LED Headlights – legal issues and useful tips for retrofitting

LED Headlights - legal issues and useful tips for retrofitting

Nowadays, LED headlights are standard in many cars. They can be shaped more flexibly and have many other advantages. But this does not apply to older cars. But nevertheless, even if the manufacturer does not offer LED headlights, conversion kits are often available; and they can be installed even without much experience. Herein we will tell you what to observe during LED headlights installation and what advantages brings the new lighting as well as what to look out for when buying.

Why replacing the lighting?

how to retrofit led headlightsThe LED (light emitting diode) has a lot of advantages in comparison to its predecessor, the light bulb as well as to its immediate competitor, the xenon headlight. Advantages for you as well as for other traffic participants. They have a life span of several tens of thousands of operational hours, and thanks to their high efficiency they consume less electricity with the same light output. Particularly oncoming traffic will thank you for the use of LED lights. Due to the spreading of the light over several sources, LED headlights have a very low blinding effect. Even accidental switching on the high beam will hardly disturb other traffic participants.

 Multi-beam LED headlightsThe Multi-beam LED (Mercedes-Benz) and the Matrix LED (Audi) take it one step further. These very special LED headlights represent a technological extension of the standard LED headlight. 36 LED modules are controlled by a computer, receiving data from a small camera, Matrix LED headlightsmaking it possible to recognise roundabouts and automatically adapt the lighting or switching off the high beam in case of oncoming traffic. Presently, those systems are only available in very luxury equipment versions. Probably, in the coming years a retrofitting possibility will become available as well.

A minor disadvantage is the high purchase price. Even counting in the long life span, LEDs are always more expensive than standard light bulbs with H3-fitting or even xenon lighting. LEDs produce considerably less residual heat. On one hand this is an advantage, although this can cause problems. Possible moisture collecting in the headlight, causing distortion, doesn’t evaporate very quickly. This can be ignored just as long the proper sealing is applied. Some people observe a certain “bead effect” with PWM LEDs, which is caused by the response time of LED being so low, that as a result the pulsating frequencies switch on and off in a very rapid sequence. This is a nuisance although the effect is mitigated by manufacturers’ technical measures.

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Legal issues and things you need to bear in mind while purchasing

Headlights are safety-relevant components and not only used at night. The ECE regulations are therefore strict and do not only apply in our country. Basically, the car is divided into three “zones”, namely front, side and rear. The following regulations apply with respect to colours:

Frontal direction:

Frontal direction of LED headlights– With exception of the mist lamp and blinkers, all lamps must shine white light.
Mandatory are at least dipped lights, main beam, parking light, retro-reflector and reverse light.
Optional are marker light, daytime running light and mist headlight

Direction sideways:

LED headlights direction sideways– All lights must shine yellow or orange light.
Mandatory are at least direction indicator and warning indicator light.
Optional are side marking light and reflectors.

Direction to the rear:

LED headlights direction to the rear– Depending on type, different lights apply
– Mandatory reverse light must shine white light
– Mandatory indicator light must shine yellow/orange light
– Mandatory rear lights, brake lights and parking lights must shine red light
Optional are rear mist lamp (red) and reflectors (red)

led headlights legal provisionsWith respect to regulation for light yield there are no specific values for LEDs, but only for traditional light bulbs. A H1-lightbulb can reach 1150 lumen at maximum, whereas a H8-light bulb can have ca. 800 lumen. Important however, is that dipped beam generates sufficient light and main beam generates adequate lighting. The intensity of the beam is of minor importance, as for example with xenon lights.Now fog lamps are even cheaper It would be possible for you to design your LED headlight yourself, create a housing for it and install this in your car. You need to have it MOT inspected to check if its installation meets regulations. This would also apply if you don’t design the LED headlight yourself but only buy and install it. Exception to this is the certification, guaranteeing that the component in combination with the corresponding vehicle meets all regulations and stipulations.

led headlights ECE certificationECE certification, often known as E-certification originates, just like the stipulations, from the European Commission. It can be recognised by the E in a circle or a square printed on the packaging. Often an additional number stands for the issuing country. This symbol guarantees you don’t lose permission to drive the car by installing the LED headlight. Additional MOT inspection is not necessary.

Conversion – generally rather simple

Principally there are two ways to obtain LED headlights: With a so-called conversion kit or with the help of retrofit-LED headlights. For the first version you replace the headlights completely, housing included. This is generally no problem and only lasts an hour per side, disassembly included. The devil is in the details, as it is very important that it is completely sealed to prevent rain water from penetrating in the headlight. Furthermore you need to check the wiring.

LED have rectified pulse current. Especially in old cars the electricity supply is not LED-compatible and adapters or transformers should be installed. Generally you will be notified about this at purchase, reading the product description of the manufacturer. If this is only an upgrade, where the LED headlight is already theoretically available, but not yet provided for a specific model (e.g. Golf VII) the technology is already present and you only need to replace the housing and the plug.

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In case of retrofit LED headlights you keep the old housing but replace the traditional light bulbs by LED lights. These either are fully compatible with the older current supply or are supplied with adapters, which can be immediately clamped to the old plugs. You can hardly go wrong here because the installation is principally similar as the typical light bulb replacement. It is however not always the case, as there are also actively cooled retrofit LED, equipped with a fan which also needs electricity. Check the installation tips of the manufacturer and normally, nothing could go wrong.

Tuning headlights (Angel Eyes and Devil Eyes)

In the tuning scene a trend has emerged, using the advantages of LED technology. Angel Eyes or its diabolical counterpart Devil Eyes are a special kind of daytime runner light. Due to their limited safety relevance they are not as severely regulated as dipped beam or main beam. Therefore deviations from the standard design are permitted, and this is being made use of.

led headlights angel eyesAngel Eyes look like two luminous rings around the dipped beam or the indicator lights and brake light.
led headlights devil eyesDevil Eyes have a curved edge and by its angle the impression is created that the car has an “evil look” and stares at someone grimly.

Angel Eyes and Devil Eyes are permitted only as white light. The coloured versions offered over the internet are prohibited.
As this concerns a modification of a safety-relevant component, the product must have E-certification or otherwise the car must be inspected.

LED headlights tips and tricksLED headlights: all facts in an overview

What is the use?

– Considerably longer life span
– Same light yield with lower power consumption
– Lesser blinding effect

Are there any disadvantages?

– High purchase price
– Partly incompatible with older current supply systems
– Bead effect

How is the legal situation?

– Headlights are safety-relevant equipment and subject to strict legal stipulations.
– Light colours are regulated as well as the brightness
– In case of a headlight replacement the car needs to be inspected again unless the spare parts are approved by E-certification
-Driving a car without the required approval leads to high fines and immobilisation.

How difficult is the conversion?

– If you buy a conversion kit, you need to replace the complete housing, lamps included. The right fit and absolute tightness should be observed.
– In case of retrofit LED headlights the original housing remains in the car.
– If LED headlights are available for the car model, the current supply is generally compatible.
– In older car models, an adapter or transformer is often necessary.
– Always follow the installation instructions of the manufacturer.
– If you feel uncertain, you can let a garage perform the conversion.

Keyword: headlights tuning

– Many headlights for tuning are also available in LED version
– Devil Eyes and Angel Eyes are permitted in the UK provided they meet regulations.
– Coloured LED strips and those equipped with mist headlights are prohibited.
– E-certification is required for the products.

Foto: Denis Dryashkin, Alexandru Nika, Yauhen_D, ParabolStudio, Angener, Bhakpong / shutterstock.com

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