The best LED headlight

Bob Beacham

From 1939 to 1983, all U.S.-manufactured vehicles had sealed-unit headlights by law. Unfortunately, you cannot fit LED conversions to these. The whole light enclosure must be replaced, which is often not practical.

LED headlights are brighter than standard halogens, use less energy, and last longer. High-quality versions are also better at handling extreme weather conditions. Conversion kits for changing your existing headlights to LED headlights are available for a huge range of cars, trucks, and motorcycles. They are more expensive -- which might seem like a drawback -- but when you spread the cost over their lifetime, they almost invariably work out to be cheaper. Our top recommendation -- the CougarMotor LED Headlight Conversion Kit -- underscores all these benefits and is hugely popular as a result.

Considerations when choosing LED headlights

The technology

The basic technology of LED headlights is pretty straightforward. An electrical charge lights up one or more LED chips (technically diodes) rather than the metal filament in a halogen bulb. Where a halogen lights produces around 1,200 Lumens of light (LM), an LED will produce 3,000 or more. Additionally, LED lights are whiter. Halogen lights run in the 2,500 to 4,000 Kelvin (K) range, and are slightly yellow as a result. LED lights run from 5,500K upward -- true white -- so you see more clearly. Halogens dull over time, LEDs do not.

There are lots of LED headlight manufacturers, and many choose to buy the chips rather than produce their own. The two leading brands are Philips -- which just about everybody recognizes -- and Cree, which is less well known but among the best in the field.

What to look for

Model numbers tell you whether a light is single or dual beam -- for example, 9006 is a typical single beam, 9007 is a dual-beam model. This is important because some vehicles use a single headlight for both high and low beam, others use separate lights -- or might have a separate fog light. The number should be stamped on the base of your existing bulb.
Knowing if you are replacing a single or dual beam light is also important when looking at prices, so you know you're comparing like with like. For example, a 9006 might typically run from around $28 to $40, depending on the manufacturer. A 9007 might run from $40 to $50, but the latter is a dual-beam light and serves a dual purpose.
Almost all modern vehicles have microprocessor controls for all kinds of on-board systems. It's generally known as CAN-bus. Not all LED headlights are CAN-bus compatible (usually the cheaper brands). In some cases they just won't work. In others it can cause flickering. Additional components may be available to fix the problem, but frequently it's easier to find a CAN-bus compatible model.
Early LED headlights had problems with black spots in the light pattern - because the LEDs are actually mounted on the sides of the body and rely on reflectors to project them forwards. Latest designs largely eradicate this, but it's always worth checking owner feedback to gauge real-world performance.

Make, model, and year -- all three, not either/or!

We've seen numerous complaints that LED headlights don't fit. It can happen, but in many cases it's buyer error. Vehicles change from one year to the next, often in ways that aren't obvious, so nearly right is almost always wrong! Make sure you order LED headlights to fit your vehicle's exact make, model and year.


Q. Are LED headlight conversions difficult?

A. In many cases it's a basic swap -- as easy as changing a standard bulb. However, LED bulbs run hotter than halogens, and can be more bulky in order to incorporate a cooling fan. In some cases minor modification of the housing may be required. It's a good idea to check customer feedback. There may also be CAN-bus issues, as mentioned above.

Q. I heard that LED headlights are illegal, is that true?

A. The rumor persists because although using LED headlights is legal, not all types being sold comply with the law. The phrase "DOT approved" is commonly used on packaging, but is meaningless -- the U.S. Department of Transport (DOT) does not "approve" products at all. It produces standards that manufacturers need to comply with, but doesn't test or certify. A product labeled "DOT Compliant" is better. To add further confusion, mislabeled products are often completely legal.

So, what can you do? We recommend you always buy the recommended headlight for your vehicle, from a recognized brand. Problems can arise if you try to go too bright, and blind other drivers -- that kind of thing is likely to attract law enforcement.

LED headlights we recommend

Best of the best: CougarMotor LED Headlight Conversion Kit

Our take: High performance with unrivaled customer satisfaction.

What we like: Uses quality CREE chips to produce 7200LM per pair. Near-perfect beam pattern. Greater than 50,000-hour life. Rapid installation. CAN-bus ready.

What we dislike: Several complaints about poor fit on Dodge and Chevy vehicles. A few gave shorter life than expected.

Best bang for your buck: VoRock8 LED Headlight Conversion Kit

Our take: Budget-friendly LED headlights in a full range of configurations.

What we like: Very bright output, 8,000LM per pair. Good beam focus. Efficient cooling fan.

What we dislike: Full-beam performance only slightly superior to low-beam. Fit can be challenging. Despite our general preference for CAN-bus ready headlights, these are not. They are, however, highly rated by users, so factor that into your consideration.

Choice 3: Sealight LED Headlight Conversion Kit

Our take: Good mid-price option with wide ranging vehicle compatibility.

What we like: 6,000LM may not sound too impressive, but it's still a big improvement on halogens. Beam design eliminates dark spots. Simple to fit.

What we dislike: Some unexpected durability issues. Owners report poor customer support.

Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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