Headlight Shootout! Story and photos by Gil "usmcdoc" Fortin
We spend so much time and effort in improving our vehicles, everything from suspension and tires to full out drive train swaps, all the while ignoring the easy bolt on â€śhigh performanceâ€ś modifications that truly count. We will go and put bigger brakes and roll cage while being blissfully ignorant of true safety modifications. I will just cut through the fluff, we forget about our headlights. Come awn, headlights? Ya, headlights, you know those lights that you are required to have, the ones that get you to work every day, the ones that you forget about until one burns out and then you spend a half hour looking at the bulbs in the part store trying to justify if those $10 more a set are worth it.
Headlights are one of the most important items on your Jeep, they are more important than bigger tires, having a winch or even having 4wd but people care more about the â€śtoysâ€ť they can add to their jeep instead of the items they use every day for some odd reason. Think about it, every night and every time the weather sucks you need headlights. The safety of yourself and your passengers hinges on those 2 little items on the nose of your Jeep. Do you really want to skimp there? Do you really want to pinch pennies on that? Then again, do you want to waste time and money on a worthless or substandard product? Well thatâ€™s where I come into play, I am going to let you know with no sugarcoating what the quality of some of the headlights on the market really are.
Today we are going to evaluate a large selection of aftermarket headlight replacements and upgrades. These companies were selected by two very simple requirements:
I asked if they were willing to put their money where their mouth was. If I got no reply, the company or vendor was difficult to work with, unreasonable delays or whatever then I moved on. If you do not see a company represented here there is a reason why. I only wanted companies who were easy to work with, quick customer service, item in stock and shown the basics of what you as a customer expect.
Item must be DOT approved or use DOT approved components. There are a LOT of non-DOT (and SAE) approved products and I would be here for months testing them all. From housings to HID kits I must have found 50 different variants not including foreign country items as
well. Yes, I know some of us run non-DOT approved stuff, but I am not here to debate grey and black areas of vehicle codes. Cut and dry, if it says â€śfor off-road use onlyâ€ť, made for another country (even if left hand drive) or has no backing by the maker, I was not including them. Ya, I know this makes a lot of people all mad because of the money they spent on their impressive headlight, but too bad. Next time you are driving and blinded by someone running some hack purple looking headlights then you just might understand why this requirement was a big one for me. I did take in 2 companies into the test because one was done right and the other one surprisingly worked! More on that later.
So soon enough I had a pile of boxes from everyone who stepped up to the plate and I had to start the evaluation. But first I had to know what I was looking for, so here is a primer on lighting for you to get you more educated. Mind you I am going to simplify this a bit for you but not â€śdumb it downâ€ť. If you want to learn more then go for it, but I warn you that some of the research out there is not exactly light readingâ€¦..hehehe â€ślightâ€ť reading.
Watts is a measure of total power output, this not to be confused with total LIGHT output. Not all of the energy emitted by a light source is visible light, heat and invisible light waves are also emitted. A LOT of heat is produced by most lights seeing as nearly melting something (filament) or creating a plasma envelope (HID) is how you are getting the light in the first place.
Lumens, on the other hand, will tell you the total visible light output of a source. For this reason, lumens (not watts) is one of the sorta relevant unit of measure when youâ€™re concerned about headlights. The problem is you can really get into a whole new level of claims when you start throwing lumens around. You see lumens are the TOTAL output of light from the source, NOT the total light you â€śseeâ€ť or is even aimed forward. You catching the little caveat there? Lumens require you to basically stick the entire light inside a sphere with a meter, then get a measurement You can't get lumens by aiming it at a wall.
Candlepower = old school measurement, candela = new school, both close enough to be the same meaning. One candela is about the light intensity produced by an ordinary candle as perceived by the your eye. It is used to addresses how bright a light source is in a particular direction, in our case, forward.. The candela is similar to the lumen in that both deal with light output as perceived by the eye, but the key difference is that the lumen measures the total visible light output, whereas the candela addresses directional intensity only. You lose light in reflection, refraction, stray aimed light and dispersion via whatever is in the air.
To be honest, I could care less about watts, lumens and candela. Its like saying I have an engine that puts out 800hp at the crank but only 400hp at the wheels. I want useable, reality based light and not a sales plug.
