Car Headlights

Replacing the standard warm-white top quality halogen light, commonly used for headlights, with other light sources is in my opinion not a good idea. 

Since their introduction in early 1990’s, more and more cars have been equipped with high intensity discharge Xenon Arc lamps. They’re about twice as bright as halogen headlights or more, and are said to improve visibility for the driver. But what few seem to have considered is how irritating they can be for meeting traffic:

– They’re blueish (around 4100K), which creates more confusion and distraction in an otherwise even traffic stream. Lights from meeting cars are not supposed to attract your attention by sticking out. And blue light is not good for the eyes. 

– An especially irritating feature is that they flicker and quickly shift shade from blue-white to purple-white and back as the car drives past, instead of giving a calm, even light like halogen does. This can be very distracting for meeting traffic.

– They’re very bright and glaring. That’s not good for for road safety. Being blinded and distracted in crucial traffic situations is not exactly helpful.

The Swedish Road Administration say they keep getting complaints from other drivers but can’t do anything about it since these lamps tend to get approved by EU as car manufacturers apply. A condition for this approval is that they must be precisely adjusted so as to avoid glare for others, but this is obviously not always done, or is easily maladjusted again depending on packing weight etc.

– Getting a xenon-lit car driving behind can be even worse than briefly meeting one, especially if it’s a van or SUV where the headlights come up higher. Having the inside of one’s car lit up like a stadium does not make for safe driving. 

If you’re considering switching to xenon, please be mindful of other drivers and consider staying with traditional halogen if possible. If you the car is already equipped with xenon, please make sure lights are well adjusted at all times.

Also beware of Faux Xenon, e.g. Osram’s Cool Blue – “the designer lamp”– a product that shouldn’t exist. Putting a blue filter on a standard halogen bulb is about the stupidest thing you can do. These should definitely be banned, as they are both energy inefficient and dangerous!

Nowadays, headlights in general are also much brighter than they used to be – manufacturers constantly boast about how much more light their product will give you:

* Osram Silverstar “Thanks to their special technology SILVERSTAR lamps illuminate the road with an up to 50% brighter light in the crucial zone 50 to 75 m in front of the vehicle than a standard lamp”

…and in the crucial vision zone of meeting traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists.

* Philips X-treme Power “Philips X-treme Power bulbs deliver up to an astounding 80% more light than standard halogens”

…right into the unsuspecting eye of everyone but the driver.

If the European Commission ever wanted to do anything truly useful, why not ban xenon lights as a safety hazard, faux xenon as a waste and hazard both, and set firm limits to how bright headlights can be?

Update 1: Now LED lamps have been introduced for car headlights. Very bright white light that at least doesn’t flicker and shift like xenon light, but it is still chillingly cool-white and quite glaring. For some reason, many SUVs are equipped with LEDs – which is an extra bad idea since the light is even more glaring coming from that hight.

However, using red and amber LED lamps as stop- and signal lights in the back of the car is a great idea! Producing coloured light while using practically no energy, is what diodes do best. 

Update 2: SCENIHR, the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, in its amended report 2011, page 72, actually mentions glare from meeting traffic as a real hazard for night drivers:

“Glare from bright head lights may induce accident” 

Update 3: YouTube video where the glaring property of LED headlights can be seen quite clearly:

Great article about the history of headlights:

History of Automotive Headlamps – From Acetylene to LEDs

And an informative comparison between halogen, xenon and LED:

Battle of the Headlights: Halogen vs. Xenon vs. LED


Energy Star wants more CFL subsidies

According to the article As C.F.L. Sales Fall, More Incentives Urged Energy Star products manager Richard Karney wants continued funding for CFL programs.

I find this rather stunning. Why should taxpayers and utility customers subsidise an arbitrarily chosen product with numerous quality problems and safety issues that customers don’t like, to give it an unfair market advantage over other products that customers prefer due to their safety, reliability, versatility and higher quality?

If a product is so unpopular and poorly designed that you have to give it away, isn’t that an indicator that it’s time to get back to the drawing board and focus on the mercury-free alternatives, making incandescent Halogen Energy Savers even more efficient, and LEDs brighter, cheaper, more incandescent-like and colour stable?

The N.Y. Times article also mentions its previous article about Halogen Energy Savers, Incandescent Bulbs Return to the Cutting Edge which says that in the U.S. these are sold exclusively at Home Depot (can’t find any in their online catalogue) and (obviously quite a bit pricier than here in Sweden where they’ve been freely available for a year). Isn’t this late introduction, high price and very restricted availability rather strange, considering the fact that you can buy cheap CFLs at the nearest gas station or supermarket? Does the lighting industry not want us to buy these new and improved halogen lamps which give the same top quality light as standard incandescent lamps but saving 20-50% energy?

What is it with CFLs that make them get all the special treatment, even though many are not more effective than the best halogen energy savers, contain mercury and have a long list of quality- and other problems?

Halogen Energy Saver Reviews

Here are reviews of retrofit halogen energy savers. Brief descriptions + my personal, subjective impressions of how they look in my home environment. (Note: prices are converted from SEK to Euro, include 20% VAT and may vary between countries.)

* 28W Osram E27 clear A-lamp

Info: CRI 100 (= full colour rendering). Costs about twice as much than its incandescent equivalent, uses about 20% less energy (though advertised as 30% less) and lasts twice as long.

Impression: Looks exactly like the 40W incandescent equivalent it’s supposed to replace, though slightly brighter and with a rather glaring light point so best for luminaires with a shade.

* 28W Osram Spot R50 E14 reflector lamp

Info: CRI 100. Costs only slightly more than its incandescent equivalent, uses 20-30% less energy and lasts twice as long.

Impression: Looks exactly like the 40W incandescent it’s supposed to replace. And when I say “exactly”, that means exactly and not “more or less similar”, since halogen is an incandescent light, only concentrated into a smaller inner bulb.

Update: Using near the front door turned out to cause too many vibrations for it to last very long.

* 30W Philips Master Classic E27 frosted A-bulb with infra-red coating and integrated transformer

Info: A low-voltage retrofit lamp that can be used in a standard mains-voltage luminaire. CRI 100. Costs over 10 times as much (€13) due to the built-in electronics, but then it lasts 3000 hours, so divide that by 3 and then deduct the 50% electricity savings and it’s not so bad.

Impression: This one too gave a nice warm-white incandescent light that looked bright enough to replace a 60W bulb, as it promised. I could not tell it apart from a standard 60W frosted bulb.

Update Dec 2011: I’ve not used this one very much at all, just as a desk light on those few occasions when I’ve worked on something not on the computer. Yet one day a few weeks ago it just died. I have definitely not used it anything close to 3000 hours. And this is the only type of incandescent bulb that will be permitted in the future, if the European Commission doesn’t change its mind. (OK, one bulb does not make a proper consumer test, I could just have been unlucky).

Update Jan 2013: This lamp was taken out of production and Philips has no plans of ever introducing it again.


More lamp descriptions can be found on this site: