By Henry Leung
I’m going to run her over. Everything was happening in slow motion. I could see the wide-eyed look in her eyes. My ABS engaged, the brakes pumping furiously. I could hear my tires screeching and the sound of my wipers. My wife was yelling too, but all I could see at this point was the fear in her eyes as my car screeched closer.
It was a dark, rainy day in December and I was driving my wife’s Toyota Echo. As much as I love Toyotas for their reliability, the Echo is made from Toyota’s budget parts bin, and the halogen headlights are dreadful. On this rain soaked day, I couldn’t even tell if they were on. The pedestrian was crossing the street on the marked signal, and I was turning left. I remember looking, but I did not see her at all until the last second when my lights finally lit her up. She was wearing all dark clothing and I remember her freezing the moment I saw her. I ended up not hitting her, but it was close. At the last instant, my tires found grip and my car stopped with 6 inches to spare.
Good exterior lighting is an important safety feature. I live in the western hemisphere and during 4 months of the year, it’s dark and my headlights are always on. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) published their first ever headlight rating earlier this year. “If you’re having trouble seeing behind the wheel at night, it could very well be your headlights and not your eyes that are to blame,” says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer.
Most new luxury cars come standard with High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights that offer vision to halogen lights found in economy cars. But what do you do if you own an older car without HIDs? The answer is HID retrofit kits that are available widely and easily installed in minutes. So what are the advantages of HIDs?
The first HID light in a car was for the 1991 BMW 7 series. Considered the high-tech feature then, it has now an option available from every manufacturer. HIDs are also commonly known as Xeon lights because of the gas used inside the lights. The primary reason behind their widespread adoption is light output. On average, a HID bulb produces 3000 lumens and 90 mcd/m2, while a halogen light generates 1400 lumens and 30 mcd/m2. Clearly, HIDs generate more than double the light as a halogen bulb.
As illustrated above, not only is the field of vision much brighter, it is also much wider allowing you to see far more objects away and around you.
LONGEVITY AND POWER CONSUMPTION
HID’s operate in an entirely different manner than Halogens and generate far less heat, instead converting most of the electrical energy used to light. Being far more efficient, HIDs use much less power than your typical Halogen bulb. Even with more than double the lighting output, the typical HID bulb uses 35W compared to 55W for a typical Halogen bulb. This means your car will use less gas powering your headlights. An added benefit is longevity. Because of the lesser heat, HIDs can least 4 times as long as Halogens (2000 hours vs 500 hours).
WHAT ABOUT THE LAW?
I’m sure you’ve seen idiots that install HIDs in halogen headlight housings and blind oncoming traffic. Because of these imbeciles, most jurisdictions ban HID kits and anything not OEM. However, the technology clearly is not dangerous because all the OEMs are now offering them on their cars. You can even buy a Honda Civic with HID lights from the factory. The solution is to simply buy a quality HID kit, including a replacement headlight housing. With so many cars coming standard with HIDs, Police enforcement of aftermarket HIDs has pretty much stopped.
My current car, a VW GTI, has the lighting package that is rated “acceptable” by the IIHI. It is literally a light and day difference in terms of visibility at night compared to my old car that had halogens. If you drive at night, you’re going to want HID lighting.