Headlight, Tail Lights, and Aux Light Selection Guide

This page full of headlights, tail lights, and Auxiliary lights can be confusing and even at times intimidating. There are just so many lighting options out there. And depending on who you talk to you might hear that one type of bulb or light is way better than another.

In fact, this whole headlight business often becomes so confusing that you might be tempted to just head on down to the local auto parts store and just get some halogen bulbs. The price tag certainly looks nice, after all. But are those bulbs really what’s best for your wallet?

And which type of light really gives you the best illumination? Some guides and spokespeople might say HIDs or Xenons. What the heck is a Xenon, anyway? Sounds like something out of a Terminator movie. And aren’t Xenons just HIDs? Aren’t they the same darn thing?

We hear you concerns and queries. And we are here to help you navigate through the shadows of the headlight community. Let us illuminate you with this handy little guide to Headlights.

We’re going to start simple and with aesthetic aspects and move into the more complicated stuff including scientific data backed up by research.

Let’s start with looks though.

The Color or Temperature of the Light

Often times, those first dabbling in the aftermarket lighting community call us up saying something like this: “You all have any of those blue headlights?” Yeah, we’ve got those. And we know what you mean. That particular shade of light, by the way, is known as “Cool White.” I assume they call it show because it has cool, frosty tips, just like Vanilla Ice did, back in the day.

And that “Cool White” light might be just as questionable today as Ice is. Those light bulbs are known as HID’s or High Intensity Discharge. And they used to be all the rage. Don’t let us talk you out of it though. If you want ‘em, just say the word. HID’s are still great lights, especially compared to stock halogens.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point of this section is, if you just want a particular color in your high or low beams, then you’ll need to know which light gives you that color.

Now my personal preference concerning colored lights is to go get some Angel Eyes or Demon Eyes, also known as Halos. These are the circular or curved tubes of light that you’ll often see surrounding modded or high end stock vehicle’s headlights. See the pix and you’ll get what I mean.

 So let’s say you just have stock lights. Chances are, especially if you didn’t opt for a special trim level or if your vehicle is a few years old, you’re rocking halogen headlights.

Halogens and High Performance Halogens

These old school lights give off a color temperature known as “Soft White.” But to the naked eye, most of us see them as a shade of yellow. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the color of the light often is a great give away to what kind of bulb you have and what kind of bulb you might want.

In other words, if you want “yellowish” light, then you probably want to pick up some High Performance Halogens.

HIDs or High Intensity Discharge

These are the “blue tinged” lights I was talking about above. A few years back, these HIDs were super popular because they can be incredibly bright. Part of the problem with these though is that they are sometimes too bright.

But if you want that “Cool White” or “blue” tinged look, then HIDs are your jam.

Picture of Toyota HID Quadrabeam Headlight above courtesy of A. Bailey (CC by-SA 3.0).

LEDs or Light-Emitting Diodes

The newest innovation in headlights, LEDs are extremely popular right now. We’ll explain why below, but in terms of color temperature, these lights emit a “Daylight” white, which is ver close to the natural sunlight that flows down through our atmosphere.

There’s nothing wrong with making your decision based upon the color of the light alone. After all, if you really want your headlights to look or give off a certain shade of white light, then this might be as far as you need to go with this guide.

But many out there want to know more. I mean, the shade of light doesn’t exactly determine scientifically which of the lights above is the best of the best. Then again, this whole guide might be subjective. If you like LEDs, get some LEDs. If you really want the HIDs, go for it. But we’re gonna break down the specs and the pros and cons of each below.

Let’s Get Technical

What are the specs of Halogen Headlights?

How much does a single halogen bulb cost on average?

Halogen Headlights

  • Lumens: 1,400 Lumens

  • Power in Watts: 55 Watts

  • Longevity in Light Hours: 500-1,000 Light Hours

  • Time to Maximum Brightness: .5 Second

  • Range of Color Temperature: 3,200K "Soft White"Bulb

  • Temperature: 127 degrees (HOT!)

  • Cost: $10-20 each

  • Additional Notes: Most Stock Bulbs are Halogen.

