Cars with xenon headlights

Bright white light for driving at night: cars with xenon, or HID, headlights provide extra illumination - without dazzling other drivers

Dominic Tobin
Nov 14, 2018

The cars you see at night with bright, white lights are probably fitted with xenon headlights (pronounced zenon). Their strong beam and durability have made them increasingly common, although they are gradually being edged out by LED lights.

The extra visibility that they provide is a key safety feature at night, particularly on unlit roads where some traditional bulbs only provide illumination to a small section of road ahead of the car.

Xenon headlights are also known as high-intensity discharge (HID) lights. Their bright beams can dazzle other drivers, so cars must be fitted with self-levelling and cleaning systems to prevent this.


What are xenon headlights / HID lights?

Xenon car headlights (HID lights) help you see further at night because they are brighter than standard bulbs, with a whiter light that illuminates more of the road. Their brighter beam can dazzle other drivers, so cars with xenon lights must have headlight washers and a levelling system.

Xenon lights don’t have a thin wire filament that can snap, like standard halogen bulbs, so they tend to be more durable, even though they cost more in the first place. Replacing a damaged headlight can also be expensive

Xenon headlights: the good

✔  Bright, white light
✔  Long and wide illumination
✔  More durable than standard lights

Xenon headlights: the not-so-good

Expensive to buy & replace.
Can dazzle other drivers.
Use more energy than LEDs.


Which cars have xenon headlights?

There are currently 1322 cars listed as having xenon headlights available from BuyaCar. Brands include Dacia, Suzuki, Kia, Ford and Mercedes. Many high-specification cars are fitted with them as standard, but they are often optional on entry-level versions.

In addition, there are 9515 cars with LED headlights. These typically offer an even brighter and more precise white light.


How much do xenon headlights cost?

They aren’t cheap. Bulbs rarely fail, which is fortunate when you consider that they typically cost from £100. But the real real cost is if a headlight unit becomes damaged. The self-levelling technology that prevents light from dazzling other drivers doesn’t come cheap, so you’ll be charged between £500 and £650 to replace a single xenon headlight in a Volkswagen Golf. A standard halogen assembly is around £150.


How do xenon headlights work?

Xenon is the name of the gas used in the headlights. Electricity is passed through the gas, which produces a beam of light. This process is known as high-intensity discharge (HID). With no filament to burn out, bulbs can sometimes last for the lifetime of the car, and they also use less energy than a halogen bulb, which plays a small part in reducing fuel consumption.

Some xenon headlights are fitted with adaptive systems that can block sections of the light. This allows you to leave the lights on main beam. When a windscreen camera identifies an oncoming car, or a vehicle ahead, the relevant section of the light beam is blocked out, preventing other drivers from being dazzled, but maintaining maximum visibility elsewhere.

The brightness of the xenon light requires a special headlight unit. The clear cover is designed to direct the xenon light at the right level, while they are also fitted with self-levelling systems that adjust the beam every time the car is used.

This ensures that small height changes caused by the weight of passengers and luggage don’t affect the angle of the light, and dazzle other drivers. That’s why you’ll often see light dancing around in front of your car just after turning on the ignition, as the xenon lights calibrate themselves


Xenon or LED headlights?

LED headlights can be even brighter than xenon headlights, so you’ll be able to see further down the road, providing extra time to spot obstacles on dark roads.

The LED beams can be directed even more precisely too, preventing the dazzling of other drivers and making adaptive lighting systems even more effective.

These lights are even more expensive, than xenon versions to replace. Although they are increasingly available on mainstream cars, you’ll be charged around £1,000 to replace one LED headlight on a Volkswagen Golf.


Can I fit xenon headlights to my car?

Unless they were fitted from new, it will be expensive. Although there are xenon conversion kits, that allow you to fit xenon bulbs to halogen headlight units, these are generally illegal to use because they won’t contain all of the safeguards needed to prevent dazzling other drivers, such as self-levelling or washing systems.

The lens and cover of standard headlights is also designed for halogen lamp light. When used with a xenon bulb, it’s It’s likely to spread light widely and distract other drivers. That’s why cars with standard headlight units, fitted with xenon bulbs, will fail their MoT.

Guidance from the Department for Transport states that it is possible to legally fit aftermarket xenon lights, which must comply with European legislation on the construction and use of new cars. This would include having a headlight unit that’s been tested in a laboratory to prove that its light beam meets legal requirements; that includes cleaning and self-levelling functions; and that has been aligned correctly.


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