Foot-Candles and Lux
Foot-Candles and lux, Both units measure the same thing, the amount of visible light that falls on a surface. The key difference between the two is that the foot-candle uses the Imperial measuring system (â€™merica, hell ya), while the lux uses the metric system (cheese eating surrender monkey). To better understand the foot-candle, imagine that you have a one candle (candela) light source located in the center of a sphere and the radius of that sphere is a distance of one foot, a foot-candle is the amount of light that falls on the inside surface of that sphere. For the lux, take that same example and simply change the radius of the sphere to a distance of one meter. This is â€śreal worldâ€ť light, you can see it, segregate it by pattern and measure it easily. I will be doing quite a bit of this.
You are now well educated on lighting so it will be a lot harder to pull something over on you. There are ways to accurately measure light from the source, in route to the area it will contact and at the area it is hitting. Does every company measure their light? Yup. Does every company measure it the same way? Who knows, but I am. Every light gets measure using the same tools, same distance, same day, same everything. Ya, someone will try to say I did it wrong but I donâ€™t care. Even if I did it â€śwrongâ€ť I did it wrong all the same, all across the board.
Now lets cover something that I will NOT be spending a whole lot of time on: Color
Color temp is thrown around by most every company and I am going to not make friends with the following paragraphs. There are a lot of claims this color or that color is â€śbetterâ€ť Well I am here to tell you its not, its not that simple. Yes, there are slight performance variables depending on light temp but at the same time being HIGHLY subjective on clarity. You can go and buy headlights with a color temp from 3 to 30 thousand degrees Kelvin with some of those temps being usable and others being pretty much a purple joke. But a lot of what is â€śgoodâ€ť is entirely up to you the viewer.
First, just to make sure its clear: color temp and/or nanometers are a SET measurement and are irrelevant how we "see them".
The sheer fact of the matter is you will see perfectly clear in the same illumination in most color temps. You will even perceive things as â€śwhiteâ€ť until you toss another light source of a different temp in there. Even the people driving at you will perceive the color of your lights different than your do because their eyes are adjusted to the color of their own headlights. You see, your eyes will actually adjust to a single source light and perceive that as white. So someone driving with regular sealed beam bulbs will see their own light as white, you driving with HIDâ€™s will see your light as white, but when you see their lights you will perceive then as â€śyellowierâ€ť and they will see yours as â€śbluerâ€ť. Or here is another easy to see example: Find someone with a combination of HID/LED/bulb, have them turn on the LEDs and wait, you will see the light as white. Then wait a bit and turn on the bulbs and wait and the same thing will happen. now turn on both and the overlap will look white while the edges will look not.
So when companies start tossing around words like â€śbestâ€ť or â€śoptimumâ€ť you may wish to take it with a grain of salt. Even the sun itself changes color temp throughout the day, but once again, you see a white paper page as a white paper page all day long. Heck, perceived color will even shift as the brightness changes...sorry, this is getting complicated for a Jeep tech page.
I will make this plain and very generic. Your eyes are very adaptive to light, much more so than most people realize.
Inside your eyes are photoreceptor that are made of rods and cones. Rods are multicolor sensitive (contrary to old belief they only saw black and white) but are more sensitive to blue end of spectrum. Cones are very selective and they are tuned to red/green/blue. Your rods also control pupil restriction/constriction (this comes into play with a high power lighting) So you know that low light causes a bigger pupil, bright light closes it up, this is basic biology. Well here is some higher level biology. A big open pupil causes all sorts of stray non focused light in the eye, causing things to be not sharp (along with glare), a closed down pupil, just like a camera aperture, gets rid of these aberrant rays and things are sharper (depth of field increased as well). So you crank up the light and things get sharper, right? well maybe. If you crank up the red end of the color the rods don't close the pupil as much (remember the rods are more blue sensitive) so now you get a LOT of out of focus light and thatâ€™s not good. Ok, so lets crank up the blue end ! Well now you shift the color out of the happy area of the cones and colors looks like crap. That and your eyes do not process blue light well, the more blue light something is the less clear and your eyes strain to crisp the image.
The Point There is this happy area that is very subjective where YOU the viewer (because you are the one using the light) see things clear, in what you feel as a correct color in THAT light and also not so "blue" that it causes eye strain. Donâ€™t get into a pissing match over color when there are so many more things with headlights to care about.
