When your current bulbs fail, you will likely just pick up the first available bulbs of the correct type from your local automotive shop or petrol station. You may not realise that there is a wide range of choices available for your car or motorcycle, depending on your needs and preferences.
Mostly available for headlights, enhanced bulbs offer increased light output over standard bulbs. They often use different materials for both the bulb filament and the gas it is contained in. These bulbs are often called Xenon Headlight bulbs, as Xenon gas is one of the main constituents. Various brands are available, the most well-known being Ring Xenon Ultima (offering 120% more light than 'standard' bulbs), Osram Night Breaker (with 110% more light) and Philips X-Treme Vision (with 100% more light).
Upgrading to an enhanced Halogen bulb is exactly the same as replacing a standard headlight bulb, and can generally be done at home in a few minutes. Due to the difference in brightness, you will need to replace both headlight bulbs for cars or motorcycles with twin headlights. The Xenon upgrade bulbs are available in sizes to fit almost all vehicles.
Extra long life bulbs use thicker elements and quality components to give a bulb life of up to three times longer than a standard bulb. They are available as headlights, brake/tail light and sidelights. The most common uses for these bulbs are vehicles (notably Volvo cars as well as many motorcycles and trucks) where the lights are always on. Long life bulbs reduce the frequency with which you have to replace the bulbs, and are only slightly more expensive than standard bulbs. Various brands are available, including Osram Ultra Life and Ring Vision24.
Allied to the growth of the modified car scene has been an increasing supply of 'styling' bulbs that modify the light output of a standard halogen bulb using altered filament or gas materials, or by adding filter coatings. Different coloured light can match a cars colour scheme, and provide a distinctive look. Some of these bulbs also offer enhanced light output, but some of the more extreme ones have poor light output due to filters, and are a long way from the white light required in the Highway Code. These extreme styling bulbs are recommended for off-road or show use only.
Another class of styling bulbs has been seen since the appearance on 'crystal' type light fittings, where the lens is almost totally transparent. Indicator bulbs have to give a yellow light, and standard yellow coated bulbs give an odd 'fried egg' look, as they are visible at the centre of the reflector. Styling bulbs are now available that are silver coated, but still give a yellow light, to prevent this look. The silver bulb blends into the reflector to give a better finish.
For compatability with the 24v systems running on most trucks and some larger vans, we stock a range of 24v bulbs: Headlight, tail light, running lights, indicator and internal lighting bulbs available. We also have the Osram Truckstar headlight bulbs, designed for better vision and longer life.
First seen on new cars a few years ago, there are now LED replacement bulbs available as replacements for most rear lights, brake light and side light bulbs, as well as some internal lighting. LED lights, at the moment, are not available for headlight bulbs as they are not bright enough, but they are being frequently seen in factory fitted and aftermarket front white daytime running bulbs, such as BMW 'Angel Eyes'.
Replacement LED bulbs have one or more individual SMD LED lamps on them, but are designed to fit into standard fittings. Their main advantages are very low power consumption (useful if you have a 'show car' with a lot of additional lighting) and extremely long life of up to 50,000 hours, meaning it should outlast the vehicle! They provide a whiter light than most filament bulbs, so are often paired with modified headlights.
One drawback to using LED bulbs on some cars with CAN-BUS bulb failure warning systems is that the LED bulb draws so little power the dashboard bulb failure warning is shown. This can be resolved by adding a resistor to the bulb wiring, or buying one of the new range of bulbs with a resistor built into the bulb assembly itself.
Originally only available as factory fitted options on some top-end cars, Xenon HID bulbs work totally differently from traditional filament bulbs. The light is created by an arc (spark) of electricity inside a special mixture of gases (including Xenon) and metal salts. The light created by Xenon HID bulbs is about 300% brighter than standard halogens, and is also whiter. Some HID bulbs produce blue tinted light.
Aftermarket HID conversion kits are now available for most bulb fittings. The conversion kits consist of a ballast unit (that provides the high voltages required to create the arc), plus an HID bulb. HID bulbs generally last longer than standard filament bulbs, as they do not have a filament to break, but they do tend to give more blue light with age, and will eventually stop working.
HID conversion kits are not strictly road legal as they are not factory fitted options, and there are issues with some cheaper conversion kits creating a beam pattern that will fail the MOT test. Higher quality HID kits and bulbs are carefully designed to give the correct beam alignment, and not blind oncoming drivers.