The Great Debate Settled: LED vs. Halogen

As the leader in medium and heavy duty truck lighting, our Joe’s handle a lot of questions regarding headlights, particularly surrounding LED.

These days, everyone wants LED and who can blame them? LEDs put out extremely intense light, are designed for a long life and draw less power from your truck’s electrical system. There are a few new trucks coming off the line equipped with full LED headlight assemblies that not only put off bright light, but look good doing it.

That said, unless you’re in the market for a new truck, you’re likely carving the highways with stock halogen headlights - not that there’s anything wrong with that. Halogen bulbs may be the new stepchild of the headlight world, but do they deserve the disrespect?

THE PLAYERS

Halogen bulbs have been an on-road workhorse for years and have seen a number of refinements, but their basic design remains unchanged. A tungsten filament and halogen gas combine, when exposed to electrical current, to create a white hot light. Just how hot is a lesson learned all too easily when any exposed skin touches a halogen bulb. While not nearly as energy efficient as LED or High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs, halogen does its job at a mere fraction of the price. That low cost performance has made halogen the popular choice in over 90% of the vehicles operating today.

If halogen is the simple workhorse, LED bulbs, by comparison, are the technological marvels looking to replace them. Filaments give way to semi-conductors that when exposed to current emit photons that light up like a Christmas tree. Efficiency is the name of the game with LED and while they do emit heat, that heat is controlled with heat sinks and fans which make for a bulky and somewhat difficult bulb size when it comes to standard headlight housings. Something many of you may find when you try to make the bulb conversion from your existing halogen to LED. Now the benefits. That fancy photon design creates a super bright white light, operate at a lower voltage and often offer a 20,000+ hour operating life. Impressive technology that comes at a cost. Correct ECM flashing and extra electronics are often required to deal with the lower voltage required to power the LED. Extra electronics, both inside the truck and the bulb itself aren’t cheap.

OPERATING PERFORMANCE

Heat sinks, photons and filaments all sound great, but there is only one measure that really matters: On road performance.

Looking at the images above, it's clear that the LED is putting out more light, both down range and near field, but not significantly better. Certainly not 100% better, which is what you’re going to find in terms of retail price for each bulb type. The high-end halogen bulb retails for $30/Pair whereas the LED Bulb retails for $61.59/Pair. Price is where the halogen advantage starts to fall off significantly however. In terms of estimated usage life the halogen bulb comes in at nearly 300 hours versus the LED which is rated for 50,000 hours life. That’s not a typo either, the LED bulbs are expected to last nearly 17,000% longer than their halogen cousin. Let that sink in for a moment.

Despite our relatively un-scientific study in lighting above, the industry standard holds that LED supply 200% brighter, whiter light versus their stock halogen cousins. Of course, we’re also looking at the best of the halogen bunch. A cheap pair of replacement bulbs is generally closer to $5 than $30 and are available at truck stops everywhere. They’re small, easy to stow away and replace whenever necessary. Good luck keeping and replacing a spare set of LED bulbs while on the road. Utility has a big place in the trucking world and LED has a long haul before it matches halogen for ease of replacement, availability and cost.

THE VERDICT

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in this article defending the workhorse nature of the halogen bulb and I am, but only to a point. While halogen has seen years of use and will likely have many more, it’s hard to argue that LED looms over the market like the Great White Shark of the truck lighting world. It’s likely you’ve already replaced all of your stop, turn and marker lights with brighter and better performing LEDs, so why not headlights? I can’t argue with the thought process and in the end, agree that LED is ready for its turn as the king. There are a number of quality replacement headlight assemblies, all of which BIG offers, that include the best of both worlds: projection halogen and LED accents.

WINNER: LED

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