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For the last decade, automotive lighting has greatly accelerated in terms of LED technology. In the late 90's automotive manufacturers such as Lincoln, BMW, and Lexus started implementing HID (high-intensity discharge) or Xenon headlights. For those who remember back in those times, they were the cool purple lights you could see from a distance and would grow to a brighter white light the closer you got to them. We just knew that they looked amazing and wanted the same technology for our vehicles. And back then if you wanted the same type of headlights, you really had to do some heavy retrofitting. Today, lighting has advanced by leaps and bounds to be a large force in the automotive aftermarket industry.

Some of you may drive a 2004+ Subaru STI, or even a 2003+ Mitsubishi Evolution, and you will notice you have a factory-equipped HID lighting system in your headlights. And some of you may have regular halogen bulbs that are widely available in your local auto parts store. The problem is that regular halogen bulbs have exponentially increased in price and they don't seem to last quite as long as they used to. Because of these reasons, more automotive enthusiasts and consumers alike are weighing in on their options and have started considering a longer-lasting LED alternative that will provide the driver with better overall visibility under all driving conditions. And the majority of today's vehicles will have some iteration of modern LED technology throughout. Like the mentioned headlights, these will provide more area surface coverage for better visibility for the driver in super dark conditions, or in heavy weather without resorting to blinding other oncoming drivers with your high beams. LED lighting when compared to your conventional headlight halogen bulb, or even a license plate bulb will use much less energy while producing a much brighter lighting output. Additionally, modern LED lighting options, in general, will last longer when compared to the traditional bulb. Below, this article will list and discuss what types of lighting upgrades are available, along with the benefits or cons of modern lighting enhancements.

WHAT LIGHTS CAN YOU UPGRADE?



  • Auxiliary Brake Lighting - These are essentially 3rd brake lights or fog lights that have the latest in design with a variety of LED layouts that may integrate a reverse light to be a versatile update to the rear of your vehicle.

  • Auxiliary Lighting - There is a lot of ground to cover here because these lights are for those of you who want extra lighting for your race car, off-road adventure overlander, or even a gravel machine. These will include the likes of light bars, fog lights, mirror lights, rally-style lights, and basically any externally-mounted light. These are usually the brightest and should only be used in the off-road and not during normal traffic as they have multiple beam pattern options that are combined with an incredibly higher lighting output.

  • Fog Lights - These are an excellent upgrade as there are many direct replacement options that make for a simple installation, and there are options that are completely redesigned. But fog lights provide supplemental lighting during extreme dark conditions, or under wet conditions and can be used safely as they are aimed close to the ground and won't be too bright for surrounding drivers.

  • Headlight Projectors - Headlight projectors have been designed to really maximize the lighting output of your HID bulbs and will even work well with your conventional halogens. Projectors are mainly for those of you who want to retrofit them into your existing headlight housings, and it can be a bit of customization to get them installed properly. However, once you do, it makes for an excellent lighting upgrade.

  • Headlights - Out of all the exterior lighting options, headlights are going to be the most elaborate in terms of customization and lighting output. Many of the available headlights will have integrated signal lights that also utilize LED technology, and depending on the design, could change the exterior dynamics of your vehicle.

  • HID Light Components - Another benefit with HID lighting in your headlights or of lights, is that there are many replaceable parts that are readily available. These parts include headlight bulbs, harnesses, ballasts, or a combination of the components so that you don't have to purchase an entirely new lighting system.

  • HID Light Kits - These are the simplest means of upgrading your headlights or fog lights. Mainly because they will come with factory bulb size options, and many of the available kits are plug and play with minor modifications.

  • LED Lighting - Lots of options here. When you want to add LED lighting to your license plate lights, side marker lights, separate low beams, and high beams for those with divided projectors, and just about everything else in between that requires lighting in your vehicle.

  • Light Bars and Mounting - Lightbars have really gained popularity within the last few years as the aftermarket has really taken this concept by storm. As lift kits and overlander builds become popular, the demand has increased with several design options. The Rally Racing genre has benefited from the latest design in light bars and mounting kits as rally drivers need lighting while racing through dust clouds and desolate conditions.

