4x4 Driving Lights: Halogen vs HID vs L.E.D

Along with buying a set of muddies and fitting a bullbar, getting a pair of driving lights is probably the other upgrade that most four wheel drivers do, early on in their 4x4 ownership.

For most, purchasing a set of high quality driving lights is a considerable investment. So before handing over the hard-earned cash and to avoid disappointment, it’s worth doing some research on what’s available and what will best meet your performance expectations.

There are a number of technologies on offer: Halogen, HID and LED.

Halogen

The oldest of these technologies is Halogen, which has been around probably since the Land Rover Defender last changed its body shape…

Halogen globes generate heat inside a filament to develop light – the light is pretty much a side effect of the heat generated, and only limited light is produced comparative to the electrical input. Compared to more modern equivalents, the light quality will be lower and yellowish in colour.

Another downside to Halogen globes is that they can be susceptible to failure, especially in demanding off-road conditions, so it’s advisable that spare globes are carried if travelling off the beaten track. On the plus side though, Halogen lights are a lot more affordable because of the relatively simple construction.

When to choose: If you own a budget 4x4 and money is tight – still good for highway driving and a trip to the bush.

HID (High Intensity Discharge)

If you’ve got a bit more cash to splash, HID driving lamps are more expensive than the Halogen variants, but with the additional investment comes output that can be up to three times brighter and provide greater penetration. HID lamps can punch light in excess of 1 kilometre down the road, and the quality of the light is also better (and whiter) which is more closely resembling natural daylight which can help reduce eye fatigue.

Another benefit of the HIDs is their efficiency with current draw considerably lower than Halogens, while globe longevity is also better with globes expected to last around 2,000 hours. HID globes are filled with a mixture of rare metals and gases that are heated to produce the light output, they have no filament. But because they’re a more complex technology, replacement globes are more expensive.

When to choose: Join a wide range of users in both commercial and recreational applications, HID provides plenty of light reach whether on the highway or on bush tracks on the way to the favourite camp site.

L.E.D (Light Emitting Diode)

Available in light bars for a while now, L.E.D technology has more recently made its way into driving lights. Although light bars have traditionally been used in combination with HID driving lights, with the LED bar providing a great spread of illumination closer to the vehicle and HID driving lights offering further light reach up the road, the latest L.E.D driving lights also provide excellent penetration out to 500 metres. Some of the premium lamps provide even further forward vision.

The spread from L.E.D lights seem to fill every dip and hollow leaving no shadows or dark spots in the field of vision. Being a newer technology, L.E.D driving lights are the most expensive (to purchase up front) of the three, but the benefits include extended L.E.D life (over 50,000 hours), resistance to shock and vibration in demanding conditions and a white light output that is closest to natural daylight.

They also provide full light output immediately on start-up, so there’s no warming-up needed.

When to choose: If budget allows for a greater investment and you want premium light quality that reduces eye strain and assists your peripheral vision and to read the road ahead L.E.D is the answer. The even spread of light makes these lamps great on winding off-road tracks while still providing strong penetration for long stretches of straight road.
The purchase decision will ultimately be budget and application-dependent, however the best advice is to always purchase a reputable brand, whether halogen, HID or L.E.D.