There is actually a lot more into headlight design and development than most people notice. You canâ€™t just toss a light bulb behind some glass, add some aluminum foil and call it a â€śheadlightâ€ť, even though some of the ones I found available were almost nothing more than that. DOT (Department of Transportation) and also tied in with SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) along with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) have guidelines of how the light should be thrown out there and in what way. I will just make this short by saying â€śDOTâ€ť from now on as it covers most of it. Ok, so a DOT approved design has to follow rules, only so much above a set height, only so much to one side, min/max brightness at key areas and things like that. I have no desire to nuke this and will just say you have to play their rules to get their approval. There are so many ways to skin this cat and every company has a different way of achieving it, some more effectively than others. This can be done with the exterior lens, the rear reflector, a front reflector, an internal lens, bulb placement or any combination of them. This is why for example the factory JK has that huge clear dome, while older CJâ€™s did not and both run DOT approved headlights while using entirely different ways of aiming the light. Also we drive on the right side of the road here, so what works in another country may not exactly work here in the USA.
The goal is to get a good uniform lighting with it being weighted correctly in brightness and no dark spots. A decent horizontal cut-off when on low beam because this helps in rain, snow and fog along with not tossing stray light at oncoming drivers. A high beam that is nice and "spot like" that gets the distance you need. This is the "goal", how well it is met is a different matter all together. Just because you meet the minimum standards in the points they tell you do does not nessisarily mean you did a good job.
So now that you are learned on some lighting knowledge, that allows me to give you an idea what the plan was here. I needed to take these makers of bulbs, housings and headlights and figure a way to run them against each other. I figured it would be best to do a combination of both hard facts and also subjective input. Then I would tally it up or something like that and pick a winner or winners.
Here are the judging points:
Measured light output in a real world environment, both high and low beam.
Light patterning and clarity.
Light cut-off and observed glare.
Ease of installation.
Appearance (yes, does it look retarded or cool)
Price value. (are your getting what you pay for)
Any issues at all in installation or use.
Well Lets Get Started!
First thing I had to do was even out the paying field and remove the JK from the equation. Yes, these are going in a JK but the Jeep has all sorts of little quirks that could mess up the test. The voltage varies depending on engine RPM and voltage changes the brightness of lights, so that will not do. The jeep also has a built in â€śself testingâ€ť that tells when a light is out and can cause lights to flicker, also something not needed in this part of the test. Also changing the lights a bunch of times in the JK will take a lot of time. So what I did was make a stand alone â€śjeepâ€ť to be my test stand. A pair of headlight buckets were welded square to a steel frame the same width and height as the headlight centers factory JK with a small lift on 35â€™s. Then I went and used an ARB headlight harness for all the powering duties connected to simple switches for high and low beam. This was all ran through a DC voltage controller set at 14 volts (the average voltage in a JK while the engine is running) that also removed any pulses/whatever from messing up the test. Then I drug the setup down to the local auto shop and yes, I had them put it on the headlight machine and adjust them to make sure that it could be aimed correctly. I do not want any company saying I was being bias or anything different for any light. This gave me a solid, simple, non variable test stand with the ability to quickly change headlights and also a great place to mount the camera for images.
Its even got a laser, that makes you know I am serious.
Ok, I will lay this right out there: I am not a scientist or a lighting engineer. I do not work in the lighting industry nor do I have millions of dollars to spend on technical measuring equipment. But I understand light in the real world and I know how to measure light, so that is exactly what I did. The first thing I made was blank plates that were half flat white and black, these would be used to get an average measurement of light at known distances of 25â€™, 50â€™, 100â€™, 200â€™, 300â€™ and 500â€™ and also a â€ścan I see it from the driverâ€™s seatâ€ť test. The readings were taken at 3 different locations and 2 heights in a 10â€ť wide â€śroadâ€ť. Two readings were taken at ground level 6 inches up on both sides of the â€śroadâ€ť to simulate the centerline and the shoulder, both very important things when driving. The 3rd measurement was taken at 48 inches off the ground to simulate a deer, drunk person, tree or whatever random object made its way into the center of your lane. The centerline of the lane and the height were marked with a 30mW green laser because I love being able to justify fun toys. Actually it was done with a laser so it would be exactly the same plane for the entire distance I was working. What I measured was once again, â€śreal worldâ€ť light importance, so keep this in mind. I know I will have someone or some company getting in a huff saying my numbers are wrong or whatever.