What are the specs of HIDs?

How much on average does a single HID bulb cost?

HIDs (High Intensity Discharge)

  • Lumens: 3,000 Lumens (not always street legal)

  • Power in Watts: 35 Watts

  • Longevity in Light Hours: 2,000-10,000 Light Hours

  • Time to Maximum Brightness: .5 Second

  • Range of Color Temperature: 4,500K "Cool White"

  • Bulb Temperature: 95 degrees (still pretty warm!)

  • Cost: $25-50

  • Additional Notes: Requires HID Conversion Kit.

What are the specs of LEDs?

How much will a single LED bulb cost on average?

LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes)

  • Lumens: 1,600 to 2,000 Lumens

  • Power in Watts: 3-12 Watts

  • Longevity in Light Hours: 15K-50,000 Light Hours

  • Time to Maximum Brightness: .000001 Second

  • Range of Color Temperature: 6,000K "Daylight"

  • Bulb Temperature: Nada. Room temperature.

  • Cost: $75

  • Additional Notes: Heat sink included.

Now that you’ve got the specs, you may be wondering, what the heck does it all really mean?

We are so glad you asked.


What the hell are those?

Lumens are an industry buzz term--really--that is supposed to tell you roughly how bright the bulb is when it is fully lit. Here’s the thing though, while lumens aren’t a bad way to measure light brightness, they can be super misleading. First, not every manufacturer has a really good and proper way of measuring their lumens.

Diode Dynamics has a room full of highly scientific apparati that they use to properly measure their LED bulbs’ lumens. But many of the other manufacturers, especially cheap knock offs from China, probably don’t even measure their actual lumen outputs. They just put up a number they think sounds good. So be careful of this.

Furthermore, while lumens are scientific, your eyes are… different. See the thing is, just because a particular light source scientifically gives off a higher lumen count, this doesn’t actually mean that your eyes will be able to tell or that you’ll even notice the additional brightness.

So while Lumens are very scientifically significant and accurate when measured properly, you should not base your entire bulb selection solely off Lumens for these reasons.

Now that doesn’t mean lumens won’t give you a general idea of how bright a light is. For instance, based on our specs above, LED’s should be brighter than stock halogens. And HIDs are almost always brighter than LED’s. If max brightness is your jam, then you’ve got your answer. But again, max lumens probably aren’t the end all, be all when it comes to headlights.

Focused Light Vs. Glare

Here’s the real reason lumens aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. First off, in most states, Headlights with over 2,000 lumen output aren’t even street legal. And the reason actually isn’t the lumen level. The reason is glare.

If you’ve seen those sweet blue headlight beams coming at you down the road, you might first think they look pretty awesome. Until they get closer.

Many HIDs, including aftermarket HIDs, cause excessive glare, meaning that their beams radiate so far out and to the side of the vehicle that they end up getting into the eyes of fellow drivers, particular those of oncoming traffic. As you can imagine, this can be quite dangerous.

LEDs, especially top of the market ones made here in the States, like the SL1 from Diode Dynamics, are focused, meaning that while their lumen levels might be slightly lower, they are street legal and aim the light where it is needed. Not into the eyes of other drivers.

Power in Watts

Watts are really only necessary in this one sense: if your vehicle came with stock halogens, you have about 55 watts worth of power to play with.

Another way of looking at this though could be when it comes to power consumption. Now most aftermarket truck enthusiasts don’t really have to worry about how much electricity they are pulling, but if you are, then check this number out.

The big reason this is so interesting though has to do with efficiency. As you can see, the newer technologies, HID and LED, use less power than old school Halogens. Likewise, LEDs use less even that HIDs, even in comparison to how bright their light output is.

Still Watts aren’t that big of a concern probably for your vehicle. In your home, maybe. Truck, probably not.

Longevity in Light Hours & Cost

Here’s the big one. While Cost and Color of light and even lumen output means something, the truth of the matter is, you need to consider how long these headlights are gonna last. And that’s where the longevity in light hours comes into play.

