What is Wrong with $20 LED Bulbs?

What is Wrong with $20 LED Bulbs?

It has come time to replace your car or truck’s headlights and you are on a bit of a budget. Nothing wrong with that! Car parts are almost never inexpensive when you need them to be. Nevertheless, you take a trip to eBay or Amazon and see the wide range of sub $50 LED bulbs that promise astronomical light for a few bucks. Seems too good to be true, and that is because it is!


These bulbs cost so little for a reason. Poor build quality, cheap materials, sold at a variety of low-end price points, all while flooding the market with these bulbs that set unrealistic expectations for what a consumer should expect out of an aftermarket LED bulb. We want to ensure that you can shop smart and get what is best for your vehicle and application.


Many of these cheap and inexpensive LED bulbs on the market cut corners to make their products cost less. As a result, you are getting a product that can be flawed in a way that will keep you buying more bulbs or cause damage to your vehicle. We highlighted a few of the most common ones that you will find, but of course, there are always more.

Feel free to comment on your experience using cheap LED bulbs down below.

  1. Chip Positioning

LED bulbs are aimed to perform in a way that mimics their OEM halogen counterparts but with an increase in light output. The best LED bulbs will have their chips aligned in a way that matches the filament positions on the halogen light.

Without this consistency, the LED bulb will produce terrible beam patterns with no consistency in its projection. LED bulbs do not perform their absolute best in a reflector housing, so it becomes important for them to replicate the way the OEM bulb emits its light.

The bad beams emitted by those poorly constructed LED bulbs can cause several problems. The biggest one is just general poor visibility. You will find that the light may be powerful, but the way it is projected by your headlights just does not give you the visibility you need. The beam pattern could be too concentrated or too broad in its projection causing the light to have no true hotspot.

With a scattered beam pattern, it will affect the visibility of oncoming traffic. Most people think it is the brightness that blinds drivers, but it is the poor beam pattern direction that leads to this issue. These bulbs typically are not built with this in mind.

  1. Build Quality

The other hallmark of these cheap bulbs is their poor build quality. As efficient as LED bulbs can be, even the best LED bulbs can get warm. It is incredibly important, as a result, to have a built-in cooling system. LED bulbs will utilize something called a heat sink to combat the bulb from overheating.

Some bulbs, like the Morimoto 2Stroke, will use an internal fan that sucks in cool air and emits the warm air the bulb generates. This allows for a cycle that keeps the bulb at a consistent operating temperature. Other instances show external fans, like that on the GTR Lighting Ultra 2, that just expel the heat from the bulb altogether.


In the case of the marketplace bulbs, their heat sinks will be too small for the bulb to emit the heat it needs to stay cool, entirely non-existent, or the materials that are used to construct the heat sink are not able to withstand the heat of the bulb. Sometimes all three lead to the bulb burning out and even melting. You really do not want this to happen as it could fry your wiring or destroy your headlight. At a minimum, you will have to habitually replace your headlight bulbs, costing you in the long run.

  1. Wiring

Wiring is incredibly important when it comes to any kind of lighting application. Some LED bulbs will come with a driver that gives the bulb the type and amount of electricity it needs from the car to power it. On the flip side, you may have something simple with just the bulb and wire connecting to the factory connector. In this case, the driver is built into the body of the bulb.


That is what results in bulbs overheating or limiting the power of the bulb in order to prevent it from overheating. Drivers may be clunky but are far better for dealing with LED bulb power regulation than the poorly constructed built-in drivers.

There also comes the issue of faulty connections and wiring that claims to be waterproof but does not have connecting points to seal off water. The best waterproof connections are the waterproof ‘O-Ring’ that screws into place on top of connecting the two wires. Essentially, there is a lock surrounding the wire connection to keep out the water.


Waterproofing is not an issue that is strictly limited to bargain bin LED bulbs but is certainly more common with bulbs found all over marketplace websites.

Lastly for wiring, any sort of bulb with exposed wiring or multiple cables, is just an invite for electrical issues down the road. We strongly recommend you find out how the bulbs install before making a purchase. This is to ensure that the bulb you purchases does not short or cause damage to your vehicle.


  1. Lumen Output Claims

This one always gives us a chuckle. Many of these bulbs will throw around big numbers to get someone who is not especially knowledgeable of LED bulb technology to buy it. They want to make you think that big numbers mean big outputs and big deals. These lumen counts are just physically not possible.

Bad Amazon Bulb

In our tests, we have found that these high lumen bulbs are worse than the low lumen output bulbs. Sure, they are bright at first, but then those problems we mentioned before will end up being the death of the bulb. Typically, it is the heat sink that just cannot withstand the bulb’s power, causing it to burn out or even melt!


These cheaply produced and cheaply sold bulbs are everywhere creating problems for the people who use them and other drivers who must face the glare. You are better off getting OEM replacements than going with these kinds of bulbs.

If you have the means, we strongly recommend going with a set of quality LED bulbs. Here we have a huge range of LED bulbs for sale that fit several vehicles. If you do not know the bulb size you need, enter your car or truck’s year, make, and model and we will show you everything that will go with your ride.

If you have any questions about the products mentioned here or just want to chat, reach out to our experienced customer service representatives at support@theretrofitsource.com. Feel free to drop us a comment below letting us know your experiences using marketplace LED bulbs.