Tag Archives: high performance bulbs

Mechanics replaces bulb in car

Tricks of the Light

First published in BMW Car Magazine March 2018

Chris Graham explains how car headlamps have developed, why they’re so good now and what’s in store for the future.

Back in the 1970s, most car headlights were standard, round five- or seven-inch diameter units; all very straightforward and utilitarian. But the progress that’s been made during the intervening 40 or so years has seen nothing short of a revolution, in both the appearance and functionality of these often overlooked essentials of the modern car.

While we all rely entirely on the performance of our car’s headlights for nighttime driving, the technology that goes into them, and the effort that’s put into their design, are factors that most motorists take completely for granted. And yet, in many cases, the modern headlamp unit is a work of visual art; an array of wonderfully-shaped, attractively-finished almost jewel-like treasures, protected behind a crystal-clear cover.

Fantastic advances

Today’s vehicle lights are a far cry from the simplistic and often woefully inadequate headlamps of yesteryear. For decades, car headlights were rudimentary, metal and glass affairs, with traditional filament bulbs that bounced yellowish light off a shiny, convex reflector and out through a glass lens that directed the beam down on to the road.

It wasn’t really until the late 1970s and early 1980s that car designers started to realise that there was real scope to enhance the look of the headlight units, while improving their performance at the same time. These changes went hand-in-hand with improvements in technology which allowed the format to be changed. At long last, it became possible to break away from the standard approach, and the limitations of weight, fragility and expense that the old-style units carried with them.

The first big breakthrough came thanks to the development of the faceted reflector. Typically made from plastic, these multi-surfaced, mirror-like reflectors were designed to replace the outdated and inefficient glass lens. All the beam-direction work was accomplished by the reflector from behind the bulb, which meant that all that was required in front was a weight-saving covering of clear plastic to keep the light weather-sealed.

This gave designers much greater scope to make a visual feature of the headlights, but it also put greater pressure on the functionality of the lights as many were made smaller. Consequently, light output had to be increased and controlled more effectively to deliver the necessary illumination.

The early 1990s saw the introduction of the projector-type unit, which relied on a much smaller, internal glass lens positioned close to the bulb, to focus the light output on the road ahead. This represented another progressive step forward, although the approach wasn’t universally adopted by all vehicle manufacturers.

BMW Drives at Dusk

 

Boosted output

Of course, bulb enhancements were key to these performance improvements. The original tungsten filament bulbs, that had been around since the 1940s, were finally replaced by halogen bulbs in the 1970s, when it became necessary to boost light output and reduce the size of the source. However, the halogen bulb was effectively just a harder-working version of the tungsten unit (refer to the ‘Light source development’ panel).

But one of the most fundamental drawbacks with all bulbs that rely on a thin wire filament is that, sooner or later, that wire is going to burn through and fail. What’s more, the harder they’re worked (and the brighter they burn) the quicker that failure will occur. So the industry began searching for an alternative, and the first solution involved harnessing the intense light that’s produced when an electric spark jumps between two electrodes

The result was the high intensity gas discharge (HID) unit, commonly referred to as the xenon bulb. An inert gas – in this case xenon – is contained within a small glass envelope. Metal electrodes extend in from each side of this envelope, and the gap between their tips is what causes the electricity to arc, and the bulb to light. This technology offered a much longer service life (no delicate filament to break), lower power consumption, two or three times the light output of a halogen bulb and a colour temperature that was much closer to that of daylight.

On the downside, HID bulbs are very expensive, require complex electronics to control them, an integral lens washing capability and  an automatic, self-leveling system to prevent on-coming drivers from being dazzled by wayward beams. All of these factors added enormously to the cost of installation, and meant that for a good many years, the use of HID lights was restricted to high-end marques such as BMW.

LED rules, OK?

Now there’s a move afoot to replace the expensive but very effective, HID headlights with LED-based alternatives which, although still very expensive when compared to traditional halogen lighting, are a good deal more cost-effective than HID. Consequently, their use is currently restricted to the more prestigious marques, and often only to the high-end vehicles within various model ranges. BMW, however, is adopting LED lighting technology extensively across its model ranges.

The real beauty of LED as an automotive light source is that it’s incredibly controllable. So, rather than having a single light source in each headlamp unit, individual LEDs can be grouped together to produce the same sort of output, but also offer a tailoring of that output for other functions.

The computer-controlled switching of the various LED elements in a cluster can be used to vary the beam pattern that’s illuminating the road ahead, offering a degree of adaptability that’s never been possible before. These systems can be programmed to vary the output depending on the presence of other vehicles, whether they’re being followed, or are approaching from the opposite direction. So ‘high beam assist’ functionality now allows the headlights to be run permanently on their high-beam setting, with the beam pattern being adjusted automatically to suit the road conditions.

