SEMA 2013: LED headlights update older cars

Light emitting diode, or LED, headlights are all the rage at Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas this year, as several major manufacturers have stepped up with products to retrofit older cars with the latest headlight technology.

Increasingly common on new vehicles, headlight makers tout LEDs for their brighter light and long life, said to be as much as 10 years or more. The downside is, LEDs aren’t cheap, easily adding hundreds to the cost of a new car. (See our evaluation of headlamp restoration kits.)

General Electric, Philips, and Sylvania all showed new sealed-beam replacement LED headlights at SEMA. All are targeting owners of older models and collector cars, since sealed beams disappeared from most new-model cars years ago.

All three manufacturers offer standard 7-inch units; GE and Philips also make 5x7-inch rectangular styles. GE claims a life expectancy of 15,000 hours for their Nighthawk LED lamps, while Philips simply says to expect their LED headlights to last 50 times longer than conventional halogen lights.

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Sylvania’s Zevo line includes interior and exterior LED accent lighting kits, daytime running lights, and fog lights, in addition to headlights. The Interior Base Kit starts at $35. But if you’re looking for a set of LED headlights from any of the three manufacturers, expect to pay in the neighborhood of $500 for a pair.

The new LED products are arriving in stores now, with wide availability expected in early 2014. Our tests of new models with LED lights have shown they do produce a brighter light than Halogen bulbs, but don’t necessarily help you see any further down the road.

—Jim Travers

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