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How Many Lumens Are Car Headlights?

LED car headlight

Lightbulbs, flashlights, and car lights are commonly measured in units called lumens, which measure how intense the light is. There are lots of types of car headlights, and they’re not all created equally as far as lumens go.

Your average low beam halogen headlight puts out about 700 lumens, while switching over to high beams puts out about 1,200 lumens. These figures are just estimates, though, and new advances in light technology have given us much brighter lights.

While halogen has been around forever, LED lights are gaining popularity for using less electricity while producing brighter and cleaner light. Depending on the number of LEDs in the bulb, it can produce less or more lumens.

Motorists who want a visual advantage on the roadway can instantly get one by installing an LED headlight kit. LED headlights range from 2,000 to 4,000 lumens, on average.

Finally, HID or Xenon headlights are popular in some car enthusiast circles. They produce around 3,000 lumens on average while using less electricity than halogen bulbs, so it’s easy to see the attraction.

car and road divider

Car Headlight Types & Lumens:


LED headlight
Image By: Oleksiy Mark, Shutterstock
Lumens: 2000-4000
Average life expectancy: 5,000-10,000 hours

Unlike other bulbs that use electrical arcs, LED bulbs are essentially just a giant box of interconnected light-emitting diodes. They don’t use electrical arcs to produce light, so they don’t produce much excess heat, unlike other types of bulbs. Less heat means the bulbs have a very long lifespan, which is great for car owners.

LEDs are becoming extremely popular because they’re very energy-efficient, and they can be programmed to emit any color. LED bulbs provide great visibility, with many bulbs boasting over a mile of visibility. What makes LEDs notable in this aspect is that their light isn’t harsh or overpowering, even when it’s bright. Understandably, many car manufacturers and car owners are switching to LED bulbs.

The main downside to LED bulbs is that they’re a bit more expensive because they cost more to manufacture and distribute. You can expect to pay about $100 for a single bulb.


halogen headlights
Image Credit: WStudio, Shutterstock
Lumens: 700 to 1200
Average life expectancy: 500-1,000 hours

Halogen bulbs are the most common type of headlight bulb, with the widest availability and cheapest prices of any headlight bulb. These bulbs use a traditional filament, which puts out a lot of heat. Because of that heat, these bulbs seldom last longer than about 1,000 hours of runtime. Cheaper bulbs will burn out quicker, and brand-name bulbs might be better as far as longevity.

Halogen bulbs generally put out a yellowish light that’s fine to see, but it doesn’t have great range, and other types of bulbs blow halogen away as far as raw illumination. Simply put, halogen bulbs are the budget pick of the headlight world. The biggest pro of note is that halogen bulbs only run about $20 a piece.

HID (High-Intensity Discharge)

HID headlights
Image Credit: BokehStore, Shutterstock
Lumens: 3,500
Average life expectancy: 2,000-10,000 hours

HID headlights are considered a premium upgrade from halogen bulbs, and many higher-end cars have them installed by default. HID bulbs use a combination of noble gasses and vaporized metals to emit a bright chemical light. Because there’s no filament to burn out, HID bulbs last several times longer than a typical halogen bulb.

Unlike halogen, HID produces a bluish-white light, and the blue light improves visibility at the cost of night vision.

The downsides of HID bulbs is that they take time to ‘ramp up’ to their full output, and the light is so bright it may blind other drivers. In fact, the light is so intensely focused that you may have trouble seeing outside of its area of illumination. Lastly, you can expect to pay more for HID bulbs. Average bulb prices are about $100 per bulb, not counting assemblies.

car and road divider Car Headlight Lumens vs Flashlights and Other Light Sources

Car headlights, by necessity, are much brighter than flashlights and other handheld light sources. The average flashlight only contains about 100 lumens, but there are lots of specially-made flashlights that get much, much brighter. Some high-end flashlights boast 2,000 lumens, which is as much as a typical car headlight!

car headlight
Image Credit: Piqsels

How Bright Can Your Headlights Legally Be?

This is a very tricky question because there’s no exact figure for how many lumens your car headlights can be before they’re illegal. As a general rule, your headlights are only ‘too bright’ if they’re considered a nuisance or safety hazard to other motorists on the roadway. It’ll be quite obvious if your headlights are too bright because you’ll most likely get pulled over and fined by a law enforcement officer.

Some states may sanction headlights according to lumen output, but such regulations are sparse and rarely enforced. To be safe, don’t use your fog lights/brights when you’re around other drivers unless you’re in extremely inclement weather, of course, like very dense fog, rain, hail, or snow.

Outside of legality, you can have headlights as bright as you’d like, as long as they aren’t a public menace. For instance, you can have 6,000 lumen headlights if you don’t see very well in the dark, or if you just want the extra visibility. You just need to be considerate when you’re driving near others and how your lights might affect their visibility.

car and road divider Conclusion

Car headlights are very bright compared to your average flashlight, and high-powered headlights are even brighter. If you want brighter headlights, go for it! You’ll be fine as long as you don’t blind other drivers by leaving your brights on by accident.

Featured Image Credit: Yauhen_D, Shutterstock


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