HID vs LED Off-Road Lights
Photography by John Cappa and Courtesy of the Manufacturers
HID and LED lights are the two most effective aftermarket off-road light designs currently available today. The aftermarket LED and HID lights produce a significantly brighter light than the factory headlights found on all 4x4s. Most enthusiasts don’t realize how pathetic their factory headlights are off-road until they have a chance to drive with a set of quality aftermarket LED or HID lights. More light means better visibility and increased safety when the sun sets and inclement weather is laid down by Mother Nature.
The ability to see further out into the darkness gives you more time to react to surprise corners and unexpected road hazards. LED and HID lights can be had in numerous shapes and sizes to fit your lighting needs and aesthetic preferences. Of course, LED lights have become more prominent in recent years, but that doesn’t mean HID lights are no longer a viable off-road lighting option. On the contrary, both LED and HID lights have their place. Which is right for you depends on your application. Read on to find out which aftermarket light type should be on your 4×4.
LED Off-Road Lights
The LED acronym stands for Light Emitting Diode. Unlike most other light sources, LED lights rely on electroluminescence rather than incandescence. What this means is that LEDs create light via a non-thermal conversion of electrical energy. This allows the LED light to be more energy efficient than a comparable HID light and it also creates less heat than an HID. However, temperature management is required with an LED light because the semiconductors inside the light housing still generate some heat. Another unique feature of LED lamps is that they produce a more directional light than an HID, which means LEDs can make use of a smaller reflector. A smaller reflector allows LED lights to be offered in more compact sizes, which is great for applications where there isn’t a lot of real estate to work with, such as on a front bumper or cowl. Keep in mind that smaller lights will also offer less wind resistance and wind noise at speed than larger more bulbous off-road light designs. The semiconductor in LED lights is generally encapsulated in epoxy for extreme durability and shock absorption. There is no glass bulb that can be damaged. LED lights work great in hot or cold climates and turn on just as quick as you flip the switch. The ideal color temperature for the human eye is 4,800-5,000 degrees Kelvin, which is similar to the light produced by the midday sun. Most LED off-road lights produce a 5,000 degree Kelvin color temperature, putting them in your night vision sweet spot. Another advantage of LED lights is that they are available in a variety of light patterns including spot beams, driving beams, and flood lights, but where most LED lights really shine is in close up to midrange lighting applications. They can be mounted all around a vehicle for camp lighting or better visibility on a slow tight twisty trail. However, there is new, and still relatively expensive LED technology emerging that allows LED lights to reach out much further into the darkness than ever before.
HID Off-Road Lights
The HID acronym stands for High Intensity Discharge. Unlike a typical halogen or other traditional light bulbs, HID lamps do not have a metal filament inside, which makes them more durable. HID lights are arc lamps, similar to a neon sign or mercury vapor lamp. The light from an HID is emitted when the two tungsten electrodes in a quartz tube ignite the pressurized Xenon gas and various metal salts inside. HID lights are sometimes also called Xenon lights because of the noble gas found in the tubes. The HID lamps make more light with less energy, but they do require a ballast to step up the voltage being sent to the bulb. This adds some complexity, size and cost to HID lights. Also, because HID lights require a larger reflector than LED lights, the HID light housings tend to be bigger, which can make them more difficult to mount.
Another disadvantage of HIDs that is frequently brought up is that they don’t turn on immediately. It takes a second or two for them to warm up, especially in cold weather. For most enthusiasts this is a non-issue. HID lights can vary in color temperature from white (4,000 degrees Kelvin) to a blue (8,000 degrees Kelvin) and even a purple hue (10,000 degrees Kelvin), but you’ll want to look for an HID light color temperature of around 5,000 degrees Kelvin to increase visibility and reduce driver fatigue. The biggest advantage of HID lights is that they shoot out two to three times the distance of a similar wattage LED light. This makes HID lights the best bang for the buck option for those that like to speed across the plains or open desert at night.