The most recent development involves a technology known as ‘LED laser’; a very futuristic-sounding but, as yet, not fully-functioning system. Somewhat disappointingly, it appears that the term ‘laser’ is a touch misleading, as there aren’t actual lasers – as you and I might imagine them – involved. Effectively, we’re still talking about LED technology, just in a higher-performance version and with a greater output.

But the high outputs are still proving difficult to control so, at the moment, this technology is restricted to the high beam units on a few, top-end vehicle applications. Inevitable, though, manufacturers will crack the problem in due course, enabling the power of LED laser lights to be harnessed effectively to use on dipped beam applications too, at which point it’ll become the most desirable lighting option.

BMW with white lights

 

Tasty source!

The Holy Grail for a lighting engineer is to create a unit that’s inexpensive to manufacture, low-cost to run, easy to direct and that produces light at a colour temperature that’s as close as possible to natural daylight. The human eye works best in daylight, so vehicle lighting that gets close to mimicking this is going to offer the safest and most effective option. This is why xenon lighting represented such a remarkable improvement over the halogen-powered systems that went before it.

Traditional, incandescent bulbs produce light with a colour temperature of about 2,700 degrees Kelvin (K), which is actually towards the yellow/orange end of the visible spectrum. A typical HID unit operates at 3,500K, which is a lot less yellow and much more neutral, while a modern LED can output light at 6,000K. This is a lot ‘cooler’ and more towards the blue portion of the spectrum.

I remember reading once that, as we age, the human eye becomes less and less sensitive to light at the yellow end of the spectrum which, of course, is exactly where most of the halogen-powered headlights sit. So, those of us of a certain age, who drive cars with traditional headlights, are actually bathing the nighttime road in a light that we find it increasingly difficult to see with!

Another interesting aspect which helped trigger the industry’s move away from HID lighting technology, is that the colour output from these lights varies during their service life. This will increase (becoming more blue), then peak and start to decrease again as the years pass. This typically occurs over a 3,000-hour period, but there are a lot of service-related variables involved, too.

Durability issues

When HID lights were first introduced, vehicle manufacturers proudly announced that these units would last the lifetime of the vehicle but, sadly, that hasn’t been the case. The life expectancy of xenon lights was relatively quickly modified to a more realistic five years and, most recently, research has revealed that it’s actually nearer three. The situation will be better with LED headlights as there’s no electrode consumption involved, so nothing to burn out.

Of course, there remain a great many cars around that still use conventional, filament-type headlight bulbs and, while most nowadays produce a reasonable output, bulb upgrades can represent an affordable and very worthwhile option. ‘High-power’ replacement bulbs from a quality producer will significantly boost light output to enhance nighttime driving and safety.

The genuine gains to be had nowadays from well-engineered, upgraded bulbs are very impressive. These used to be pegged to an improvement of about 30%, but the painstaking development work undertaken by specialist bulb producers like Ring means that it’s now possible to buy bulbs offering a genuine 150% more light output than the standard unit. What’s more, this has been achieved without affecting power consumption, so there are no potentially damaging, knock-on effects for the vehicle’s wiring, switches or sensitive engine management systems, as sometimes used to be the case. The only downside is a shorter service life but, the sort of performance gains now available easily outweigh this disadvantage.

As far as the automotive future is concerned, it would appear that the days of the filament bulb are numbered. The ‘solid state’ solution offered by LED technology will be progressively enhanced and, with unit costs being driven ever lower, the use of this lighting source is surely set to become increasingly widespread on vehicles of all types.

Ring QA lab testing bulbs

 

Light source development

Traditional bulbs operate by passing an electrical current through a thin wire, causing it to heat up and glow. The more current that’s passed, the hotter the wire gets and the brighter it glows. But there’s a balance to be struck. Overdo it and the filament will be consumed, the electrical circuit will be broken and the bulb will stop working.

The switch from conventional, filament-type light bulbs to halogen versions made a significant difference to light output. Greater brightness was achieved by ‘burning’ the filament hotter while controlling the greater evaporation rate of the filament by surrounding it with halogen gas.

When you see an old, filament-type bulb that’s failed, and you notice dark-coloured deposits on the inside of the bulb’s glass, that’s the residue from the burnt (evaporated) filament. Operating the filament in a halogen gas-rich environment triggers a reaction between the gas and the filament, causing the vapourised metallic particles to be re-deposited on the filament, thus extending service life.

