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How to make your car’s headlamps last longer

How to make your car's headlamps last longer

Sealed beam headlights were pretty much the same until the 1970s. They were then all either 5-1/4-inch or 7-inch round headlights and it seems that styling on all vehicles followed this pattern.

However, headlights with Halogen bulbs came on the scene in the 1980s, and halogen gas burns brighter and projects more light.

So now, the configuration of the headlight can take a variety of shapes, using molded plastic housings with Halogen gas filled bulbs installed in bulb holders that fit into the back of the housings.

All replacement bulbs typically come with a warranty that lasts only one year.  A bulb may be listed as “good/better/best”.

New cars now come with a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty and the higher-end models even come with a 4 year/50,000 warranty. It’s interesting to see that an OEM bulb is warrantied to last 3 or 4 years, but not a replacement bulb. 

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How long should halogen headlamps last?

About 500 to 1,000 hours of regular use is what a Halogen bulb supposed to last. However, Halogen bulbs will start to deteriorate over time and may burn out last before the threshold of 1,000 hours is reached.

Always clean any debris and any oils off of the replacement bulb.  Install the bulb without touching the glass portion and lock it into place with the clips or seals.  Any caps or seals should be replaced if damaged.

  • If the bulb used is of OEM quality, then it is likely that the Halogen bulb will last longer than the aftermarket units.
  • Halogen bulbs, as they age, will eventually give off less and less light.
  • If your car has Daytime Running Lights, it is likely that the Halogen bulb is likely to fail before 500 hours because the lights are always on.
  • There are some factors that can cause the Halogen bulb to fail before the 500-1,000 hour use. Outside temperature and the climate are one of these factors.
  • Pot holes, bumps and other road conditions will cause the Halogen bulb to fail prematurely because of vibration.
  • If the bulb was incorrectly installed or the bulb was touched by the installer, it will fail prematurely. Oils from the skin cause the bulbs to overheat.
What about Xenon headlights?

What about Xenon headlights?

Xenon bulbs (also called HID bulbs) are not the same as Halogen bulbS. The HID light bulb (which stands for High Intensity Discharge) is filled with Xenon gas which reacts to the spark created inside the bulb.

This Xenon gas creates a much more powerful amount of light - measured in thousands of Lumens.

A true Xenon HID bulb does not use a filament like a sealed beam or Halogen bulb does. Instead, it uses two electrodes that react inside the Xenon gas filled envelope.

An electric ballast is used to send up to 24,000 volts of electricity through the bulb, which creates a potent spark and ignites the Xenon gas mixture. Xenon bulbs are at least 10 times more expensive than Halogen bulbs but can last up to 10,000 hours.

Xenon bulb advantages

  • Xenon produces a cleaner, whiter light than a 55w Halogen bulb
  • Xenon lights are 300 times brighter than Halogen bulbs
  • Xenon bulbs can last 10 times longer than Halogen bulbs
  • Halogen bulbs burn hotter than the same wattage Xenon bulb
  • At night, the Xenon lamp projects a wider beam

FYI - Some newer cars are now being equipped with LED type headlamps. These lights have a longer life expectancy as well as more of a directional quality than the other types of headlamp lighting systems. 

They are generally a very low current, low heat output, but brighter than either HID or Halogen headlamp systems. They are also less likely to become dull or cloudy because of the lower heat output.

What to do about broken or worn-out headlight housings?

Check your headlight assemblies. A worn or damaged housing can be a problem as it can let in moisture, road grime and dirt, and shorten the life of your headlight bulb. 

Cracks or water intrusion into the bulb area are signs that the assembly should be replaced.

Reconditioning clouded, weathered headlight housings can be accomplished with a restoration kit, available at most auto parts stores.

Mask off any painted areas around the headlight housings to prevent damage to the finish.  Follow all the directions that come with the restoration kit.