3 Ways to See Better—A Guide to Modern Automotive Lights

If you own an older car, you may have thought about upgrading your headlights before. There are many reasons to want newer lights on your vehicle: styling, safety, and peace of mind typically top the list.

You have several options when looking at modern automobile light replacements. Let’s examine the pros and cons of three of the most popular lighting options on the market.

H4 Halogen

One of the simplest drop-in updates you can make to your vehicle’s lighting is replacing your older sealed-beam headlights with a set of H4 halogen units. H4 bulbs use a dual tungsten filament and halogen gas, which generate a much brighter light than that of the conventional headlights used on many automobiles before the 1990s.

Making the switch is simple: you can either swap out your older bulb for an H4 bulb that fits in your vehicle’s socket or replace the entire headlight unit with an H4‑compatible design (more common on older vehicles). If your car or truck is pre‑1990, make sure that your wiring system can handle the extra power required by the halogen lights so that you don’t run into overheating or other electrical issues. You may have to add a relay to deal with the stronger draw.


High-intensity discharge (HID) headlights are a step above halogen when it comes to brightness. Most aftermarket HIDs use xenon gas and a higher voltage arcing from one pole to another to create a whiter beam that looks more natural on the road. Some cheaper units emit a bluish glow, but HID colour ratings can run the gamut from soft to harsh hues.

HID installations are more complicated than H4 upgrades because of the hardware required to support their high voltage. In addition to the bulbs—and headlight housings that can handle the heat they generate without melting—you’ll need igniters and ballasts to regulate the electrical load properly, which in turn require a safe mounting spot under the hood and enough juice to feed them. Finally, keep in mind that aiming these headlights so that they don’t blind oncoming traffic is sometimes a challenge for aftermarket kits.


LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, are a newer headlight technology that avoids most of the heat and all of the power draw issues associated with HID and H4 designs. LED bulbs are essentially plug-and-play with the vast majority of automotive headlight sockets (excluding sealed beams, which require the same replacement process as H4 bulbs), and they’re relatively inexpensive.

LED bulbs come with a few caveats. The first is that, since these lights draw so little power, some cars (particularly luxury models) will think you have a burnt bulb and issue a warning on the onboard computer.

Then there are the heat sinks that come with LED bulb kits, which need to be mounted someplace where they can get hot without doing any damage. Finally, the bulbs you’re using have to be compatible with the stock reflectors in your lights. Since LEDs emit light from a small diode rather than an entire bulb, how they interact with your housing reflectors will determine the quality of their forward illumination.

With these tips and some basic research, you’re sure to find the right lighting upgrade for your vehicle.

Check out all the lighting products available on napacanada.com, or trust one of our 600 NAPA AUTOPRO shops for your car routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on cold engine starts, chat with an expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

By Benjamin Hunting

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