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Why Most LED Headlight Upgrades Don't Really Work: An Expert Explains

Basically, if you don't already have LED headlights, it's not going to be an upgrade like you think it will. The writer responding to the questions (not the Jalopnik article writer) is an internationally known expert on LED automotive lighting. Note that the article is not discussing accessory LED lighting. I'm just posting it here as food-for-thought.
 

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That is a good article. Some other Daniel Stern lighting articles around the web are interesting too.
For example, this two part interview:
 

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Sahuarita, Arizona USA 2019 Crosstrek Limited
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Great article! I've came to the conclusion some time ago that if you want to upgrade the bulb in a halogen headlight housing, you're better off using one of these:
However, the tradeoff for brighter halogen lighting is shorter bulb life.
 

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I have a 2019 Limited with LED lights, but I read the article with interest and followed the link to the piece "Why & How to Aim Headlamps and Auxiliary Lamps." It was very informative. When driving on hilly and curvy country roads, I have felt that my headlights could be aimed a bit higher. I have not asked anyone to check it out, but having read the piece, I think that I would be in a better position to make sure that any adjustments are made properly.
 

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2018 Lifted 6-speed Crosstrek
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Nothing has changed. Back when I owned my 2002 WRX, everyone wanted to "upgrade" to HIDs. Just throwing them into the stock housing, was almost guaranteed to blind oncoming traffic due to the output pattern.

Some friends and I decided to go about it in a slightly better way. We baked the headlights to pull them open and installed projector housings inside the headlight, then installed the HIDs. We could at least have pattern adjustment and it focused the output instead of just throwing light out everywhere.
 

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2018 Orange Subaru Crosstrek Limited
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It was an interesting article though. I really like my fancy headlights on my Subaru. They were on the "essential bits" list when I bought the car. The U.S. always seems to be behind in allowing newer lighting technologies, been true my whole life. As I recall they didn't even allow the most beautiful headlight coverings on Jaguar XKEs for a time. Not important but inquiring minds like mine are wondering does the gentleman have something piercing his nose?
 

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Thanks for the article. Full disclosure, I didn’t read the article word for word but here are my thoughts.

—LED headlight bulbs don’t throw light the same way as halogens. LEDs seem to throw light similar to Xenons. Xenons are known for needing projectors to properly project the light. You can see the light throw of leds very obviously compared to the other bulbs. The leds on the bulbs I bought were really facing perpendicular to the road. Because of this, projector housing should be used and they typically are not included on cars using halogens.

—There are rare instances where a car has halogens AND projector reflector housings. My parents 2008 Hyundai Sonata, for example.

—As someone mentioned, brighter halogen bulbs frustratingly last a much shorter duration than standard halogens.

—On my 2014 Impreza I was having issues with short life span of halogen bulbs, ugly appearance of American orange reflector housings and ugly halogen lights. I removed the orange reflectors, which is probably illegal, added projectors, which is probably illegal, and replaced my bulbs with Xenons, which is probably illegal. I also didn’t have an automatic motor driven bulb leveling system, which is probably illegal. (But self leveled them and I have yet to be flashed by high beams.) The end result is the car looks much better in my opinion and the bulbs have already lasted 3x as long as my old bright halogens.

—In my parents sonatas case, the issue was bulb burnout also, they don’t care about appearance. But this time I used led bulbs instead of Xenons and as I said, the car already has projectors. So far the LEDs have last as long as the old halogens and they are slightly better.

— what plays into what is considered “brighter” is color temperature “kelvin”, Color Rendering Index (CRI) 0-100, and of course actual intensity— lumens. Sometimes an improvement during some conditions means a decreased performance in other conditions due to the way colors appear. I find nighttime driving in the rain is by far the most difficult.
 

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2019 Crosstrek Limited dark gray metallic with RF audio, auto dim int. and ext. mirrors
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I have a 2019 Limited with LED lights, but I read the article with interest and followed the link to the piece "Why & How to Aim Headlamps and Auxiliary Lamps." It was very informative. When driving on hilly and curvy country roads, I have felt that my headlights could be aimed a bit higher. I have not asked anyone to check it out, but having read the piece, I think that I would be in a better position to make sure that any adjustments are made properly.
I do not believe you are able to adjust the LED headlight aim yourself. I too have a '19 Limited with SR LED headlights and they self level each time you start the car to compensate for load, etc.
 

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Yes, they do that but are also adjustable (I had the dealer check that at the first service as we were getting flashed a lot when not on full beam).
 

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All I know is that I installed DD low beam LEDs. When driving at night (I think that is what matters), the whiteness, brightness & clarity of the road ahead is far superior to the stock halogen. I have also installed an LED headlight replacement on an off-road motorcycle, the same outcome. Went from oh #&#, to now I can see the trail.
 
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I’m using Deautokey 5,000K H11 HID Kit in my lows, and DDs H11 LEDs in the Fogs.
Here is a video of the lows with the fogs being turned on and off.

 

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It really depends on the led bulb design, i changed my toyota h4 with philips led kit, and it is awesome on color, throw and focus, never get beamed by car in front and all the road signs are beautifully illuminated from far. Personally i find the crosstrek led headlight either the focus not that tight or the bulb they use is too weak, so even the color is good and spread on certain part is good, overall sometimes i hunt where is the light because seems the area i am looking is not strongly illuminated. I find honda hrv led has stronger focus and brighter than the crosstrek.
 

