Here’s Why Headlights Cost So Much

Online Loans

November 5, 2020

$15,000 – is what you’ll pay for replacing some top-end sports car headlights. After hearing that, the $3,000+ cost of headlights for the average luxury car doesn’t seem so bad.

OnlineLoans finds out why headlights cost so much:

Key Points:
  • Laser lights are the latest tech in headlight beams

  • Beams can pivot in the direction you turn the steering wheel

  • LED matrix headlights sense glare and dim accordingly

  • New headlight designs ‘welcome and farewell’ owners

  • Headlight style has changed dramatically over the decades

Firstly, some headlight background

Manufacturers don’t play ‘mine are brighter than yours’. They do, however, play ‘mine is more advanced than yours’. Technology has progressed from lightbulbs to lasers.

Headlight Progression

New Headlights in the 1980s: Halogen – these are the simplest headlights available. Halogen gas surrounds the filament instead of a vacuum. While first appearing on cars in the late ’70s, they became standard in the ’80s.

New Headlights in the 1990s: Xenon – they use a mixture of gases within a glass cylinder. They also produce a whiter light which can appear as a light-blue tint.

New Headlights in the 2000s: LED – (Light Emitting Diode) up to 80% more power-efficient than halogens. A matrix of LEDs can be energised independently which can focus on points and reduce glare. They first appeared in the ’90s in tail lights.

New Headlights today: Laser – a laser is focused into a phosphorus gas which emits light. They can produce light 1000 times more powerful than LEDs These are still quite new in the auto industry.

Headlight Innovation: They move

Curve-adaptive headlights. These are common nowadays. They use small motors inside the headlights to pivot or turn in the angle a car is turning. In other words, you turn the car left and the headlight beams angle left, giving more visibility.

Curve-adaptive headlights can also angle up or down hills with their self-levelling system. They also adjust the beams depending on a vehicle’s speed. The cost of headlights increases when you add little motors to move the beams.

Headlight Innovation: They avoid glare

Adaptive Driving Beams. They use LED matrix lights and systems that detect oncoming cars and reflective signs they may ‘dazzle’ drivers. For example, when they detect an oncoming car’s headlights, they’ll dim certain LEDs in the matrix that are (were) shining in the other car.

If the system senses an overly reflective sign, the LEDs shining on it will be dimmed so other LEDs in the headlight matrix ‘see past it’. Light travels pretty fast as we all know so the process happens almost instantly.

Headlight Innovation: They say ‘hello’ & ‘goodbye’

Approach lights (Aka: welcome lights). A pretty cool party trick, they dim and brighten as you approach or leave the vehicle. In other words, sensing the key fob getting closer to the car, the lights will turn on, increasing in size and brightness as the key gets closer.

When leaving your car, they’ll get dimmer and smaller as you walk away also confirming the doors are locked. Approach lights are common on cars for business professionals as they give a ‘sophisticated’ appearance.

Other Headlight Innovations

Running Lights: These are common on most new cars and add to the appearance and visibility of the car. Simply, they are always ‘on’ when the engine is on.

Light Bars: More common on tail light designs, these were popular in the early ’90s but are making a comeback. The lights stretch the whole width of the vehicle.

How about the actual style of headlights? Check out the progression below
Headlight design over the decades
’80s ‘boxy’ look

80’s ‘boxy’ look

’90s ‘bubble, rounded’ look

90’s ‘bubble, rounded’ look_1


2000’s ‘busy’ look

2000’s ‘busy’ look


Today’s ‘angry’ look

Today’s ‘angry’ look

In Summary

When you add in glare sensing systems, pivot motors, lasers and running lights, it’s easy to see where the huge cost of headlights comes from. A clean set of headlights in working condition is key to keeping a car’s value high as they are some of the first things noticed when buyers inspect cars.

The auto industry is a champion of innovation so if your vehicle is a little outdated, get a quick quote with OnlineLoans to see what you can upgrade to. Our 100% online car loan process is easy and fast!

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