There’s plenty of debate about drop-in LED headlight bulbs, especially when they’re used with older reflector housings that were designed for halogen bulbs. Whether or not you personally feel the ultra-bright lights are a nuisance, or even dangerous, one thing we can all agree on is that they’re clearly the result of some impressive engineering.
Which is why we were fascinated to see the teardown [TechChick] did on a “Ultra 2 LED” retrofit from GTR Lighting. Apparently one of the diodes was failing, and as part of the warranty replacement process, she was informed she had to make it completely inoperable. Sounds like a teardown dream come true. If a manufacturer ever told us we needed to take something apart with extreme prejudice and provide photographic evidence that the deed was done, we’d be all too happy to oblige.
The driver itself ended up being completely filled with potting compound, so she doesn’t spend much time there. Some will no doubt be annoyed that [TechChick] didn’t break out the small pointy implements and dig all that compound out, but we all pretty much know what to expect when it comes to driving LEDs. The real interesting bit is the bulb itself.
As is common with these high-output automotive LEDs, the Ultra 2 is actively cooled with a small fan that’s actually enclosed within the heatsink. With the fan and the two-piece heatsink removed, she’s able to access the LED module itself. Here, two PCBs are sandwiched back to back with a hollow copper chamber that leads out of the rear of the module. When [TechChick] cut into the copper she said she heard a hiss, and assumed it was some kind of liquid cooling device. Specifically we think it’s a vapor chamber that’s being used to pull heat away from the diodes and into the heatsink at the rear of the module, which speaks to the advanced technology that makes these bulbs possible.
While laser headlights are arguably the future of automotive lighting, it’s going to be quite some time before they trickle down to those of us that don’t own supercars. Until then, when used responsibly, these LED retrofits can inject a bit of cutting-edge tech into your old beater without breaking the bank.
30 thoughts on “Exploring An Aftermarket LED Headlight Retrofit Kit”
I’ve replaced the headlights on two older vehicles. 2004 & 2006
So far, so good.
As for them being a “nuisance”, they don’t bother me a bit since I’m in the driver’s seat. ;-)
I did replace the turn signal bulbs on a 2021 Pilot and had hyper-flash issues. I bought resistors, but they were so massive I broke down and bought bulbs with built-in resistors. Pretty expensive but they work good in normal turns. If you get stuck in a turning lane for more that a couple of minutes they start hyperflasing, but just shut them off and they are fine next time you turn them on.
I’ve only been using automotive LEDs for about a year. Check back with me in 20 years and if I haven’t had to replace any of them I’ll give them a 5-star rating. I’ve replaced a few “burned out” LEDs in my home and have blinking issues with a couple of them. Not constant.
The jury is still out for replacing bulbs with LEDs. I hope they really last long enough to be worth the extra cost.
‘Hyper-flash’ is easily remedied with a proper blinker module for LEDs. I haven’t had anything but LEDs in my house for years. Only 1 has ever had to be replaced and its been the same fixture each time so I’m chalking it up to that.
No real reason not to switch to LEDs in the house or anywhere for that matter. I have to go into homes all the time and find myself straining to see with older filament bulbs.
Not if the vehicle does NOT have a blinker module. I went down that rabbit hole for days. You would think a simple question, does a 2012 pilot have a blinker module, would return a definitive answer.
I’ve been there. I thought I knew how indicators worked with a relay but I’ve had a number of cars which actually do it with transistors. No indicator relay to replace.
As I get older, the click-clack of a mechanical relay is a good reminder that the turn signals or emergency flashers are still on.
Ford has used transistors since around 2008. The have a configuration setting that if you disable will turn off the bulb burnt out indicator (stops hyperflash). 2008-2011 only had it for the rear turn signals that I know of.
Adding moving parts (the fan) to a part used in potentially harsh environments doesn’t seem like it’ll improve reliability.
LED bulbs exist without fans. I’ve been using bulbs from Beamtech for two years without problems
Perhaps you’ve never opened the hood of a car before, but I assure you, there are fans inside.
But not miniature electronics type fans. The fan behind the engine cooler is a) a lot bigger and thus less fragile and b) still often enough the cause of trouble.
First was the HID hype ten to 15 years ago. They seemed like a great idea until China started mass producing crap that dominated the entire globe and only lasted a few years. I did “everything HID” until they all stuffed up and went back to halogen.
Started to LED me house, but crap quality puts me off when they only last six months to two years. Back to old 60w wire filament bulbs.
Replaced a few LEDs in cars – parkers, blinkers, reverse lights. And again bloody utter crap quality that dominates the market and you cant find anything that is decent for durability. All leds in blinkers/reverse and parking lights break down, stop working, or flicker away merrily not long after installing.
Ebay needs to stop all china made crap.
Back to halogens for me. So so over wasting money on rubbish.
…and no, I cant find anything reputable. Even spending big dollars on simple blinker bulbs on what seems to be a big and well known brand —> stuffs up for me and hence my now hatred with LED stuff.
And yet, my first lot of 5mm LEDs bought in 1983 for a project are still working nicely!
Dumb rant over. I hope that others dont waste their good money going the dumb route that I have done over the years.