Well, the numbers donâ€™t lie.
Armed with a pile of tools and energy drinks I set to my mission.
The numbers I will show you are an AVERAGE as each reading was taken 5 times with the high and low being thrown out and the remaining 3 averaged. Yes, there was a LOT of math. All readings were taken with a hand held meter, on a new moon night with no light pollution to contaminate the testing. Testing was done on an evening with unlimited visibility, no low level atmospheric conditions and 73F ambient temp. In other words it was a very nice night for me to stand outside for a bunch of hours getting chewed up by mosquitoes while the random local law enforcement stopped by to wonder exactly what the heck I was doing while writing lots of numbers in a yellow note pad in a neglected dirt lot.
But first lets get the subjective input out of the way.
Brand: Factory JK (no picture, go walk outside and look for yourself)
Initial impression: They are lacking, badly.
Light patterning and clarity: Light pattern is blotchy with obvious dark patches.
Ease of installation: As easy as signing a loan or pay cash. Either way you are leasing your soul to the Jeep gods for a while.
Appearance: Plastic dome seems unnecessarily large, reflector is clean and simple and appears well made.
Price value: They could have done better.
Issues: None noted.
Brand: Hella replacement bulbs (no picture, they look like H13 bulbs)
Initial impression: They look like bulbs, thatâ€™s a good thing as they could have looked like a radish and radishes have poor light output. Vegetables are not a DOT approved lighting source.
Light patterning and clarity: Same blotchy appearance to pattern as the factory one just now a little brighter.
Ease of installation: Simple.
Price value: Good for what they are. If you need replacement bulbs you may as well step them up a notch.
Brand: Silvania Silverstar replacement bulbs (no picture)
Initial impression: They look like a H13 bulb just sexierâ€¦or less sexier.
Light patterning and clarity: Same blotchy factory light pattern but brighter with a different hue.
Ease of installation: Simple.
Appearance: Like a glass nipple.
Price value: Good value, like I said above that when you burn out a bulb you may as well upgrade.
Brand: IPF H4 conversion housings and bulbs.
Initial impression: Looks like the type of headlight that came on jeeps before they became rectangles. They look â€ścorrectâ€ť and well made. Smooth reflectors with most of the light aiming done by the tempered glass lens. They have a slight blue color when off.
Light patterning and clarity: The pattern was a significant improvement over the factory lights. Smooth transition and a better spill in front of the vehicle instead of that big dark. A good cut off on low and good throw on high.
Ease of installation: easy, same effort as changing a bulb.
Appearance: They look good, nothing really impressive but brings a slight â€śold schoolâ€ť look to the JK.
Price value: Good. I mean you are spending like $180 on a set of these and that is over 4 times more than just getting upgraded bulbs, but this is more than 4 times the usable light.
Issues: none noted.
Brand: Delta Tech H4 (DOT) conversion housing and bulbs
Initial impression: Same as the IPFâ€™s other than you can see a reflector covering the nose of the bulb.
Light patterning and clarity: Once again a significant improvement over factory headlights. A good cut off on low and a tight pattern on high.
Ease of installation: easy, same as changing a bulb.
Appearance: They look good, same as the IPFâ€™s
Price value: Good to very good, yes these are around $100 but easily 4 times the light than just a bulb swap.
Issues: The asked me if their dress made them look fat, I avoided and redirected the questioning as trained. Otherwise no issues.
Initial impression: This is stepping things up a notch. It is a total change in appearance and performance for the JK. A lot of hardware in the box that may intimidate a novice but in reality it is quite simple.
Light patterning and clarity: Very crisp cut off with a little â€śstepâ€ť typical of projector HIDâ€™s on low with a very clean light. No blotchiness and just a smooth coverage of light. High beam is nicely centrally weighted. There is no mistaking that they are HIDâ€™s and well designed.
Ease of installation: Moderate. You need a basic understanding of wiring but it is very simple to figure out. By basic, I mean if you know what a positive and a ground is, you are fine. You will have to figure out a place to mount the ballasts but its not hard. All the plugs only plug into the right opposing plugs so there is nothing to mess up.
Appearance: Its either a love or hate appearance, you either think it looks cool or like an eyeball. The vendor does offer lots of options for background color to offer a unique appearance and also useless (to me) options like â€śangel eyesâ€ť for those that desire it. I opted for plain and simple black and this was a nice combination of clean looks with a nice optic in the middle.
