Headlight Upgrades for Cars and Trucks

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Are you as confident driving your car or truck at night as you are during the day? Are your headlights penetrating the night darkness enough to give you time to react at speed? Can you even see where you’re going? If you answered no to any of these, then it’s time to look at your options to upgrade your headlights to give you better night visibility.
SEP 23, 2020

For a lot of years auto makers paid little attention to headlamps other than the design of their lenses. High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps arrived about a decade ago and are the gold standard in headlight performance but were limited mostly to upscale rides. Recently, LED has made an appearance as taillights, brake lights and daytime running lamps. There are also LED headlights and while they are an evolving technology, some have proven to be equivalent to HID rigs. Halogen lamps are the most common and are probably the reason you’re reading about headlight upgrades.

Headlight Upgrade Solutions 

So, how do you get more lumens on the concrete?  We’ll give you one no-brainer “modification” that is a low cost, low skill DIY “modification” and then discuss the more involved (and expensive) upgrading of headlight systems. 

  • Clean Foggy Lenses. If you are driving an older ride painted in clear coat then odds are your headlight lenses are not as clear, or maybe downright foggy, than they should be. It’s what happens to clear coat on plastic headlight lenses. There are several DIY kits that promise “lifelong” results. This writer has personally used a lifelong product to clean the lenses on a 2001 Chrysler Sebring…three times. The kits all provide the same thing. A series of wet sanding sandpaper in progressively finer grits, a spray on solvent, and clear coat with applicator. The more you sand, the better the results. My top picks are:
    • Home Depot: Great selection of wet sanding sandpaper, spray on transparent clear coat for plastic and painter’s tape for masking. Got the best results because I had plenty of materials.
    • 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System: Works OK and is priced right.
    • Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit: The first one I used and I was amazed at the results until 8 months later when the lenses became foggy again.

All you need to get this done is a kit, a source of water (an old Windex spray bottle works fine) and some painter’s tape to protect the metal headlight housing from accidental sanding. Patience and a strong right arm are also important.

"How to Restore Headlights PERMANENTLY" by ChrisFix

Upgrading from Halogen to HID or LED Headlights

The color of light plays a major role in how many lumens are generated. Halogen bulbs give off a warm yellowish color that is ideal for snow and fog (halogen bulbs are used almost exclusively in fog lights) but most people prefer cooler, crisper color that generates a whiter light. HID and LED bulbs easily outperform halogen in this area.

HID is a time-tested technology that involves sending a high voltage charge to the HID capsule (bulb) which contains xenon gas, metal, and other elements. The resulting chemical reaction creates a high lumen light that sometimes has a greenish or bluish tint to it. It provides great penetration and a reliable beam pattern. Installation is fairly complex and you definitely need a pro when working around a high voltage system.

Light Emitting Diodes (LED) are far less complex and significantly cheaper than HID systems. When LEDs receive an electrical charge, they react at the molecular level. This activity generates energy which manifests itself as blinding white light. The light is then focused through a yellow filter to get a reasonable “white light” appearance. They work best in projector type headlights and are not recommended for reflector types because the beam scatters creating glare to oncoming traffic.

LED is a new technology and everybody and their brother is into making headlights and that’s a problem. You have to do your homework to find an LED system that will perform consistently and deliver the performance you want.

So to help you out with both HID and LED systems, suggests you look at these top three LED performers;

  • SNGL Ultra
  • Diode Dynamics SL 1
  • S-V-4

These bulbs are all from reliable manufacturers and are the brightest in both projector and reflector type headlights.
For HID systems, check out these D3S (new eco-friendly bulbs with no mercury) type HID systems:

  • Osram Xenarc Cool Blue D3S
  • Xenon Defot 
  • Phillips 42v35

These three were compared to the OEM HID bulbs in a 2019 Dodge Durango and all exceeded the brightness of the factory equipment.
Want more options? Check out our listings of LED and HID systems on for other brands of interest!