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All I know is that I installed DD low beam LEDs. When driving at night (I think that is what matters), the whiteness, brightness & clarity of the road ahead is far superior to the stock halogen. I have also installed an LED headlight replacement on an off-road motorcycle, the same outcome. Went from oh #&#, to now I can see the trail.
I invested in the DD SL1 headlamp bulbs too, less than a year ago, and have been so pleased with the improved night vision. Then today I got dinged on my annual safety inspection that LED bulbs in halogen-designed fixtures aren't legal. And it's not just my state - checking on DD's website, it seems they no longer offer SL1 bulbs because they're banned at the federal level. This must have been new/recent regulatory change, or DD wouldn't have invested the effort to bring those bulbs to market. I came here to see if they'd made any statement about it, but haven't found anything yet. Where is the DD official statement? They haven't even taken down or annotated their SL1 announcement thread that has links to their website for a product that doesn't exist.

Not to mention my halogen low beams were getting flashed by other drivers a few times a year, since going to the DD LEDs I haven't been flashed once.
 

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I don't think its a matter of LED bulbs no longer being legal. After all many new cars are sold with LEDs. Its not even about replacing stock halogen bulbs with LED bulbs. Its about replacing a stock "certified" bulb or housing with anything that isnt self-certified or stamped as meeting the federal requirements. I doubt anything has changed with federal law, its always been there. More than likely, diode dynamics was confronted by an ambulance-chasing scumbag lawyer & they realized they were on shaky ground. Of course, thats total speculation on my part. I really don't think most people will have a problem if they are using a high quality LED that is aimed correctly. But we have probably all seen crappy installations with crapy bulbs that are a problem. Not sure what state you live in, must be one of the more communist ones. Somehow we have avoided vehicle inspections in Washington State even with the lunatic left in charge.
 

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I don't think its a matter of LED bulbs no longer being legal. After all many new cars are sold with LEDs. Its not even about replacing stock halogen bulbs with LED bulbs. Its about replacing a stock "certified" bulb or housing with anything that isnt self-certified or stamped as meeting the federal requirements. I doubt anything has changed with federal law, its always been there. More than likely, diode dynamics was confronted by an ambulance-chasing scumbag lawyer & they realized they were on shaky ground. Of course, thats total speculation on my part. I really don't think most people will have a problem if they are using a high quality LED that is aimed correctly. But we have probably all seen crappy installations with crapy bulbs that are a problem. Not sure what state you live in, must be one of the more communist ones. Somehow we have avoided vehicle inspections in Washington State even with the lunatic left in charge.
This! All about the the proper install and aim I live in communist California and not once flashed or pulled over
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Stop with the stupid "communist states" ****. You don't like where you live? Move. Or you don't like a state's laws? Move there and work to change them. Otherwise, shut up.

And California only does smog checks, not vehicle checks, and they are only once every 2 years. There are very few vehicle modifications that aren't allowed in California but, yes, not your exhaust system if it interferes with pollution controls.

And if your lights were properly installed, then of course you wouldn't be getting "flashed" or pulled over.

And tell me ONE way, just ONE, that California laws infringe on your Constitutional rights. And if you say the 2nd Amendment, then you don't understand the Constitution.
 

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We don't have emission checks in my area, so what does that say about my state's politics? And I know another very conservative state does check for emissions but has no routine safety checks. You can't predict this based on state politics.

But let's get back on topic. Diode Dynamics' web page for the SL1 bulbs now states:
LED bulbs are legal in the USA for Fog Light use only. Not compliant with DOT / FMVSS108 and not street legal in the USA for Headlights. Legal for off-road use in ATV, snowmobile, and off-road racing use.
Since the FMVSS108 document does not specifically exclude LED bulbs from housings that came with halogen bulbs, it would seem the problem is just lack of DOT certification, which would be quite tricky if not impossible to accomplish, since the proper photometry that FMVSS108 requires would need the proper spline adjustment of each bulb to suit the headlamp housing. Even if they could get certification by selling bulbs specifically adjusted for each vehicle, that would add additional cost to an already expensive bulb. Not to mention, in less than 10 years all new vehicles are going to come with LED headlights standard, and so how much market is there going to be for LED replacements for halogens in older cars. Answer: Not enough.

And certainly hearing what I just speculated from DD directly would be better.
 

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Stop with the stupid "communist states" ****. You don't like where you live? Move. Or you don't like a state's laws? Move there and work to change them. Otherwise, shut up.

And California only does smog checks, not vehicle checks, and they are only once every 2 years. There are very few vehicle modifications that aren't allowed in California but, yes, not your exhaust system if it interferes with pollution controls.

And if your lights were properly installed, then of course you wouldn't be getting "flashed" or pulled over.

And tell me ONE way, just ONE, that California laws infringe on your Constitutional rights. And if you say the 2nd Amendment, then you don't understand the Constitution.
Blue - Please calm down. I can have an opinion. Sounds like your part of the woke crowd that wants to enforce my way or the highway. That's dangerous.
 
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