as whether it’s beneficial — and possible — to upgrade your headlights to xenon.That said, let’s take a look at some of the differences between HIDs and halogen bulbs as well as whether it’s beneficial — and possible — to upgrade your headlights to xenon.


According to feedback from vast numbers of motorists who’ve made the switch from halogen to xenon headlights, most agree that the latter are indeed better. Granted, the answer to a question like “are xenon headlights better” would be entirely subjective. But if we attach the subjective word “better” to objective qualities like brightness, performance and lifespan, then we can objectively conclude HID headlights are superior to halogen lights by all conceivable measures.


For starters, let’s talk about brightness. As the majority of motorists would agree, the brightness level a pair of lights will offer is the most important quality for any type of headlight. With xenon headlights, you can get anywhere from three to five times the brightness level you would with standard halogen lights. As such, HIDs are the brightest replacement car headlight bulbs on the market.

Without a doubt, brightness is the most important quality headlights can offer when you take your car out onto the road, particularly during the hours when you need them. As the sun goes down, HIDs allow you to navigate turns with greater confidence and parallel park in tight spaces with a clearer eye for your surroundings. Even during the daytime when you pull into dim-lit garages, HID headlights can make the experience of parking your vehicle a whole lot easier.


In the night time, the brightness of xenon headlights makes driving far more manageable. During graveyard commutes between towns and cities, HID brightness can offer an added sense of security as you spend long stretches driving on intrastate and interstate highways. Likewise, xenon lights make it easier to navigate back roads after dark. If a long rural road is sparsely lit, the brightness of your xenon lights will make the road ahead clearer. Moreover, HIDs make it easier to drive steep, winding hills after dark with complete confidence.

As part of the clarity that xenon brightness offers during evening, late night and early morning commutes, HIDs make driving a whole lot safer. For you as well as your fellow motorists, xenon lights provide a clearer picture from further away in times and places where light is otherwise scarce. Even if no one else within a mile radius is driving with xenon headlights, your lights will make the driving experience safer for yourself, as well as those around you because they’ll have an easier time spotting your vehicle from any direction.


With xenon headlights, you’ll be able to see oncoming drivers in the dead of night on the darkest back roads. If a motorist happens to be intoxicated, the reckless nature of their driving will be clearer and evident from a greater, safer distance, which will give you time to pull your car away from that driver’s trajectory. Additionally, HIDs make it easier to read driving signs on dark roads. That way, you’re better equipped to navigate unfamiliar routes that could possibly contain bumpy terrain and dead ends.

A further benefit of the clarity and safety that HID brightness offers is the level of farsightedness you get during nighttime commutes. This ability to see things instantly and more clearly from greater distances can help you prevent disasters and get to your destination in less time, and also cut down on fuel costs.

For instance, if you’re driving in dim-lit hillside or back country roads, xenon lights will help you spot crossing deer and opossums. Likewise, you’ll have a better sense of when to slow your vehicle in areas populated with such animals. With this added sense of where you’re heading on late night commutes, you’ll make better driving decisions and avoid fuel-consuming wrong turns and unintended detours. Simply put, HIDs are the best headlight bulbs for night driving.


With the growing popularity of HIDs among motorists, a growing number of people are asking one simple question: Are xenon and halogen bulbs interchangeable? More specifically, can you replace halogen headlights with HIDs? While the latter is no doubt the better option when it comes to headlights, replacing the old with the new is a more complicated matter because of how certain vehicles are designed to position the direction of light from particular bulbs.

On older vehicles that by and large use halogen bulbs, the filaments are directed to interrelate with the reflector and refractor components in the headlight enclosure. That means the direction the light beams from a pair of halogen headlights is designed internally to be very specific in its aim. The purpose here is to position the light in a way that makes roads and surroundings appear with clarity in the dark, but also to make the light bearable — as in noticeable but not blinding — to oncoming motorists.

Consequently, HID headlights could fail to properly beam in older vehicles that were built to house halogen bulbs. To this day, few upgrade kits have been developed with any degree of light placement or shielding. This means if you buy a HID kit with the intention of changing out halogen bulbs on an older vehicle, the results could be problematic on the road. The new lights would very likely beam too high and impose blinding light on other motorists at intersections and along narrow, two-way streets, as well as in the rear-view mirrors of drivers ahead.

The way around this potential problem is to purchase HID headlights that have been designed to beam properly from older vehicles. As the leading name in the retrofitting industry, The Retrofit Source Inc. has supplied xenon headlights for a vast range of vehicle makes and models. If you’re looking to replace halogen headlights with HIDs, don’t simply buy from any source. Instead, buy HIDs that are compatible for older vehicles from The Retrofit Source.


As with halogen lights, xenon lights are named after the gas within that particular bulb type. Meanwhile, HID is short for high-intensity discharge, which is how xenon lights function. Basically, HID headlights beam a light-emitting plasma that forms through a combination of xenon gas and vaporized salt, which are activated on an arc by a ballast in the range of 30,000 V and sustained in the voltage range of 80 to 100 V.

Halogen headlights, by contrast, are incandescent, so they are lit with heat — which happens to be the bulb’s main weakness. Specifically, the light consists of a filament that’s electrified with heat, while halogen gas safeguards the filament and makes the bulb last reasonably long. It’s a simple process, and this accounts for the low-cost pricing and automotive ubiquity of halogen bulbs. But even though halogen bulbs have long been an industry standard, they consume wasteful amounts of energy and generate undue heat just to stay activated. As such, halogen bulbs are an inefficient lighting option.

Due to the limitations and wastefulness of halogen lights, vehicle manufacturers are increasingly switching to HID headlights, which are more efficient and overall better for nighttime driving conditions.


