Best HID headlight bulbs to buy 2020
If your car’s HID headlight bulbs have gone on the blink, our round-up of the best replacements should be illuminating
HID headlight bulbs have a good reputation for brightness and longevity, lasting up to 10 years. But even this lengthy lifespan means many older cars have now reached the age where replacements are needed. In this round-up, we’ve found the best HID bulbs to buy when the original items fail.
With a fundamentally different design to traditional halogen bulbs, the illumination in a HID bulb is created by an arc of light between electrodes, instead of a glowing filament. Because of this, they run at a higher voltage, and while this often leads to many owners leaving the job to a garage, it's possible to replace many HID bulbs at home. Whatever you choose to do, it should be possible to select the replacement bulb yourself.
As the market for replacement HID bulbs has grown, performance versions have also been released, but are these worth the extra when typical HIDs are already two or three times brighter than a halogen bulb? Or is it better to buy a budget set of HID bulbs online for around the third of the cost of the top brands? We travelled to Osram’s test facility in Berlin to put a range of bulbs to the test.
How we tested them
We tested the HID bulbs using the same technique as our established halogen bulb tests, combining the light output measured 50 and 75 metres ahead of the car on dipped beam. HID bulbs have their own built-in ignition system and we burned them in for four minutes before testing to ensure a stable output was achieved. To ensure consistency, we also tested two identical bulbs and averaged their scores.
The bulbs were fitted into the projector unit for a BMW 3 Series, giving a clearly defined dipped beam, and we looked for the most even pattern with the fewest dark patches. We also judged the bulbs based prices for a single replacement, but it’s worth looking for discounts for buying in pairs.
Tested for comparison
Osram Night Breaker Unlimited H7Price: £17.99Beam: 86
To find out just how much brighter the HID bulbs are, we tried a set of standard Osram halogen bulbs in the light cluster for a Volkswagen Golf Mk6. With around 3,200 lumens emitted from the arc in a HID bulb, the halogen bulb’s 1,500 lumens certainly seems to pale in comparison. It makes a big difference on the road, too, with visibility tapering off noticeably past the 50-metre mark, as well as more dark and inconsistent patches.
Both the performance bulbs we tested stood out in the field, with the Osram just leading the way over the Philips. Either would be a great choice and the lead they held over the rest of the HID contenders was a surprise. Of the ‘standard’ HID bulbs, the Philips Vision would be our pick, especially due to the uncertainty over what you get when buying with Ring. The GE-engineered burners used in the Halfords and Ring products also perform well and are also worthy of consideration, too.
Read on for our list of the best HID headlight bulbs...
1st: Osram Night Breaker Unlimited Xenarc review
Verdict: 5/5Beam: 332Price: Around £50
Even to the naked eye, it was clear the performance Osram Night Breaker bulbs held an advantage over the standard HID bulbs in our test. Not only were they bright enough to illuminate the dark spot on the horizon, right in the centre of the road, but the light was even and symmetrical. Osram’s claims of 70% more light and a 5% whiter hue than standard bulbs are easy to believe, and there’s a noticeably cool blue beam. It's not cheap, but this is a superb bulb that’s worth the outlay.
2nd: Philips X-tremeVision review
Verdict: 4/5Beam: 307Price: Around £70
With the promise of around 50% more light than standard HID bulbs, the Philips look impressive to the eye. They create an even field of light and the spot on the horizon was easier to see than with standard bulbs. Impressively, they matched the Night Breaker at the 75-metre point, but they weren’t quite as good at illuminating the centre of the road at 50 metres. It’s possible to be tricked into buying fake HID bulbs online, so Philips has tackled the issue by providing a unique code on the pack to ensure authenticity and Osram is working on a similar anti-fraud system.
3rd: Philips Vision review
Verdict: 4/5Beam: 240.3Price: Around £50
Philips is our recommendation if you’re after a standard HID bulb, with its Vision taking third spot overall – although this was partly down to the inconsistency in the Ring units. There’s the same use of a unique code to ensure you don’t end up with a dodgy counterfeit and the beam was similarly well defined. With an asymmetric shape, light is still focused at the 50 and 75-metre distances, but one of the two bulbs we tried illuminated the kerb less brightly from 50 metres away.
4th: Osram Original Xenarc review
Verdict: 4/5Beam: 225.9Price: Around £50
The margins between the standard Philips, Halfords, Ring and Osram bulbs were extremely narrow, but the Osram Original Xenarc earned four stars by being consistent. When the two test bulbs were put through their paces, only a few points separated them and both performed well at 75 metres. At 25 metres closer to the car, the other standard bulbs were slightly better, but the Osrams threw impressive light on the horizon.
5th: Ring Xenon HID review
Verdict: 3/5Beam: 269.7Price: Around £65
Despite ordering our Ring Xenon HID bulbs through an online retailer and identical boxes arriving, the bulbs inside were different. Of the two, the GE-made burner performed better, and if both had been the same, the product would have been top of the standard bulbs. But, the Alite bulb in our second Ring box wasn’t as good and we had issues getting it to work with our BMW test car’s headlight connection, which could suggest a build-quality issue. It was even possible to see the difference in the headlight beam, with the Alite focusing further to the left than the GE bulb.
6th: Halfords HID Xenon Bulb review
Verdict: 3/5Beam: 230.5Price: Around £60
It was the same situation when we opened the Halfords HID Xenon Bulbs, with one of the identical boxes containing a GE bulb and the other an Alite. The test results were similar, too, with a more yellow hue emitted by the Alite-made burner, which struggled to throw as much light to the 75-metre distance, and similar fitment issues. In contrast, the GE bulb would have been good enough to be near the top of the standard HID bulbs.
7th: Xenons4U HID bulb review
Verdict: 1/5Beam: 107Price: Around £15
Even first impressions of the Amazon-purchased Xenons4U bulbs were poor, with questionable build quality and important alignment marks absent from the base plate. Things didn’t improve during testing, where the light pattern looked like a bruise, with yellow and blue areas. The focus was too close to the car, so light levels were no better than a cheaper halogen bulb over longer distances. Even at their low price, these budget bulbs look like poor value.
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