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Tips and Tricks

Headlights and Bulbs

Read our handy guide to improving light output from your headlights.

Retro cars are awesome aren’t they, until you need to see in the dark. Tea lights in a jam jar for headlights really put a downer on a night-time jaunt. With age, a Halogen headlight bulb degrades and the quickest fix, to gain more light, is to swap the bulbs out for fresh ones. 

As part of our winter tips and tricks series, we’ve put together some options for retro and modern car owners to gain more light output.

What Else Can be done?

Updated Bulbs

Phillips and Osram have been creating aftermarket bulbs, with up to 150% increase in light output for a number of years now. These bulbs also offer a whiter or bluer light depending on your taste.

Depending on your bulb fitment and age of your vehicle, you might see a slight difference in performance compared to what is listed on the packet. We’ve found that H7 Philips White Vision offers an increased range over standard bulbs. The H4 Osram Night Breakers, on the other hand, needed an uprated wiring loom, to bring out their optimum performance.  

Updated Headlamp wiring looms

These mainly apply to H4 fitment headlight units and how they draw power from the vehicle’s original wiring loom. H4 bulbs systems have been around for decades and all suffer from voltage drop, from the fuse box.

Over time, with aging electric systems and wiring, the supplied voltage drops below 11volts. This gives a somewhat warm glow to the headlights, instead of the night piecing beam.

To fix this, an uprated wiring loom is added to the vehicle, sitting between the headlights and the original car loom. The new loom draws direct power from the vehicle’s battery, giving 12 – 14volts to the bulbs. This is managed via a series of fuses and relays to control the switching while protecting the original vehicle wiring. 

With the uprated loom, those once tea lights become decent light-emitting units, matched to an uprated bulb such as an Osram Night Breaker. 

Headlight Lens Restoration

At the end 90’s the styling of vehicles changed to a sleeker and streamlined design. New safety standards meant manufacturers switched to making headlights out of plastic, rather than glass. 

Headlights and Bulbs Len Restoration 50 50

As with all plastics, headlight plastic is affected by UV light, making the lens go murky and hazy. This not only detracts from the look of the headlight but reduces the output from the bulbs. Reducing the amount of light emitted on to the road. 

There are many old wives tales out there explaining how to remove this hazing, but we’ve found the dedicated kits like the Meguiar’s headlight restoration kit works the best. Or if you are brave you can wet sand the headlights with a 600-grade grit paper, working up to a 2000 or 3000-grade paper. This refines the finish on the headlight and brings back that crystal clear finish. 

Once you’ve completed your restoration method of choice, you need to protect the plastic (and your hard work) from future UV light.

We’ve found plastic paint protection film (PPF) the best option, it not only protects from UV, but it also guards the lenses against stone and rock chips. 

Headlight PPF

And when it starts to haze and go yellow, just remove and replace with new – leaving you with perfectly crystal clear lenses once again. 

New Headlights 

BMW LED Headlights Nurburgring

Another option to improve headlight performance is to upgrade the actual light unit. This can be for a higher spec unit which, has HID or Gas Discharge lights compared to an original halogen bulb, or you can explore the many other headlights on offer in the aftermarket world. 

Osram MK6 Golf LED Headlight
Picture Credit : Osram UK

For instance, Osram offers an upgrade kit for the MK6 Golf to an LED MK7 Style unit which, offers 70% more light over a 180m of light distance. The units aren’t cheap but its a tasty upgrade, in performance and style. 

By Craig Pickerill

Oldskool VW Geek, who loves any form of motorsport. Founded Eurowerks with Neil. He manages the day to day running of the website and the social media accounts, whilst finding time to enjoy taking pictures at shows and events.