High-performance halogen bulbs, which burn even hotter to achieve their greater light output, are able to do so because, as well as a halogen gas, the bulb also contains xenon. These gases are contained within the bulb’s glass envelope at a very high pressure, which acts to preserve the filament to an even greater degree.

Nevertheless, wire filaments remained an inherently weak link, with their gradual evaporation and vulnerability to vibration meaning that service life is always going to be limited. Removing the filament from the equation took vehicle lighting technology to the next level, with high intensity gas discharge (HID) and LED bulb types significantly boosting both light output and quality, as well as overall durability.

Light brightness is measured in units called lumens, and a conventional halogen bulb typically produces about 1,500 lumens. This compares to an HID bulb which outputs about 3,000 lumens while, somewhat surprisingly, the latest LED units are producing about 1,500 lumens. Arguably, they represent something of a backward step in output terms but, in every other respect – cost, efficiency, weight, electrical complexity, service life etc – they are superior.

Anecdotally, drivers are noticing the difference between HID and LED headlight systems, and not in a good way. However, it has to be said that the reduction in brightness is somewhat offset by the fact that LED light has a significantly higher colour temperature than HID light, so the illumination can appear more natural.

Unfortunately, thanks to the vagaries of the European type-approval system, LED lights have to be homologated as a single unit, in contrast to HID and halogen units, the components of which are homologated separately. Consequently, HID and halogen failures can be rectified with a replacement bulb (or other component) but, when an LED headlamp fails, the light unit has to be replaced in its entirety, which is massively more expensive.

Top tips for maintaining sales and incomes for technicians

Although Brexit continues to hit the headlines, it is just one of many changes that are likely to have a significant impact on the automotive sector. Henry Bisson, Marketing Manager for Ring, explains some challenges to be tackled head-on if the future is to be bright for the automotive aftermarket.

Vehicle ownership has changed. There are more three-year contracts, meaning fewer people own the vehicles they drive, and the servicing is often within a package. This means less business for independent technicians and garages. In addition, with rolling contracts, motorists don’t even need to worry about MOTs, which has a further impact on the aftermarket. Dealerships have their own dedicated teams of technicians that they can rely on to make any repairs, and whilst it may make owning a car simpler for the driver, it causes no end of headaches for local garages that have spent years building up a loyal client base.

Then there is the possible legislation that will extend the MOTs on new vehicles from three to four years, again causing a knock-on effect for independents that rely on consistent trade from testing and repairs. With times changing and fewer people owning the vehicles that they drive, these are our tips for technicians that want to maintain sales and where possible increase their bottom line.

 

    1. The first thing that technicians need to do is consider how they are packaging their products. Many garages rely on a standard range of lighting as an example, but the opportunity to upsell comes from having performance bulbs that can add value to the driving experience for the customer, giving them brighter and whiter light on the roads.This isn’t just about sales, it is about safety, thinking about things differently and offering better performing products that last longer will improve sales.
    2. Providing people with some advice on what to look for before their MOT is a further opportunity to reinforce customer loyalty. Focusing on prevention rather than the cure, technicians can spend five minutes showing a customer a check list of what to look out for. Although the return won’t be immediate, giving people advice in relation to tyre care, LED lighting for licence plates and battery maintenance checks will give the customer an experience that they are more likely to remember. Better still, should the customer require any of these accessories they will know where to go to get them.
    3. Although vehicle ownership is an immediate concern to the aftermarket, connected cars are certainly an ongoing consideration for the future. Not only will connected cars have an impact on technicians but also on the talent and skills of the next generation of garage mechanics. Self-drive cars will mean less maintenance and fewer repairs and the internet of everything will result in connected cars. Whilst this is certainly an exciting evolution for the automotive industry, we also need to consider the real impact it will have. Garages will no longer will be able to rely on basic diagnostic tools to identify a fault in a vehicle. Connected cars will use the latest digital technologies to create the functionality that a driver will come to expect from the most innovative vehicles on the road. Technicians will still need to know how to change engines, batteries and tyres but fundamentally it is not outside of the realms of possibility that they will also require a digital degree to be competent when it comes to connectivity.

 

The aftermarket has long been considered a sector that sits within professional manual labour, however as times change we are going to need to rely on some of the most advanced engineers in the market to upskill and most importantly prepare the talent of tomorrow for a very different approach to the aftermarket. This also raises further questions in relation to the accessories that will be required. Although it is too soon to make any assumptions, there is likely to be a shift to technology and digital based items that will be required alongside bulbs, tyre and battery maintenance and this is something we all need to be prepared for.