Price value: Very good. If you want to jump into a complete projector housing with no hassle or fabrication this is the way to go.
Issues: They are HIDâ€™s so there is a slight lag in start to full brightness as they warm up. The instructions could have been a little more well written and also included JK specific recommendations for ballast mounting and grounds. The bulbs themselves were tedious to mount and the dust seal for the back of them did not fit right. This I found annoying as dust and moisture will eventually get in there.
Brand: Truck-Lite LED replacement headlights (2nd generation)
Initial impression: Wow. Ok, I have seen and used their first generation headlights and was less than impressed. It appears they ditched that entire design and started from scratch with a split reflector design and a much better appearance. They are beefy with significant weight and appear very well made.
Light patterning and clarity: Crisp cut off on low with a smooth transition of light with only minor darker areas, a little bit of upward light above the cut off. A nice solid beam on high beam.
Ease of installation: As simple as replacing a bulb, remove the grill, 4 screws and a plug.
Appearance: Dark, I mean when off they look almost completely black. It is a very cool and clean look. It may look odd on lighter colored JKâ€™s but on my dark green one it complemented it nicely.
Price value: Pretty good. Yes, I know you are going â€śWHAT!! They are like $600 a pair??!!?? How can that be pretty good?â€ť Well, we will cover this more in a little bit. It has to do with exactly how long these are going to last.
Issues: yup, a big one, they flicker. Remember that whole â€śself testingâ€ť junk that the JK has? Well with some lights it causes the light to flicker, usually HID and LEDâ€™s. The only way around this is to do some wiring with diodes and capacitors that I will cover at the very end.
Brand: J.W. Speaker 8700 Evolution LED replacement headlights
Initial impression: They donâ€™t look like speakers! I have no idea why the company name confuses people, the founders last name is â€śSpeakerâ€ť and no they do not make speakers. But they donâ€™t look quite like â€śheadlightsâ€ť either, they look more like precision technical optical equipment. In the front you have crisp cut optics and in the back a massive heat sink and all of it is very well made.
Light patterning and clarity: Razor crisp cut off on low beam. There is a slight color shift at the edges due to what I assume is the coatings on the optics but it is not irritating, just something to note. High beam has the same nice cut off and is a solid almost â€śblockâ€ť of light that illuminates very well at distance. One of the most impressive light outputs and definitely the most impressive patterning of the group.
Ease of installation: Same as the rest of the bulbs/housings, plug and play.
Appearance: Totally a love or hate look, evil and sinister with a purpose. If Darth Vader needed mood lighting for his bathroom they would be J.W. Speaker LEDâ€™s. There is no denying the level of design and development that went into making these. There are only 2 headlights in this article that complexly change the look of the JK and this is one of them.
Price value: Good. Ok, I can hear peopleâ€™s heads exploding on this one. First I go and say the Truck-Liteâ€™s are a good value and then I pull out a set of headlights at nearly twice as much and STILL try to justify it. Yes, good value and I will explain why later.
Issues: Flicker, same as the Truck-lites, needs to be fixed, kind of annoying at this price in the game, end of story.
Rebel Off Road drop in HID conversion.
I got these for 2 reasons:
I wanted to see if the hype of putting them in a factory JK housing was true.
I wanted to show you the usual action of putting a HID conversion in a housing not made for an HID bulb.
Rebel knows that these are not DOT approved and they make sure you know they are for off-road use only, unlike a lot of the junk you find on eBay, so they are not hiding anything. They stumbled on a unique combination that works very well for people who need good lighting for off highway use, or for those who want to flirt with DOT regulations.
OK, now that I have made the DOT thing clear, lets move on.
Initial impression: A simple solution to a complex problem. Tiny box full of win.
Light patterning and clarity: Ok, this is where things get odd. For some reason a JK factory housing works BETTER with an HID bulb than it does with an H13. You see the light envelope in an HID is 90 degrees off and further out than an H13 and this should cause issues. You would think that all the cash that Jeep threw in at designing a housing for the JK that it would work well with the bulb it comes with (and it does not) and work horrible with an HID like 99% of every other housing. Cut off was good, not as good as the projector or LEDâ€™s but just as good as the other full housings. High beam was well centered and not all over the place.
Ease of installation: Moderate. You need to know what a positive and negative is and how to use a screwdriver.