  • Light Mounting and Hardware - Makes mounting your fog light bulbs or other means of lighting easier to the exterior of your vehicle. Whether if it is factory-style fog light housings, or hardware to install your lights, a good selection of hardware is available to avoid custom hardware store jobs that could go awry.

  • Light Wiring - Like above, you can get plug-and-play harnesses. relays, DRL lighting, and just about everything in between to integrate headlights, taillights, signal lights, and fog lights.

  • Marker Lights - You can even make the marker lights on your vehicle brighter with replacement LED bulbs, or complete replacement housings in a variety of different finishes to further customize the exterior of your vehicle.

  • Replacement Bulbs - Replacement bulbs are available, but they might not look like what they used to. You're used to seeing a glass bulb, except today it resembles a bunch of little computer chips bunched together that somehow produces light. Luckily, these new styles of LED lights are built-in factory size profiles to fit the factory light housings to be a direct swap.

  • Tail Lights - Like headlights, there are several custom options that are built with custom designs that integrate your brake lights, signals, and reverse lights all in a modern display.

  • Complete Lighting Kits - All-in-one kits are available to upgrade the lighting on the front or rear sections of your vehicle, eliminating the need to try and piece together other LED kits to save you time

  • Interior LED Lighting Kits - You can even increase the lighting output in the interior of your vehicle to replace the factory bulbs that are usually dim by design.

    WHAT MAKES LED LIGHTING SO BRIGHT?

    Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are used to pass an electric current through a semiconducting material. These diodes will send photons through the principle of electroluminescence. Somehow when in motion the electrons will jump from a full side to a deficient side and somehow cross some sort of scientific junction to generate light. It's science.

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    SO LIKE THE APEX OF THE VORTEX OF LIGHT ENGINEERING MAKES LIKE COOL LIGHTS AND STUFFS? WHAT ABOUT THE COLORS?

    For example, when shopping for LED bulbs for your headlights you will see references such as 4300K or 6000K. So 3000K will emit a pure yellow light, and 4300K will be a bright white light. 5000K will be more of a white light with a blue hue. 6000K will be more of a blue hue, and the higher the number gets blue will turn into purple. So 8000K will be a bright purple light. Light colors and/or temperatures are more for headlight bulbs and fog light bulbs. You won't have the need to have a 6000K reverse bulb.

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    AND MANY OF THESE KITS ARE PLUG-AND-PLAY?

    For the most part, yes. Take headlight HID kits, for example, many companies will make model-specific bulbs or kits. These will go in place of the factory bulbs, and they will make the wiring integrate into your factory plugs and they should be ready for use. Universal bulbs or kits that include ballasts should work with some modification to the wiring. When it comes to simple bulbs like interior overhead lights, glove box lights, or mood lights, they should be a simple direct swap.

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    ANY DRAWBACKS?

    There are a few drawbacks. Some examples are that there are many cheaply made kits out there that are mass-produced, and basically, you are rolling the dice. They may work for a day, a week, or 6 months. Make sure you make the investment and get yourself a quality kit where the color is going to be consistent, the lighting output is the same if you have headlights or tail lights, and where they will last as they should. Another area to consider is not to overdo it. Some people like to go over the top and if you have a 2002 WRX that is coming up in age in 20 years, you can still look period-correct without going full ham. You can certainly change your car into a spaceship rolling down the highway if you have HID headlights, LED fog lights, a light bar bolted onto the roof, and rally lights bolted to the hood. HID headlights have enough visual clarity when driving at night, and you don't want to blind other drivers or cook a small animal within close proximity.

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    SO KEEP IT SIMPLE WHILE KEEPING IT BRIGHT?

    Yes. LED lights go a long way and will produce plenty of light while providing your vehicle with a modern look. Again, LED lights use less energy while providing more lighting output, and supersede your standard replacement bulbs when looking at the overall picture of cost vs efficiency. And you're seeing LED lights everywhere not just limited to the automobile. LED flashlights, lamps in the living room, or lights in the kitchen, LED lighting technology is here to brighten all of the things. Nonetheless, it is an exciting upgrade you can perform to the exterior, or interior of your vehicle. You get the custom looks while getting more lighting power. A nice change in modification if you'd like to take a break from acquiring go-fast parts or suspension upgrades.

  • Photography: Cody Anderson, RallySport Direct