Four simple steps to make fitting HID bulbs safer

HID bulbs are not new; in fact they have been around for several years. But even though they are a preferred option for many manufacturers, they are still causing some controversy in the aftermarket as mechanics remain nervous about fitting them. Henry Bisson, Ring Marketing Manager, explains four simple steps to make fitting HID bulbs safe.

“Times have changed and the technology in relation to bulbs has evolved. HID bulbs are now more common and no longer restricted to premium or luxury cars. Many models now fit HID as standard and although it was widely reported that they would last the lifetime of a car, it is typically three to five years, which has made replacing them more common than was expected.

“Changing these bulbs can seem complex when compared to standard bulbs. The main difference is that HID bulbs have no filament; they rely on a glass capsule in the centre of the bulb that contains xenon gas. Two metal electrodes going into the glass capsule allow a high voltage pulse to cross the xenon gas in an arch shape. The voltage ignites the gas to produce the bright white light output.

“For the bulbs to create such a bright light, the start-up voltage that pulses across the gas to form the arch is typically up to 24,000 volts. This start-up voltage can be hazardous, and this is what puts many technicians off, however any perceived risk can be easily avoided if mechanics follow four simple steps.”

  1. Isolate the light circuit. Turn off the ignition and headlight switch. Isolate the headlamp circuit by removing the relevant lighting fuse.
  2. Leave the bulb to cool down for five minutes.
  3. Proceed to change the bulb, as you would a normal headlamp. Remove the bulb cover. Unplug the bulb connector, then remove the HID bulb, replacing it with the same reference type.
  4. Once the bulb has been replaced, reverse the fitting process remembering to re-install the fuse.

“The benefits of being able to confidently replace HID bulbs are two-fold. When mechanics realise how simple it is, they will no longer have to turn business away and certainly won’t be suggesting that customers go back to their main dealer. In turn, they can promote the fitting of HID bulbs to increase sales, leading to increased profits.

“Mechanics being nervous is understandable but it is important that we keep up with technologies to give the driver the optimum experience. Taking the time to learn how to change these bulbs safely could make a big difference to a garage and will almost certainly maximise profits.”

For more details on HID fitting, take a look at this video for a fitter’s guide.

HID Gas Group HI RES

 

The complete range
There are four cap type references of HID bulbs; D1, D2, D3 and D4. These all come with a suffix of R or S. Bulbs with the suffix R are designed to work in complex surface headlamp units and those with an S are designed to work in projector headlamps.

The XenonHID5500 from Ring is available in three references; D2R – R851265K, D2S – R851225K and D1S – R854025K. Producing up to 20% more light on the roads than a standard HID bulb and with a colour temperature of 5500K, the bulb output is closer to daylight and creates better reflections from road markings and signs. The bulbs produce a similar light to LEDs and all Ring HID bulbs are manufactured to OEM standards and come with a three-year warranty. They are also E marked.

Importantly, HID bulbs and HID headlamp systems are only street legal if the bulbs being fitted are E marked and fitted to cars that have auto levelling to prevent dazzle and a wash/wipe to prevent the light scattering from dirt on the lens.

Ring to showcase latest developments at Automechanika

It’s almost time for one of the biggest innovation showcases of the year – Automechanika Frankfurt. From 13th September – 17th September, Ring will be at the event in Hall 3.1 on Stand E:31. We will be displaying our latest developments including workshop equipment, tyre care and battery charging products.

Our team of experts will be on hand to answer any questions throughout the exhibition, and guide visitors through the latest and best of our product developments. Retailers and distributors will have the chance to see a wide selection of products.

  • Xenon130 halogen bulbs. There are the most advanced halogen technology, providing drivers with up to 130% more light on the road. These bulbs also deliver better reflections of road markings and signs, reduce eye strain and increase confidence for night time driving.
  • We’ll also be exhibiting our LED bulbs – the latest evolution in vehicle lighting technology. They use up to 80% less energy than a standard bulb and last up to five times longer.
  • The RUBL1000/REUBL1000 Under Bonnet Lamp will also be on display, showing how the best in garage illumination is achieved. The lamp uses three LEDs to provide 1,000 lumens of light output, with adjustable spotlights that prevent shadows and give a well-illuminated work space. The long operating time of the lamp limits interruption and any needless downtime for mechanics and garage technicians.
  • The multi-award winning RSC612/RESC612 Smart Charger will also feature on our stand. The battery charger and analyser has become popular with mechanics working on vehicles of all sizes. With settings for both standard vehicles and START/STOP, this piece of equipment includes battery repair tools to increase performance and battery life along with alternator analysis functions.