Appearance: Looks like the factory headlight.
Price value: Stupid good value, IF they were street legal.
Issues: Bulbs fit a little loose in the factory housings so I pulled the seal from the factory bulbs and doubled them up, problem solved. And there is that little issue of big brother no longer being your buddy if you install them, kittens will spontaneously combust when the light hits them and it causes cancer in California or something.
Next is the actual hard data.
Here are 2 charts to show you the actual measured light output of all headlights in this test. Now pay attention to this next statement:
Do not automatically assume the â€śbig spikesâ€ť are the â€śbestâ€ť, look at the readings and at what distance!
You can also tell what lights had a smooth output that was uniform in shape and brightness. For example if you look at all the ones that use the factory JK housing you can see how the pattern is obviously split and weighted to one side. So once again, look at all of the distances and brightness before you pass judgment. The color tells you the distance measured and the max spike tells you the brightness measured at that distance. And just like in real life, the brightness decreases when the distance increases. This is not an overhead "picture" like what the headlight companies use for advertising, and after this testing I have very little faith in those at all.
Also if anyone wants the full excel spreadsheet with all of the numbers I will gladly send it to them, but most of the data is right here for you to see. Numbers donâ€™t lie kids.
The next â€śtestâ€ť was getting shots of the beam pattern. Now there are so many companies that will tell you that â€śbeam shots donâ€™t mean a thingâ€ť, and they are correctâ€¦.mostly. Beam shots are worthless if everything is not exactly the same. You have to have the same distance, height, background and time with the same camera settings of light balance, aperture, shutter speed, ISO/ASA, and well you get the point. All shots were taken at 25â€™ with camera settings being exactly the same, I even whipped out the laser to make sure. Remember what I was saying about color not being all that important? Well you want use that unbiased view here because the â€ścolorsâ€ť are based on the camera setting. The color variation is because the camera was set with a daylight white balance, so the color your seeing is caused by that setting. Remember what I said about your eyes automatically making â€śwhiteâ€ť white? Most all the lights appeared â€śwhiteâ€ť once my eyes adjusted to them. The main purpose of this was to show the cut-off, any random beams and the transition of brightness. Well that and everyone always asks for beam shots.
Low beam first.
Stock JK (pattern is exactly the same with Hella and Silvania bulds so multiples of this image are a moot point)
Next is high beams:
Stock JK (pattern is exactly the same with Hella and Silvania bulds so multiples of this image are a moot point):
So now some results, winners, losers and stuff.
The factory JK headlights with any H13 bulb at all, be it factory, Hella, Silvania or whoever. The H13 bulb and factory housing combo sucks in my professional opinion. The pattern is blotchy and horrible and even with lighting companies touting some 11tybillion percent increase from factory you can tell that is just a sales line just by looking at the chart. With less than 1 footcandle difference anywhere between bulbs, if you are going to spend the money you may as well just save a little more and really upgrade the entire housings. This article was a real eye opener for me in regards to replacement bulbs and money I have wasted over the years.
The Winners Yes, plural, winners. Did you think it was just that easy to call one winner? There are too many variables and I will explain.
Best Overall: J.W. Speaker
They outshone the Truck-lite and pretty much all of the competitors. Better output and better clarity but you get a smack in the face of price that makes people pause. The price to me is not the issue, you see a LED is going to last as long as 50+ Halogen bulbs. So even if you are spending $20 a light for replacement bulbs you are still above the price of an LED headlight. So this is one of those buy and forget about it purchases. Donâ€™t get me wrong, the Truck-lite did very good and would be a nice entry into the LED market. The difference between the two is what you can achieve with solid optics vs. reflector design with a LED. The light from the J.W. Speaker just left it and everything else in in the dust. Look at the chart, the even transition from side to side and the output at 500. You see down the bottom where the 500 foot readings are? Yes, other lights may have put out more light up close (100â€™ or less) but that is where they stopped performing. The J.W. 8700 Evolutions put out more light at distance and much, much more evenly.
But wait...didn't you have flicker problems? What is up with that?
Easy, If you are upgrading your lights then you should be upgrading your harness. You are limiting the performance of whatever you buy when you use the factory wiring. Should the J.W. Speakerâ€™s not filickered? I mean ya, come awn guys, for the price of these you guys could make a little inline adapter that has a couple of capacitors and diodes so I do not have to do it myself. That would be nice, But I am running a stand alone harness in my Jeep directly off the battery so its moot anyway.
