Car Headlights

By Eric Christensen

September 4, 2013 5 min read

Car owners often take their headlights for granted, trusting that they will work when it gets dark and stormy. But no light bulb lasts forever, and eventually car owners will have to choose from a large variety of light bulbs and headlight-cleaning kits. With a little information, you can be confident that you are picking the right products for your needs and budget.

Halogen headlight bulbs are the most common option. They have a long lifetime (around 1,000 hours), and they are the least expensive (typically $12 to $15 per bulb). Although halogen bulbs produce bright illumination, they also generate a lot of wasted heat, so halogen bulbs are not the most efficient. Lastly, halogen bulbs can easily be replaced at home. Take care not to touch the glass of the bulb; the salt and oils found on human skin can cause damage.

Another option available for many makes and models are xenon bulbs, also known as high-intensity discharge bulbs. HIDs are more efficient than halogens; they last twice as long and are twice as bright. However, these benefits come at a price. HID bulbs are typically fives times as expensive as halogen bulbs. Installation can also involve an expensive, specialized kit. Additionally, the xenon gas in these bulbs produces a unique, blue-tinted light that some drivers consider distracting.

A third option is LED headlights. Once available only for luxury cars, LED headlights are becoming more common. These are a "Goldilocks" choice for car owners who want something brighter than a halogen bulb but do not want to pay HID prices. LEDs produce very little wasted heat and are more efficient than halogen bulbs. They also produce illumination brighter than halogen bulbs but not as bright, or with as much glare, as the HID bulbs. Currently, LED headlights are more expensive than halogen bulbs, but prices are falling, as is the cost of installation.

Regardless of which bulb you choose, you can boost visibility by cleaning your foggy headlights and removing the film and fog created by ultraviolet damage and pollution. Many cleaning kits are available, including cleaning kits and wet-sanding kits, but you can restore your headlights using only some rags, water and toothpaste.

The trick is to pick the right toothpaste. Jessy Ellenberger of says, "The plain white paste is definitely the best, especially those with baking soda added. Gel toothpastes are really sticky, so they don't wash off well, and they do not clean as well." McKay Christensen, creator of Tutorial Geek, advises car owners to look on the ingredient list for an abrasive such as aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate or silicas.

Begin by squirting some toothpaste onto your headlight. Ellenberger used a dollop the size of a quarter, and Christensen used a 6-inch stripe. Next, use a clean, cotton rag and scrub in a circular motion for a couple of minutes. Christensen says, "Apply a lot of pressure and speed while buffing. This can be quite tiring." Once the entire headlight has been buffed, use water and a separate clean rag to wipe off the residue.

Although the results will vary depending on your local climate and how often you drive, both Ellenberger and Christensen said the effects lasted for a few months. Ellenberger says, "I would absolutely recommend it over the kits sold in stores. You get really excellent results with very little work and money." But Christensen notes, "I think using toothpaste is good for the short term. The biggest advantage of buying a kit would be if it includes a (sealant). I don't think a kit would get your headlights much cleaner than toothpaste, but it would probably keep it cleaner longer."

It can be easy to overlook your headlights, until you find yourself with a burnt-out bulb or wishing your headlights shone brighter. Addressing these issues is a question of personal taste and cost, but if you keep these facts in mind, you can avoid getting intimidated the next time you visit an auto-parts store.

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