Holding 15 events across 14 countries, Automechanika is the world’s leading international trade fair brand for the automotive service industry. Find out more.

LED lighting – a brighter future

LED (light emitting diode) lighting is one of the hottest technologies and is an exciting alternative to traditional incandescent and halogen lighting. As one of the most competitive and fast paced industries in the world, the automotive sector has developed this cutting-edge technology to be top-spec, highly effective vehicle lighting.

The science and benefits behind LED lighting
LEDs are composed of a semiconductor diode – a material that can conduct electricity – which becomes a source of illumination. Light is produced when the particles that carry the electrical current combine together with the semiconductor material. There is no gas involved in the production of their cool white light and they have a higher light per watt ratio than incandescent bulbs.

The main benefits of LED lighting are its long life span and low energy usage. Our LED bulbs can last up to six times longer than a standard bulb and can use up to 80% less energy. LEDs are ecologically friendlier than other traditional technologies as they don’t contain toxic chemicals, and their low energy use will reduce your carbon footprint.

Long life reliability meets performance
Our performance LEDs emit a pristine finish with a 7000k ice white appearance which will give your vehicle a high spec, luxury look. They also include 3D technology that will distribute 270˚ of light.

Specialist information
Currently the regulations for automotive lighting so not take into account LED bulbs. Therefore, any LEDs that are fitted to the exterior of your vehicle are for off road use only.

Want to find out more? See our full LED range here.

Standard headlight bulb vs Xenon130

Got January blues? Treat yourself to Ring’s Xenon130 headlamps

The festive period is without question a special time of the year, but it’s often not a ‘relaxing’ holiday. For the most of us, the frantic present shopping and stresses of Christmas dinner add up. If you feel like brightening up your New Year, then our Xenon130 high performance bulbs are just the thing.

New Year – new look
These high performance bulbs emit a bright, white light for a modern, high spec and crisp look that will transform the look of your car on the road. This is down to the 100% xenon gas within the bulb and a more tightly wound filament, which produces the brighter, whiter light.

Style and substance combined
It’s not just about the look – the quality of light matters too. These Xenon130 bulbs produce 130% more light on the road and have a beam pattern that’s up to 60m longer than a standard bulb. The light they produce is the closest thing to daylight, and with these dark, long nights it is essential that you have a headlamp that makes night time driving as safe as possible.

Xenon130 brighter than standard bulb

Xenon130 bulbs when compared to a standard headlight.

Specialist advice
At Ring, we recommend that you check your bulbs regularly to make sure they are working correctly. If you are stopped by the police for having a faulty headlamp you can be given an on-the-spot fine. Looking after your bulbs will make it safer for you and other road users. If your checks reveal a bulb has gone and needs changing, then we recommend you always replace both headlamps. This is to make sure there is an even distribution of light on the road.
Want to find out more?

See our Xenon130 range to pick the best light for you.

Winter is coming

The nights are getting colder, and longer. Mornings are chilled and filled with fog. It can’t be ignored – winter is coming. As driving conditions become tougher, it’s a good idea to be extra careful when you hit the road. One important way to make driving easier – and safer – is to make sure your headlamps are up to scratch.

Darker for longer
Not only are the nights getting longer, but in some places, they are getting darker too. Many councils are turning off street lamps for part of the night – often from 12am to 5.30am. Making sure you have the best possible headlamps is essential for navigating unlit streets.

Regular check ups
Check your bulbs regularly to make sure they are all working correctly. If you are stopped by the police with a faulty headlamp they could give you an on the spot fine. Far better to check before you drive and keep other road users – and your bank balance – safe.

When a bulb has gone, you might think you only need to replace the broken one. While you can do this, it’s far better to do both at once. That way, the light emitted from each of your headlamps is equal, making driving much easier for you and other road users.

Clear as day
The newly-launched Xenon130 puts up to 130% more light on the road and has a beam pattern that’s up to 60m longer than a standard bulb. For a driver, this means seeing what’s coming sooner and increasing the time period you have to react.

It’s not just about quantity; the quality of light matters too. For the best possible conditions when you’re driving at night, look for bulbs with a whiter light. This light is closer to daylight, improving visibility while you’re on the road. This will make signs and road markings easier to see and help reduce eye strain and fatigue.

Standard headlight bulb vs Xenon130

Standard headlight bulb vs Xenon130

Specialist help
Investing in upgrading your bulbs is a sure-fire way to make night time driving easier. These bulbs – like the Xenon130 – are specially designed using micro filament technology and xenon gas to produce a brighter, whiter light.

To see the difference – and pick the best light for you – see our light comparison app.