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What are xenon headlights?

  • How do xenon headlights work?
  • Do I need xenon headlights on my car?
  • Parkers shines a light on the tech

Written by Adam Binnie Published: 5 July 2017 Updated: 24 September 2018

Xenon headlights (otherwise known as High Intensity Discharge or HIDs) are brighter than standard halogen bulbs, and feature a clearer, whiter beam.

How do xenon lights work?

Regular car headlight bulbs pass a current through a metal filament to produce light, whereas HID bulbs create an arc between two contacts, with xenon gas in the bulb to amplify the brightness.

As well as creating a more vivid light, the lack of filament means xenon bulbs should last longer than their halogen counterparts.

Some downsides? Well, the brightness of the light means it can easily dazzle other cars, so xenon headlights need to have self-levelling tech to keep them pointing in the right direction.

Road dirt on the lens can also scatter the beam, again, irritating oncoming traffic. To get around this, HID systems feature washer jets that clean the headlight lenses.

Finally, the xenon beam takes a little while to get to peak brightness, although modern units are better in this respect.

Do I need xenon headlights?

Uprated headlights are always worth investing in – they make driving at night more comfortable, and being able to see and be seen is a big part of staying safe.

That said, if you rarely drive on unlit roads you might not see as big a benefit as someone who lives in the middle of the countryside, for example.

Xenon lights are found on…

Most mainstream cars – although cheaper models might offer xenons as an option, or only on a higher trim.

On more expensive cars xenon headlights might well be standard, with even brighter and longer lasting LED units, or even laser lights, the upgradable options.

Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions.

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