How long do LED headlights last? 1 Thing That Will Kill Your Bulbs Fast!

I won’t beat around the bush.

There is no definitive answer to the question of how long do LED headlights last. The answer will depend on a variety of factors including

  • brand of the bulb
  • efficiency of the heat sink
  • operating hours of the LED bulbs

how long do led headlights last

3 Things that Determine how long your LED Headlights last

  • Manufacture – Here’s the truth, you want to buy from a trusted manufacture that has been around for a while. With the invention of the internet there are tons of companies out there peddling cheap Chinese goods. Stick with a trusted brand like Morimoto, Philips or Hikari.
  • Price – You get what you pay for. If you buy a Hyundai, don’t expect it to perform like a Maserati. Same with LED headlights. There are $1,000 kits available and they will last longer than the $20 kit you buy off eBay.
  • Temperature – As we’ll discuss later, heat will toast your bulbs fast. If you live in a hot environment, your LED headlights ain’t gonna last as long!

Heat is the Primary Killer of LED Bulbs

Make no mistake about it. Excess heat will not only kill LED headlight bulbs, but the same holds true for halogen and HID headlights.

LED Circuit Board

The problem is not the diodes or the bulbs itself.

When it comes to LED headlight bulbs, most of the heat is generated by the complex maze of circuitry at the base of the diodes. In fact, it is easy to say that LED bulbs are capable of lasting more than 50,000 hours of operation. However, in the case of cheap kits, the fans aren’t powerful enough to cool the circuitry which is why they fail sooner than 50,000 hours.

 High-quality LED headlights may last the life of the vehicle. 

The circuits that power the bulb are a different story. Want to know the truth about most aftermarket LED headlight bulbs? The diodes or the bulbs are not the problem. The weakest link in the kit is the circuitry, which is the part of the bulb that produces immense amount of heat.

If the circuits are not cooled effectively by the heat sinks or cooling fans, there is no way to expect a typical LED headlight to last 50k hours. It is simply not possible.

LED Headlight Degradation

Unlike halogen or HID bulbs that will simply stop working or burn up, LED headlights react or degrade in a certain way. As the diodes or the circuitry burn up, the maximum brightness of the LED bulb will tend to get lower. They will still light up, but the light output will be dimmer than usual.

 

But if your car is equipped with LED headlights from the factory, how will you know if it’s time to change the bulbs? The general rule is to change the LED bulbs once the brightness level is less than 70% of the original light output.

 

Again, the primary enemy for LED headlight degradation is excess heat. This is the reason why it takes careful planning to upgrade from halogen to LED headlights, especially if using a commercially-available aftermarket LED kit. New cars have headlight housings that are specifically intended to accommodate LED bulbs. This will take into account the amount of space required to accommodate the bulbs and heat sinks along with the design and orientation of the lens.

led heatsink
The Heatsink is a vital part to making your LEDs last!

The Heatsink is Critical to the Life of your Bulbs

So if you are planning to buy an aftermarket LED headlight conversion kit, it is important to consider the heat factor. While it’s true that halogen bulbs are hotter, most of the heat is generated on the surface of the bulb. The same doesn’t hold true for a typical LED headlight bulb. All of the heat is generated on the circuits, and not in the diodes.

In order to displace or vent out the heat, the circuits will rely on heat sinks or cooling fans, which can take up a lot of space under the hood. The complexity goes further if you consider the heat sink should not be in direct contact with other components, which runs the risk of melting or damaging the surrounding area in the headlight.

If the heat sink is not relocated properly, or if the circuitry is not designed with a quality cooling system, the LED headlight will degrade significantly faster, which also means it won’t last as long as expected.

 

Are LED headlights capable of lasting longer than HID or halogen bulbs?

Yes.

LED bulbs are capable of lasting ten times longer than a halogen bulb. In the case of HID or high-intensity discharge headlights, LED bulbs still have an edge in terms of longevity.

  • Halogen Lights = 500 hours
  • HID Lights = 2,000 hours
  • LED Lights = 8,000 hours

(on average)

EricTheCarGuy did a good video showing the light difference output between these style of lights if you’re interested. Video below:

Halogen bulbs can typically last anywhere from 450 to 1,000 hours. Of course, a lot of this has to do with actual usage. If you don’t do a lot of night driving, halogen bulbs are the better choice. It can last longer and not burn a hole in your pocket when it’s time to replace the bulbs, which will only happen once or twice every two or three years.

But if you tend to drive in the night much longer than average, you can expect to replace the halogen bulbs at least once a year.

On the other side of the spectrum, HID headlights produce less heat and have a longer lifespan. Most HID kits have an average lifespan of 2,000 hours, which is double the lifespan of a halogen bulb. High-quality HID headlight conversion kits can even go for as long as 8,000 hours before needing a replacement.

But if you constantly drive in the dark and you’re concerned about longevity, it is hard to beat LED headlights when it comes to lifespan. The great thing about LED headlights is the virtually unlimited lifespan, provided that the system is specifically designed and engineered for automotive applications. LED bulbs are more energy efficient and requires less power to produce the amount of brightness.

In a typical HID headlight kit, the ballast requires 35 watts of power to produce the desired light output. But in an LED bulb, the decrease in power consumption is significant enough to save fuel in the long run.

Nissan GTR with custom LED Headlights
Image source: FlyRyde on Flickr – Sweet Nissan GTR!

Should I upgrade my halogen headlights to LED?

It depends. While most aftermarket LED headlight conversion kits are designed to be a plug-and-play device, it’s not as simple as it sounds. The heat sink in the LED bulbs should be positioned in such a way to allow the system to vent out heat without damaging neighboring components.

LED lights are also more expensive and if you buy a cheap kit, they can blind other drivers or decrease your road visibility!

But if what you’re after is improved visibility, have the $$$ to invest, LED headlights are the best choice provided that the heat issue is kept in check.

If you’re not sure how to address this issue, you can either consult a professional installer or choose HID headlights instead. For what it’s worth, most HID headlights can produce the same level of brightness as an LED bulb at the expense of consuming a tad more power.

Consider the Headlight Housing

projector vs incandescent lens
You may need to change your Headlight Housing before installing LEDs

If you have an older vehicle or don’t have LED lights in your car yet, STOP!

Don’t just rip out your old Halogens and try to slap in an LED light. You may need a Retrofit Headlight Housing. Because of the targetted way that LEDs shine throw light, they often require specialized headlight housing to target the light.

If you add in an LED to your old housing, the light pattern could scatter and burst. This could blind other drivers and make your visibility less!

We wrote a guide to installing LEDs in Car Headlights that you should read if you’re not familiar with retrofitting vehicle LEDs.

 

 

 Pros to LED Upgrades 
  • LEDs emit less heat and are more efficient
  • LEDs are directional and can focus more light over a given target area
  • Longer lifespan (often the lifetime of your vehicle!)
  • Brighter Lumens and look cooler (yeah man!)
 Cons to LED Upgrades  some bad stuff

 

 

Sources:

https://www.theretrofitsource.com/blog/halogen-vs-led-vs-hid-vs-laser/

https://auto.howstuffworks.com/under-the-hood/car-part-longevity/headlights-last.htm

 

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