Seeing the light: alarming cost of replacement car headlamp bulbs

car headlamp bulbs

LEDs are the future of car lighting but they can come with a hefty price tag (Picture © DS Automobiles)

Drivers of some of our most popular small cars could have to pay as much as £846 for replacement headlamp bulbs. New research reveals that the cost of mending broken headlights is escalating because increasing numbers of cars are relying on LED technology.

The study by What Car? shows that owners of the Volkswagen Polo, the country’s sixth best-selling car, will spend £18 on a new halogen bulb. Meanwhile, it’ll cost drivers of the upmarket GTI version £846 because it has LED headlamp units. Owners of the Suzuki Swift SZ3 or SZT models will pay just £4 for a replacement bulb. However, drivers of the more upmarket SZ5 version will fork out £684 to replace the xenon unit. Read on to find out how much you might have to pay for a new headlamp bulb.

What kind of lights does your car have?

The law changed in 2011, requiring all new cars to have Daytime Running Lights. In some cases, lights were made to come on as soon as you turned the ignition on. In other cases, car makers embraced new LED technology. If your car has DRLs in a funky shape that are always on, these are LEDs. However, it may only be the DRLs that are LED, the main headlamp bulbs could still be cheaper halogen or xenon units. To be sure, look in the user manual.

What are the different kinds of headlamps

Halogen is the most popular type of headlamp. But the bulbs have a finite lifetime and amount of light while brightness can vary. Increasingly, specialist companies such as Osram are producing halogen bulbs that have the kind of bluey white light more usually associated with more modern, xenon lights.

Xenon headlamps are frequently called High Intensity Discharge (HID) units. They are widely regarded as more efficient and give a brighter light than halogens. However, where a regular halogen headlight bulb can cost as little as £4 from a motor retailer, a replacement HID bulb will set you back about £40 or more.

LED or Light Emitting Diodes are the new kids on the headlamp block. Car makers are increasingly fitting these because they give a much brighter more adaptable light for better driver vision. They also require less energy from the car to run and light units can be shaped more flexibly than those using traditional bulbs. This means designers can let their imaginations run wild with funky light shapes. LEDs should last the lifetime of the vehicle.

car headlamp bulbs

LEDs have a brighter, more adaptable light and use less energy than halogens (Picture © Vauxhall)

How much do costs vary?

It usually depends on the model of car you go for. Choose a cheaper version and you’ll pay less. It’s that simple. Cheaper cars will have halogen lights. According to the What Car? research, it’s £317 to buy an HID bulb for a Vauxhall Corsa Elite. The cheaper Design version of Britain’s third best-selling car will take a £17 halogen bulb.

And while a cheaper Honda Jazz ES will use an £8 halogen bulb, the more expensive EX and Sport models will require a £714 sealed LED headlamp unit.

Why are LEDs so expensive?

LEDs are not traditional bulbs. It’s not as simple as taking a broken one out and screwing a new one in. LED headlamps are sealed units because the LED tubes are an integral part of the light unit. When one breaks, you have to remove the old unit and plug in a new one.

They look great but it’s costly to replace LED headlamps on the VW Polo GTI (Picture © Volkswagen)

When is the cost a problem?

Where cost of new lighting technology will increasingly become a problem is as cars fitted with LED headlamps get older, worth less and are involved in bumps and scrapes. If you smash an LED headlamp unit against a concrete bollard in a car park, depending on the make, model and age of the car, it might actually be cheaper for the insurer to declare the car a total loss (write it off) than to replace it. Let’s hope that in the meantime, the automotive aftermarket responds to the demand and the price of replacement LED units starts to fall.

4 comments on “Seeing the light: alarming cost of replacement car headlamp bulbs

  1. Eric Hayman November 13, 2018 11:32 am

    No one is forced to buy these stupidly priced bulbs – or the vehicles they are for. As P T Barnum said, “There’s a fool born every moment.”

  2. Ray Stevens November 13, 2018 3:13 pm

    ii wanted to replace the daytime running light bulbs on my peugeot 3008 registered 2010… main dealer price for standard light bulb £50.00 each and £150.00 to fit them is that a rip off or what

  3. Eric Hayman November 13, 2018 4:10 pm

    Ray – did you go into the cost of bulb replacement when you bought the car? Or any other maintenance costs? I see the 3008 is called a “compact crossover SUV”. Is that a hybrid or a mongrel?!

  4. david November 16, 2018 6:16 pm

    I think this is a total rip off from the car manufactures they could fit led lights in a bulb which on the market there are ones for in your home lighting so why not for cars and they do not cost an arm or a leg.

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