I’d like to upgrade my car headlight bulbs. What should I use and how easy will this be?

car headlight bulbs

The humble car headlight bulb is one of the areas of your motor that probably should be easier to change than it actually is. Sadly, headlamps differ from car to car. Modern premium models, like the car in the picture above, use LED headlights. But most of us will be looking to replace a regular halogen bulb and there are some great products on the market. Read on to see the best.

Why swap bulbs?

Swapping bulbs could have a dramatic effect on what and how you see when it’s dark. Older cars usually had halogen bulbs. However, lighting technology has come on over the past few years. Experts claim that the latest xenon bulbs douse the road in up 150% more light compared with a standard halogen bulb. And beam patterns can be 50-plus metres longer. This will mean you won’t just see better; other road users will see you better too.

car headlight bulbs
These pictures by Ford show quite graphically how lighting has improved over the years

Which are the best car headlight bulbs?

Do an internet search for car headlight bulbs and you’ll be inundated with suggestions. Independent tests are a good place to start. The testers at Auto Express rate the Philips RacingVision (£28.99) as the best. They say it topped all but one of their tests and awarded it 100%.

In second and third spot in its tests were Ring Automotive’s Xenon 130 and Xenon 150. These cost £24.99 and £29.99 respectively. They are named because the maker claims they offer between 130% and 150% more light than a standard halogen bulb.

What is an H7 bulb?

car headlight bulbs

All the above bulbs come in an H7 fitting which is one of the most commonly used. It has a two-pin attachment to fit into the headlamp and is a single filament bulb. This means the bulb can be used for either main or dipped beam. But you need a separate bulb for each. To be sure of the type of bulb your car uses, check its user manual. Another likely fitting is an H4. This is a double filament bulb which means it can be both main and dipped beam. It has a three-prong attachment to the car.

How long do car headlamp bulbs last?

This depends on the bulb. As a rule of thumb, the higher the performance of the bulb, the shorter its life. A typical halogen bulb usually has a life span of between 500 and 1000 hours. However, xenon and LED lights have a significantly longer life. The life of a halogen bulb can be significantly reduced if the installer gets finger marks on it. The natural oils in a human’s skin can cause hot spots on the bulb.

How to change a headlamp bulb

On some cars, it’s a simple job. You simply unscrew the bulb and replace it. On others you have to remove the headlamp unit to change the bulb. On yet more you have to take the car to a professional. Study your car’s user manual. For example, on a 15-reg Volkswagen Polo, you can change headlamp (and indicator) bulbs yourself. However, you need to be confident with your DIY skills and be able to do the work somewhere that’s safe and dry.

Read how to help your car through its MOT test