Cars today have two types of headlight housing: reflector and projector headlights. Reflector headlights have been around since the dawn of the automobile and are found on cars built before the 2000s, while most newer vehicles are made with cheaper and smaller reflector headlights. Here is your guide to projector headlights.
What Are Projector Headlights?
Projector headlights are high-performance headlights that use halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID), and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Each projector headlight has a bulb to serve as the light source, a reflector to create a focal point for the light, a shutter that redirects the light toward the road to avoid blinding other drivers, and a lens to ensure that light diffuses evenly.
Projector headlights illuminate road surfaces at farther distances than conventional reflector headlights. In comparison to reflector headlights, they cast a more concentrated light beam that results in more light being cast directly at the area of focus.
Types of Projector Headlights
Here is a breakdown of the three types of projector headlights on the market: halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID), and light-emitting diode (LED).
Like reflector headlights, early projector headlights were powered by halogen bulbs. They emit a more even and focused light beam that reflects light off a mirror behind the bulb.
Halogen bulbs are less common in modern car designs. While they are cheaper to maintain and replace, their warmer lighting makes them less bright compared to newer cars with brighter blue-white lighting.
High-Intensity Discharge (HID)
High-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs use xenon gas and an electrical current to disperse light using a projector lens. The result is a focused low-beam light that shines at a greater distance.
Although they are a common fixture in modern vehicles, their brightness may make them incompatible with halogen bulbs. They are also pricier to replace than halogen bulbs.
Light-Emitting Diode (LED)
While light-emitting diode (LED) projector headlights were first offered in luxury cars, they are now common in the pricier trim packages of basic and higher-end models. They use less energy than halogen or HID bulbs, emit significantly more brightness, and last remarkably long, often surpassing the operating lifespan of a typical car.
How to Adjust Projector Headlights
Projector headlights can be adjusted in five simple steps.
Level Parking Surface
Begin by parking the vehicle on a flat surface. For the most accurate adjustment, refuel to a full tank, check the tire pressure, and unload any additional weight that does not reflect daily use. Check whether the vehicle’s suspension is functional, as suspension issues may cause it to lean unevenly to one side.
Find a vertical wall that is also level, then turn on the lights and park 25 feet in front of the wall. The surface should be uniform and plain to allow for a better representation of the light beam.
Note the centers of the low-beam headlights, then make a tape marker that runs horizontally along the centers. Make another tape marker about two feet long that runs vertically through the axis of the low beams so that a cross shape forms. Use black tape to ensure visibility.
Locate the vehicle’s headlight adjusters. Cars usually have a gray or silver-colored screw or bolt on the headlight assembly for adjusting headlight height. Headlight adjusters can be found on the back, side, or even underneath the housing.
Now that the car is parked in front of a vertical wall and the adjusters have been located, it is time to make the necessary adjustments. The brightest part of the beam should aim close to the centerlines of the tape so that you have full frontal and peripheral vision and do not blind approaching cars.
How to Make Projector Headlights Brighter
Functional low-beam lights speed up drivers’ reaction time, which makes them essential for nighttime driving. Headlights become damaged or cloudy with time, preventing light from passing through and reducing their brightness. Even if you have already adjusted your misaligned headlights, even brighter headlights can be possible with a few quick fixes.
Check Your Alternator
The alternator takes energy from the car engine and converts it into energy, which is then used to power the headlights and the battery. A dying alternator can diminish the power source of a car’s headlights, causing them to appear dim.
Upgrade to Brighter Headlight Bulbs
Upgrading older halogen bulbs to newer HID or LED bulbs is one of the most visible ways to see a difference in the brightness of your projector headlights. These bulbs emit more light than standard halogen bulbs, making your headlights appear significantly brighter.
If converting from halogen bulbs, purchase an LED or HID conversion kit to ensure you have all the necessary tools and instructions for the conversion process. LED bulbs can be replaced in the same housing as halogen bulbs.
HID conversion, on the other hand, is a bit more challenging. HID lights in colors other than white are usually prohibited, and mechanics who perform illegal conversions can face federal consequences.
Clean Your Headlights
Regular use can cause debris to accumulate on headlight lenses, so cleaning dim headlights with a headlight restoration kit may improve their performance. Headlight restoration kits often include dedicated cleaners and polishers that can safely remove buildup without damaging the body. For example, headlight sealant can keep lenses clear longer and guard against future deterioration.
Replace Any Broken Headlight Parts
Replacing worn-out headlight parts can result in a dramatic difference in brightness. Broken or discolored headlights appear dimmer since they allow less light to travel through.
Headlight covers concentrate the light coming from the headlights, making them more luminous to approaching vehicles. They feature plastic or glass construction and are a fixture where auto parts are sold.
Upgrading a vehicle’s headlight housing to one made of aluminum or another reflective housing can also boost the brightness of projector headlights. Before making any upgrades, always reference your vehicle owner’s manual to check specifications.
Use a Headlight Relay Kit
A headlight relay kit draws power directly from the car’s battery to the lighting system, enabling the bulb to function separately from the car’s factory wiring system and leading to a higher voltage of light emitted.
How to Tell If You Have Projector Headlights
Projector headlights are the gold standard for vehicle headlights. They emit greater and more efficient lighting than reflector headlights and are less likely to blind other drivers on the road.
Projector headlights are easily recognizable. Each bulb is contained in a cup with reflectors alongside a condenser lens. This lens magnifies light emitted by the lighting system, resulting in brighter light beams. They also feature a cutoff shield to redirect any light cast away from oncoming drivers and toward the road.
The bulbs of reflector headlights lie within a bowl-shaped steel encasement. While they emit larger beams that cover more surface area, the light is not distributed as efficiently.
Projector headlights ensure a safer and more enjoyable driving experience. They create large beams of evenly distributed light that make the road more visible than older reflector headlights. Modern projector headlight features, such as shutters, also decrease the risk of blinding other drivers on the road.