In many states, winters are notorious for their harsh conditions, poor visibility on the road, and ice. No surprise that according to the DOT, around 24% of car accidents related to weather occur in winter due to ice, slush and snow on the road. And 15% more are caused by poor visibility during heavy snowfalls and sleet.
Accidents mainly occur because drivers do not have enough time to react. The icing and slush make it more difficult to stop, they increase the braking distance, and suddenly a decision must be taken much sooner. And precipitations make it still harder to notice an obstacle ahead or assume the distance correctly.
We believe that autumn is a perfect time to think about your safety and prepare for the winter challenges. And here are some tips on how to choose automotive bulbs that improve visibility in winter.
Pros & Cons of Halogen Bulbs
Halogen bulbs are mainstream for a reason. They often come as OEM parts, and they are mostly fine. This type of bulb is versatile, you can find it in car bulb charts as headlights, indicators, tail lights and interior lighting. Anyone can easily tell them apart by a soft and warm yellowish glow. Ironically enough, their biggest advantage is also their major flaw. And it is the technology. Halogens are considered old school. They use filaments to produce light at high burning temperatures.
Snow and ice are the main culprits behind road accidents. But they don’t just obscure the view and make the road slippery. In cold, freezing water, snow and slush can also stick to the lenses. They create a crust on top, blocking the light. It reduces illumination if that layer forms on top of the headlights. And when this layer blocks the rear lights, your car can become almost invisible to other drivers in the darkness and heavy snowfall.
Thankfully, halogen headlights usually have no problems with this phenomenon. They are the least efficient light bulbs, meaning a huge part of energy transforms not into a light beam but into heat. Halogen car bulbs radiate enough heat to melt the ice before it causes any harm. This only works if the lights stay on long enough, so stay alert.
However, this working principle is often the reason why halogens dim and burn out so soon. The filament is fragile as it is, and the high temperature inside the bulb wears it out at a fast rate. They do happen to be the cheapest option on the market, but it is still unfortunate that they don’t last longer.
Their inefficiency is also an issue when it comes to illuminating the road. Halogens produce less light than their alternatives. It means the distance you will see ahead is rather short. In winter, when every extra foot is valuable, this is hardly enough.
Safety Tips for Using LED Bulbs in Cold
The LEDs are the complete opposite of halogen car bulbs. They don’t have any filament, burn at a lower temperature and are crazy efficient in terms of power consumption and brightness. They are sometimes too bright to be a good option for headlights because they can blind other drivers. They are a good option, but not the perfect one.
If you feel like your headlights lack brightness, switching to LEDs might be a great idea. Just make sure you pick a moderately bright option. “People often avoid LED headlights thinking they are illegal,” says Ben Collins, the content editor of the LightningLab project. “They can be used as low beams instead of high beams. And soon we will see more of them since smart headlights are now legal.”
In contrast to halogen bulbs, LEDs burn at a much lower temperature. In fact, it is so low the ice and snow don’t melt on the lenses no matter how long the lights stay on. This becomes a big issue when the dirty slush or dense layers of snow block the light so much you can hardly see ahead. Stopping to clean the lenses manually can prove to be rather dangerous. Your car is hardly visible on the road in snowfall or darkness without proper illumination.
The best way to deal with this issue is to apply hydrophobic coatings or products that don’t allow the water to stay and freeze. It can be car wax, sprays, films and liquids formulated for car lights and winter conditions. If you are used to taking good care of your car, this extra step in your routine will not be too much.
Are HID Bulbs Good in Cold
Another popular option is xenon or HID light bulbs. They are very bright, more efficient than halogens and don’t freeze like LEDs. This type of bulbs also uses a filament, but it works in a slightly different way. They burn less hot than halogens, but the warmth is still sufficient to keep the ice away from the lenses.
The downside is that they still use filaments, and they are fragile. Prolonged exposure to cold makes the filament brittle and it becomes more vulnerable to vibration and shocks from the uneven road. This is bad news since HIDs are a little less expensive than LEDs, and replacing them is not very pleasant.
There is also another thing that can cause them to fail in winter. High intensity discharge bulbs rely on a stable and sufficient power supply. Every HID bulb needs ballast and sometimes a relay to ensure this power supply keeps coming without unnecessary surges. And as you know, the more elements, the more issues arise. Cheap ballasts without protection from low power can result in malfunctions. Sometimes HID lights don’t light up in cold weather because their ballasts cannot handle low temperatures well.
The light can either seem cold (white and blue) or warm (yellowish-white and amber). Usually, cold white hues indicate that the light is brighter, but it would be too easy to rely on that in choosing headlights for winter.
Warm hues are more efficient in poor weather conditions, even if the difference is subtle. This light color is easier to spot in fog and snowfall. It also pierces water and ice particles suspended in the air much better, maintaining a dense beam. And if your eyes get soar and tires from the light reflected off puddles, snow and ice on the road, then you should choose headlights with a yellow hue.
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to what automotive bulbs are the absolute best for winter. Instead, there are multiple great options with unique advantages and weak spots. You should mind those special traits and make a choice that best suits your requirements.
Written by Charles Farrell