The natural light supply the sun beams down is generally reliable for motorists throughout the U.S. during the hours of 9AM and 4PM, but daylight brightness before and after those hours can largely depend on the time of the year. From late fall to early spring, the streets can get relatively dark before rush hours. Consequently, the months of October through March are when the low-beam option is often most necessary.

So how do HID high and low-beam options work? Basically, when you need your headlights to be as bright as possible, you select the high beam option. Alternately, when you need a dimmer headlight, you select the low beam option. In afterhours driving situations where there’s little or no light around, the high beam option is essential. During the early evening hours of fall when the sky dims slowly, low beams are more appropriate, especially on well-lit thoroughfares and busy urban streets.

HID and halogen lights are not interchangeable, as the lights require separate bulbs. Cars and vans that come equipped with high and low beam functions generally contain two pairs of headlight bulbs. However, headlights are available that can be switched between high and low functions. Certain HID lights, for example, are made with both high and low beam options, so drivers can switch from one to the other according to the needs and appropriateness of a particular time and setting.


According to average estimates, HID headlights generally last 2,000 hours. That said, some of the most durable HIDs can last up to four times as long. When daytime driving hours are factored out of the equation, and evening/late night hours on the road are measured out in years, HID headlights will last anywhere from four to six years.

Depending on your driving frequency, you could end up getting quite a bit of driving time with a single pair of HIDs. For example, if you drive an average of one hour per day — 15 minutes commuting to and from work, plus 15 minutes to and from the grocery store or your evening social activities — and you subtract half that time as daytime hours when you don’t even need to use headlights, you would only be using up 180 hours of the HID lifespan per year. With a life expectancy of 2,000 hours, you’d end up getting nearly a decade of usage from that one pair of bulbs.

If you drive an average of two hours per day — 30 minutes en route to your job and back, plus another 30 for shopping and errands or leisure — you would use up only 360 hours of HID life every 12 months. Even if you only get the minimum 2,000-mile life expectancy from your headlights, you’d still be able to enjoy approximately five years and six months of usage from that one pair of bulbs. Not bad.

At the high-use end the spectrum, you could still get a generous amount of driving time with the same pair of HID headlights. For example, if you live in a motor-intense state like California and drive an average of 65 miles per day — commuting between Burbank and Santa Monica for work, and also hitting the Sunset Strip for nighttime activities — you would rack up roughly 23,400 miles per year. If only a third of those hours are spent driving after dark, you would only be using your HIDs for 7,800 hours within the average 12-month period. You’d get at least a year’s worth of life from one pair of high-end, longer-lasting HID headlights.

The amount of time you’re able to get from a pair of HID headlights is more than double the number of driving hours and mileage you’re liable to get from halogen bulbs. On average, halogen headlights last only 1,600 hours at the low estimates and 3,000 hours at the highest estimates. When measured in terms of years, halogen headlights only last for around two or three years. At these rates, people who work graveyard shifts or who live in states where nighttime activities necessitate drives of great distances, a pair of halogen headlights might need to be changed out every six to eight months.


If you’re looking to increase your vehicle’s headlight brightness and power, the simplest approach is to upgrade to HID headlights. They offer the whitest of brightness on the market. The whiteness of HIDs is integral to their appeal among modern motorists, because the white brightness is closest to midday sunlight, so it’s the most natural quality of light for road navigation. As such, the prospect of commuting during late afternoon and early morning hours becomes less daunting in cars equipped with HIDs.

Depending on your situation as a driver, the benefits of using HIDs could range from wonderful to essential. For example, if you’ve only been driving for a short while, navigating dark roads could be daunting, but HID headlights can make dark commutes safer and easier.

Likewise, if you’re nearsighted, the superior whiteness of HIDs brings far greater clarity of vision to the driving experience. Then again, even if you’re a clear-eyed, seasoned driver, you’ll no doubt appreciate the daylight-quality brightness that HIDs provide in the dark of night.


Here at The Retrofit Source Inc. (TRS), our mission is to offer products of high quality, immaculate design and superior performance. With our passion and knowledge of automotive parts, we embrace a wide range of customer projects with enthusiasm for everything the work entails. When you’re ready to convert from halogen bulbs to HID headlights, come to us for your supplies.

The products we offer here at TRS have improved the experience of driving for thousands of customers over the past 11 years. When motorists take to the road with our retrofitting parts installed, they experience safer and more comfortable commutes during dark hours. By the same token, the headlights we sell our customers don’t beam into the windows of oncoming motorists because the lights in our inventory concentrate toward the ground, rather than straight ahead.

Another dimension to the lights we sell here at TRS is the modernism that our lights bring to motor vehicles. Our headlights incorporate modern technology into new and old cars alike, and therefore provide aesthetic options that satisfy a range of tastes. When drivers come to us asking how to upgrade their headlights to xenon, they end up getting quality in addition to style.

As the leader of our industry for more than a decade, our team here at The Retrofit Source Inc. has a more illustrious background of customer satisfaction than any of our competitors. When people come to us wondering how to increase the headlight power in their car, truck or van, we answer through the products we deliver. The result has been thousands of happy customers who’ve each come away with something especially suited to the functions and aesthetics of their own vehicle. Not only do we serve our customers at reasonable prices, but we also back up everything we sell should any questions arise.

There are lesser companies in the industry who’ve attempted to fool customers with inflated claims and false promises about the brightness and durability of certain bulbs. Here at TRS, we stick to the facts. The majority of products we sell have been tested in house and verified by third parties for performance excellence.

If you’re ready to upgrade the lights on your vehicle from halogen bulbs to HID headlights, the team here at TRS will supply new lights to perfectly suit the needs of your vehicle. When you take the road from there on out, you’ll enjoy boosted clarity and improved safety from behind the wheel on nighttime commutes. To learn more about what The Retrofit Source Inc. can provide for your vehicle, visit us online today.