Best halogen replacement housing: Delta Tech
Yes, it was very close between Delta and IPF but at a lower cost with more output it came out the winner. For around $100 the Delta Tech H4 conversion is a better option than any H13 bulb. Donâ€™t even bother buying a set of replacement bulbs when your H13â€™s burn out, just get a new set of housings, its money better spent.
Best HID: HIDprojectors HID complete replacement projector housings
The light output was impressive and clean and they worked perfectly out of the box.
They had a significant output to price ratio that you could not argue with, also the ability for the vendor to customize the housings is a very nice touch.
The J.W.â€™s beat them out as they were better in overall lighting at distance and smoothness of pattern. Then again it is kinda hard to beat the level of optics in those things. Yes, they are still an â€śoff-road onlyâ€ť item till they submit for an approval, but this is pretty much high end OEM tech stuffed in JK housings. You make the call.
The "You have to get an honorable mention": Hellfire HID, rebel Off-Road
Holy crap I never would have thought that a bare HID in a JK housing would work that good! Stupid good product! The light simply should not work that well, its almost like Jeep designed the factory housing to use an HID and then went â€śnaa, lets just toss an H13 in there and be cheaperâ€ť. They are not as high tech as the HIDprojectors so the beam pattern suffers, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would.
Ok, to show you, here is what I was talking about with HID is tossed in a housing not designed for it and blinding oncoming drivers.
This picture is the Hellfire HID inside the IPF housings and look at the light going everywhere. See those huge vertical beams and â€śstarburstâ€ť patterning? This is the "normal" action when tossing an HID bulb in the "wrong" housing. This is the crap that blinds you from people with those annoying HID kits, this is the reason why DOT is cracking down on them as well.
And this is the Hellfire bulbs in the factory JK housings.
You see what I am saying! Ok, done with that, you form your own opinions and use on this one.
Winner of the biggest improvement you can make to your lighting for under $100 that was not shown here but you should know:
Make or buy a stand alone harness that runs directly off the battery and uses the factory light wires/plug to trip the new relays. Make sure it is well made and has diodes and capacitors to prevent relay flutter. There are a few vendors out there who make them or they are not hard to do yourself.
Plain and simple, drawing the power from the battery instead of the factory wiring makes a huge difference in voltage drop and brightness. Also this is one way to get rid of the flicker for LEDs and some HIDs. Here is a how-to thread by Venom:
The last thing I tested while out here was Xpel headlight protection film. It is a thick, clear adhesive backed plastic. Think of it like a screen protector for your headlights. Great product, kinda difficult to put on but worth all of the effort.
And here is a video to show you exactly why I put it on.
Think about it, you just spent a good chunk of money to upgrade your headlights only to have one taken out by a stray rock on the road while driving to the marriage counselor for spending all this money on your Jeep. Do you need that stress? Cheap, simple insurance. Get some Xpel protection film.
Helpful links and information:
I took a bunch of these lights and sent them out to our members for them to test and give unbiased input. This way you get true information from average jeep owners who have no horse in this race. Read what they have to say about some of these products here:
Why? Because I can easily fix its only little glitch by upgrading the wiring harness anyway. So to me it was a moot point, but to a JK owner who does not or can not do this level of wiring it is a deal killer for this Shootout. So yes, they did not win here.
But with a harness and flicker fixed they are by far the best headlight I have ever seen. They are ridiculously well made and designed and are worth that kind of money. The problem is justifying that kind of money to an average owner. I, on the otherhand, am not an average owner. I have a 50â€ť Rigid LED bar on the windshield and many other high end lighting and electronics. I understand the value over time of owning them, they last as long as 50+ halogen bulbs or 20 something HIDâ€™s, that is a LONG time. No moving parts or bulb to break and a very low amp draw are even more selling points. They are an install and never worry about again product, for pretty much the life of your Jeep. I also learned a while ago that rarely sometimes you do get what you pay for. I was seriously skeptical of the value of these lights and I am glad I was proven wrong.
And to be blunt, they look evil ! They totally go with the appearance of my JK and that was a nice benefit.
Well thank you all for reading this and I would like to thank the following vendors and companies for their assistance in getting me these products in a swift and painless manner. Please visit our forums for more technical information and have a good day!