Thank you for your comment. My 10 year old Ford Ranger has yet to have a bulb burn out. Based on what you say I’ll stick with the factory bulbs. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
I replaced every incandescent I could on my Kia Soul with LED, headlights were already HID and taillight are factory LED. Over two years and not one failure. Just LEDs off amazon.
LED “ersatz” bulbs are probably the worst invention of the 21st century. LEDs need proper cooling which a bulb designed for an incandescent wire cannot provide. LED lamps with a substantial heat sink, like traffic lights, railroad signals and professional lighting fixtures, can have a MTBF well beyond 100k hours.
That was a reply to Dave. Buggy software…
I’m coming up on 15kh for some of my installed LEDs (5 years at 8hrs a day) and they are still going strong. Mind you they are all halogen downlight replacements, so they have fittings that were designed to allow airflow and cooling.
So led brake lights (I’ve not had a car since 2000 which didn’t have an LED centre light) and reverse lights? I have only tried led side lights on my car. Cheap broke (resistor current limiter) expensive worked great (had an actual driver circuit). I’ve replaced all the lights in my house with led (except the oven). The improvement in quality of the light was the big selling point
The key here is not buying super cheap LED bulbs. I personally stick 20w actual Satco bulbs in fixtures rated for a 60w incandescent and they’re all going fine years later. Each bulb costs $20.
These aren’t retrofits- a proper retrofit into an existing headlight housing incorporates an entire optic assembly, not just the bulb.
The “technology” incorporated into these bulbs are symptoms of poorly applied engineering solutions, not features. Trying to shrink LED emitters into a tiny focal point the size of a wound halogen filament gives them their tiny, overworked heatsinks that require active cooling in the form of chintzy computer fans. Just dumb.
While they’ve been able to get chips down to the size and intensity, the last thing they’re struggling with is thickness (which contributes to beam focus). Too thick by a few thousandths of an inch and the beam pattern is destroyed. A few like the Morimoto 3.0 have been able to get close, but are still handily beaten by performance halogen bulbs. Check out the Tacomaworld thread for reasons why: https://www.tacomaworld.com/threads/3rd-gen-hid-vs-led-vs-halogen-h11-projector-headlights.589465/
If you have halogen housings, stick with halogen bulbs. You’re not a lighting engineer and neither are the yahoos overnighting this stuff from China.
Nobody cares, LEDs look cooler.
Determining the light density per cubic ass hair at 20 meters doesn’t change anything. It looks better to me as the driver than ugly yellow halogens, and that’s all I’m worried about.
The UK government cares: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/special-notice-01-21-headlamp-conversions/mot-special-notice-01-21-headlamp-conversions
TL;DR: LED conversions on post-1986 cars will fail the MOT test. Not sure how many cars were converted to LEDs pre-1986 though… :-)
That sounds like you can replace the entire housing with something designed for LEDs and pass an MOT.
OSRAM (Sylvania in the US) make an LED drop-in replacement that is street-legal in some countries in Europe, Germany being one of them.
They have to get it type-approved for every single model of car, so there is a (slowly growing) list of cars these can be used in. Use of the retrofits in vehicles not on the compatibility list is illegal.
I picked up a H4 replacement for my BMW motorcycle and the beam distribution is basically identical to the old halogen, just brighter. Much nicer.
By the way, how does it look like from the law perspective? Is it legal to use the LED lamps in the reflector designed for halogen bulbs only in your countries?
As far as I know for example in Poland this is unfortunately illegal.
One thing to be aware of with LED headlamp conversions is if you live in a place that gets a bunch of snow in winter is that your fancy LED retrofit lamps don’t put out enough heat to melt snow off them.
There are LED headlamp replacements for Ye Olde Sealed Beam lamps that have a transparent heater element on or in the front lens and a thermostat that turns on the heater when the air temperature is low.
The “hissing bulb” looks like a low-grade attempt at a heat pipe arrangement. It’s hard to tell without knowing what the working fluid was – methanol etc. are often used but there was no mention of the smell. These are turning up in more and more things as power use increases and size diminishes.
Here’s an interesting paper on testing miniature heat pipe performance with different working fluids. https://www.idc-online.com/technical_references/pdfs/mechanical_engineering/PERFORMANCE%20OF%20HEAT%20PIPE%20FOR%20DIFFERENT%20WORKING%20FLUIDS%20AND%20FILL%20RATIOS.pdf
Given that she didn’t mention an odor, I’d bet it was water.
The failure point for most home LED lighting is the heat, especially upside down with heat going into the electronics. Yeah, the LED will last 50k hours, but not the electronics.
In cars, I’ve had some success, mostly with high output LED’s replacing backup bulbs, or for licence plates. The spray and intensity is not an issue as more is better. Otherwise, I’m very happy with my halogen lamp output on the 2015 Silverado. At 2600 hours on the clock and daytime running lights having headlights always on, I’m still on the OEM bulbs! A contributing reason seems to be that the battery charging voltage is now managed by the computer. It will hit 14.6V after starting the engine, but can go down to 12.6V once the battery is charged. Older vehicles had a simple regulator on the alternator that output 13.8 to 14.5V constantly which contributes to shortened bulb life (and battery too).
It depended on where your sensing wire for the alternator was attached, and your battery terminals. Bad battery terminals, and a sensing wire way downstream, and it would keep upping the voltage to maintain 12v+ at the sensing wire and boil your battery.
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