This measurement is the average number of hours the light bulb will work until it fails. And even this number can be complicated because of what “fail” means. I know. That sounds weird. I mean, a failing light bulb must be one that has burnt out, right? One that no longer works.

Well, with halogens that would be totally correct. The failure of a halogen and even a Xenon HID is when the light stops turning on. But with LEDs, the “failure” mark is when the light output degrades down to about 70% of what it was when your first installed the bulb.

Consider that for a moment. Then look at those numbers. A halogen lights only going to make it about 1,000 light hours max before complete failure--not turning on at all. An HID, more like 2,000. A Xenon HID (or the new model of HIDs typically seen today with the bluer tinge) will make it around 10k light hours. But those LEDs could last upwards of 50,000 light hours! And even then, they are still likely working at about 70% brightness? That’s pretty amazing.

Based on average drive time using headlights in the US, if you bought a brand new vehicle today and installed a pair of Diode Dynamic SL1 headlights, chances are pretty good that those new headlights are not going to “fail” until after you’ve either traded in the vehicle, bought a new one or the engine / powertrain failed, or, heaven forbid, got into some sort of accident that totalled the vehicle or made it not worth repairing at the least.

The point is, those LEDs are likely to be the last headlight bulbs you ever buy. And if you’re like many of us, and you plan to buy a new car or truck and drive it until she goes ka-poot, then the first time you need to replace a headlight, an LED headlight purchase will make a great upgrade and investment.

Don’t like my anecdotes and explanations? Here’s some numbers that won’t lie to you. We broke down the average cost per light hour in pennies based upon the longevity rates and average cost per single bulb. Here’s what we came up with:

At the end of the day, we highly recommend LEDs both for this reason and for their lack of glare and great road illumination capabilities.

And finally, heat.

Bulb Temperature

Even though this is highly unlikely to affect your purchase decision, it is useful to know for a couple reasons. First, don’t touch halogen bulbs and HIDs that are on or were on recently. Halogens especially could burn your skin if you aren’t wearing protective gloves.

Personally, I don’t always think about this when messing around near my headlights, so I just thought I’d warn you.

Secondly, if a bulb has a high temperature, that really means it is less efficient. Heat released from a headlight is energy (in this case, electricity) that is being released as heat instead of light. You want light output, but you’re getting some resistance and hence heat. With old school halogens and incandescent bulbs, this was a duh. The light is being produced as a byproduct of this resistance.

But with modern technology, LED’s can emit light without this heat release. In fact, a well produced LED headlight, one equipped with a proper heatsink for the electronic components (just like you would with say your computer) shouldn’t put off any noticeable heat at all. This again tells you something about the quality of the product.

Quick Guide Complete

You want even more light guide goodness? Check out the Product Center for various articles on lighting and such, including The LIghting Guide for Your Custom Ride.

And keep in mind that while we think LEDs are a great investment for your headlights, we’ll sell you whatever you want. If you really have your heart set on HIDs, go for it. Just know that you will likely need a conversion kit too, and that’s going to add to the cost and the hassle of the install. But if you’ve just got have that new Xenon HID blueish light, then don’t let us try to talk you out of it.

Furthermore, on an old clucker, like my work truck, I still rock halogens. My thought is, she’s not got that many more miles left in her. But if I thought she could make it another 50-100k, the next time a headlight goes out, I might consider some SL1’s.

My point is, even though I think the LEDs are probably the best on the market today, by far, even then this decision has more to do with your vehicle and your personal preference than just what’s best. At the very least, I hope you learned something about lumens.

With that, we hope you enjoyed our short guide to headlights. When you’re ready to order, we hope you’ll make your purchase from us, here at Midwest Aftermarket. Our collection of headlights, pickup bed covers, truck running boards, and much more includes all the leading styles and brands. Midwest Aftermarket is the #1 online retailer for aftermarket truck and Jeep accessories, selling products at the lowest prices and providing the best customer service in the industry. With the goal to provide the highest quality product with the fastest shipping at affordable prices, look no further for your vehicle’s aftermarket accessories. From UTV’s to Jeep-fanatics to F150’s or Chevy Silverado’s, Midwest Aftermarket will give you the customer support you deserve.


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