Why LED Headlights Should Be In Every Classic Or Hot Rod

Seeing clearly at night while driving is not optional. Let’s face it, nobody wants to come to an abrupt stop because they didn’t see that tree step out into the road. Automotive headlights first appeared in the 1880s. However, those early lights were far from standard. In fact, the first headlights were actually oil-burning lamps that utilized animal fats. These contained a small flame, which could barely withstand some wind and rain. Luckily, the classics we drive do benefit from lighting better than a forward-facing flame, and the folks at United Pacific Industries (UPI) are leading the charge in lighting improvements. Now, Light Emitting Diode (LED) headlights are becoming commonplace — and with good reason.

A Brighter Idea

Throughout the years, there have been many improvements to headlight design. For instance, could you imagine exiting your car to adjust high or low beams? That used to be a thing. In 1915, the first low-beam headlights were produced. These required the driver to get out of the car to physically switch between high and low beams. It didn’t take long until headlight brightness could be switched from inside the car.

LED lights

In case you thought LED headlights might not be worth the money, check this out. We installed a pair of United Pacific LED headlights and the difference is, well, night and day.

In the 1940s, headlights started to look a little more like the headlights found in our classics—enter the round sealed beam headlight. While they do add a modicum of added visibility at night, many classic car drivers are realizing the dull, yellowish light output from halogen headlights is not safe. As a result, many are thinking about an LED upgrade. We’ve come a long way since the first sealed-beam headlights were introduced, and now, LEDs are the latest and greatest.

Twenty-First Century Brightness

At first, LED lighting was only found on high-end cars, but now it is becoming commonplace. Luckily, United Pacific makes it easy to get modern LED headlights into your classic car. In fact, I installed a set of United Pacific’s LED headlights in a car to see for myself if they were better and you can check out that article by clicking here.

LED headlight

A light’s “temperature,” expressed in degrees-Kelvin. This determines the hue of light it emits. Headlights typically range from yellow to blue

Modern LED lighting appeals to many classic car enthusiasts because they’re brighter than halogen headlights and often cast a wider pattern. What’s more, is they use less energy. This reduces the current draw pulled through the older wiring and the amp-limited alternator. Finally, they last longer and have a much whiter/brighter color than halogens — what’s not to like?

Sealed-beam/incandescent lights have a tungsten filament inside a bulb. When electric current passes through the filament, it heats up and generates light. With LEDs, the electric current passes through a semiconductor (or diode) that produces light. This light is brighter and generates less heat — per watt of power used. Using a diode means there is no filament to burn out, thus LEDs operate about 90-percent more efficiently than incandescent bulbs as well. Since they generate virtually no heat, they last much longer than other types of lights. “We know our LEDs are proven to last 10-times longer than halogen,” says Jai Baek​, marketing and creative director at United Pacific. “However, if LEDs are five times higher in cost, but last ten-times longer, the consumer should be able to save money in the long term by choosing LED lights.”

…if LEDs are five times higher in cost but last 10-times longer, the consumer should be able to save money in the long term by choosing LED. – Jai Baek, United Pacific

It’s A Diode Thing

The diodes used to create LEDs are smaller than typical headlight bulbs. They also allow more design freedom with headlights as well as other vehicle lighting. The downside is that they are more expensive than halogens. But the benefits of the upgrade surely outweigh the initial cost.

Whether nighttime illumination is done via a halogen bulb or LEDs, headlight design plays a huge role in lighting performance. Unfortunately, there are good and bad designs when it comes to LED headlights. For instance, if you are looking at a set of LED headlights on a popular auction site that are significantly cheaper than those offered from United Pacific, there is probably a good reason — think poor quality. But what separates a quality light from one that is not so good?

Reflective Results

A major consideration in creating a bright shining headlight is reflector design. Without a reflector, the light will shine everywhere. The reflector surface directs the array of light into a concentrated beam. “The reflector design is critical to the effectiveness of the LED headlights,” says Eric Zhang, Sr. R&D Technical Manager. Basically, if you have a light with a poor reflector design, you have a poor beam of light.

UPI's LED headlights install as easily as a standard sealed beam or halogen headlight.

According to Eric, “the LED chip, photometric design, lens, and housing materials determine the quality. UPI uses the highest-grade materials and backs its lights with a three-year warranty.”

While investing in LED headlights does require a larger outlay of cash initially than traditional incandescent alternatives, this is an instance where spending more will actually save you in the long run. I can safely say this because LED lights have a longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs and will probably last for as long as you own your car. Food for thought: It has been shown that LED lights can typically last 20,000 to 30,000 hours. Compare that to the expected 1,000 hours for a halogen bulb and the cost of replacing a halogen bulb becomes roughly fifteen times more than an LED bulb. This makes them an incredible value.

LED Headlights Rating

Have you ever heard of lumens? Visible light energy is measured in lumen. The higher the lumen number, the brighter the light. While watts used to be the marketing standard of brightness, using lumens instead of watts is important to make the best lighting choice.

A single high/low beam halogen bulb emits around 700 lumens when in low beam, and around 1,200 when in high beam. It can get complicated trying to decipher how many lumens an LED headlight produces. On average, 2,000 to 4,000 lumens is widely accepted as a common range for many LED headlights. However, the output of an LED headlight is dependent upon many factors. One of those is the number of LEDs contained in the bulb.

LED headlights

If you find a bulb that is rated an absurd amount, let’s say 10,000, be wary. The brightness of LED headlights will also depend on the wattage of the bulbs. For example, 1-watt LEDs can range from 30 to 150 lumens depending on the efficiency of the diode and the design application.

Headlights are rated, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), on the distance upon which they illuminate the road as a vehicle travels straight and on curves. The ratings used are Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. The IIHS states that on a straight road, low-beam headlights rated as good, will illuminate the right side of the road at least 325 feet. Headlights rated as poor, light 220 feet or less.

IIHS says LEDs generally perform better in their tests, but the organization has rated some halogen headlights higher than some LEDs. Some halogen headlights have been rated as acceptable (the second-highest). However, there are also some LED headlights rated as marginal (second-lowest) and even poor. When buying headlights, it is always good to check the ratings they receive.

Final Thought About LED Headlights

I get it, all of us reading this are hot rodders. We are all looking to improve the performance of our classic rides. However, safety should also be a large consideration for all of us. That’s why brake upgrades and now, LED headlight upgrades are definitely one of the next things you should consider including in your project plans. When you’re ready to light up the night with LED headlights, check out upcarparts.com

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About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
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