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It may be obvious, but your car's headlights are a safety device and not all headlights are the same. Car manufacturers have been incorporating powerful LED headlights into their high-end offerings for some time, but mostly their cheaper cars – and especially the cheaper trim levels – are equipped with much weaker lighting. But sometimes a commuter wants to see more where he is going when the sun goes down. Finally, they look for a solution, starting with their local auto parts dealer. However, inserting LED headlight lamps for the spare parts market into OEM housings for conventional halogen units leads to dangerous glare for oncoming drivers. While LEDs can deliver more intense light at a higher end of the spectrum, most aftermarket devices also create a dangerous condition.
The major stationary auto parts dealers know this, which is why they tend to shy away from H11 LED lamps for the aftermarket that are not clearly marked for use in fog lights or "only for off-road use". Online, it's another world where H11 LED lamps on Amazon, eBay and Walmart websites don't contain the same warnings.
They can be run over for unspecified headlights and for good reason. In addition to quoting, the law enforcement officer may have the legal right to force you to remove the lightbulbs. Even more threatening is that you risk finding a vehicle as soon as the officer runs over you. With this in mind, it is advisable to keep a set of securely packaged OEM lamps in the glove box or trunk when using aftermarket LEDs.
With the rapidly developing LED technology, the industry is in a constant beta test state. While the light giants are incredibly careful when it comes to launching new products on the market, we as drivers are all guinea pigs on four wheels for brand manufacturers who lay out new onions like chickens that lay eggs. The lack of enforcement and objective, independent testing endangers lives.
OEM lever, yes. Consumer market? No.
Although Consumer Reports is testing new vehicle headlights, the topic of replacement LED lamps has not been covered despite the extensive resources of Consumer Reports. A comprehensive aftermarket LED replacement lamp test for consumer reports would make a great contribution to the clarity of the market. Tests by Consumer Reports with conventional replacement lamps showed that aftermarket devices can improve the brightness of the headlights, but much more. "The distance and how far a headlight shines is more determined by the reflector (behind the light bulb) or the lens (in front of the light bulbs). While you can change the light bulb, you do not change the distance, ie do not necessarily improve safety." "
High-end headlights are now a must when a car manufacturer wants the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) coveted Top Safety Pick + award for a particular car model. While IIHS conducts extensive headlamp tests with new cars and SUVs in its laboratory and on its test track, it has no official position on replacement lamps for the replacement parts market for older vehicles. The IIHS recommends that you make your purchase decisions for your vehicle carefully, taking into account not only the make and model, but also the specific equipment variant.
What can you do?
Do your lighting research before you make your next vehicle purchase. The headlight technology was usually bundled with the equipment variant. The basic model would be equipped with reflector headlights, whereby projectors in the middle and higher equipment range would be offered. Adaptive headlights are reserved for the top equipment variants. All this means that cheaper vehicles in America are often connected to reflectors in the entire range. (IIHS recently changed its test rules and will only give its coveted Top Safety Pick + models that offer the best headlights in all equipment variants.)
The Ford Fiesta is a typical example. While self-leveling projector headlights are available overseas in the Fiesta ST, Ford has equipped domestic Fiesta ST with poorly functioning reflectors.
Fiesta owners were stuck between a rock and a dark place. While they can customize an expensive imported OEM projector housing, these housings lack side marker lights, making them illegal for home use. The lack of a suitable solution forces Fiesta ST owners looking for LEDs to insert replacement LED bulbs into the original reflector housings, for better or for worse.
Although lamp replacement is relatively quick and easy, the crucial process of beam alignment is often overlooked. Consumer reports stressed that "headlamp alignment is the key to limiting / controlling the glare of oncoming and pursued drivers".
LED lamps make the problem worse. While halogen filaments provide 360-degree lighting, LED lamps typically emit light with a pair of consecutive 180-degree planes. If the LED alignment is skipped, oncoming drivers and drivers who are ahead of them in traffic are dazzled. Badly aligned headlights are particularly annoying in pickups and SUVs due to the vehicle height.
If you want to install aftermarket LEDs, do your homework. Find a reputable manufacturer and retailer. Buy by quality, not price. The optimal LED replacement lamps imitate the OEM halogen incandescent lamps as closely as possible. The worst light bulbs are a prick in the eye. And don't skip the alignment – take your time and get it right.
Is Washington, DC enforcement inevitable?
Aftermarket LED replacement lamps are illegal, but there is little enforcement at the federal level. We checked in at NHTSA and a spokesman told us the following:
"There are currently no interchangeable LED headlight bulbs that meet federal security standards. NHTSA is known to sell illegal retrofit kits to consumers, and works closely with US Customs and Border Guard to prevent shipments with them non-compliant headlamp bulbs get into the United States. NHTSA is continuously researching new technologies with the potential to improve road safety. "
The legitimate aftermarket industry wants to do the right thing. As an example, Holley recently launched a range of Bright Earth LED replacement headlights. Holley's online sales pages contain a proper and prominent disclaimer:
WARNING: THIS REPLACEMENT LED HEADLIGHT BULB KIT IS SOLD ONLY FOR OFF ROAD USE. This product should not be used on the street. This product has not been tested to comply with FHMVSS 108 or Canadian CMVSS108 automotive safety standards. It must not be used on the road or in any other application that requires compliance with FHMVSS 108, CMVSS108 or Title 49 Section 571.108 United States Code.
The biggest online retailers have to catch up. While some sellers include a disclaimer that aftermarket LED lamps should not be used on the street, this does not apply to Amazon sales sites.