Xenon Headlights Explained
During your car-buying search, you may come across “xenon headlights” among the features of many higher-spec and prestige cars. But what exactly are they, and what are the benefits of them over conventional headlights? Here’s the lowdown:
What are xenon headlights?
It goes without saying a good set of headlights can vastly improve visibility at night, helping to avoid accidents. Xenon headlights, also known as High Intensity Discharge (or HID) lights, are becoming increasingly common, in particular on higher-spec and prestige cars. They emit a whitish-blue light that lights up more of the road than traditional halogen lights
How do xenon headlights work?
Here’s the clever bit; xenon is what’s called a noble gas, a clear, odourless element that’s very stable under typical conditions on Earth - very much like helium!
Traditional halogen lamps emit light by passing a current through a filament and creating huge electrical resistance. Whereas, light in a xenon unit is produced by an electrical arc, (basically just think of it as an electric current,) which jumps from one contact to another whilst immersed in a gas - in this instance xenon. The xenon gas amplifies the brightness of the light, which helps it quickly reach the temperature required to emit a high-intensity beam.
What are the benefits of xenon headlights?
Aside from illuminating more of the road ahead, xenon headlights also have a greater lifespan than halogen units. Because of the constant changing in temperature of the filament in a halogen bulb, this causes it to become more fragile and can “blow” at any time. Xenon headlights don’t have a filament, so can last a lot longer.
And the downsides?
Due to the high intensity of xenon headlights, they can dazzle other drivers. Car manufacturers have resolved this by using self-levelling systems to prevent the beam from pointing too high. Some cars automatically adjust their lights to prevent dazzling oncoming traffic. In many cars with xenon headlights, you may notice the lights “dancing” about when you turn on the ignition – this is a calibration pattern to ensure the lights are positioned correctly.
What are the alternatives?
Many high-end cars now come with LED lights,which light up the road more effectively and also reduce glare by focusing more light on the road
Laser headlights are a relatively new innovation in production cars, and have featured on the Audi R8 and BMW i8. These are even more accurate and intense than LED lights and are superior in better at reducing glare.
Should you buy a car with xenon headlights?
Many higher-spec and high end cars come with xenon headlights as standard, rather than as an optional extra, but given that the pros outweigh the cons, there should be no doubt about buying a car with them.
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