Electronic safety systems count for little if you can’t see where you’re going. Decent headlamps are key to safe driving, even as the days get longer. There’s a big choice of replacement bulbs available these days, as makers continue to boost performance.
To find the best H7 single-filament bulb, we headed for the light tunnel with 25 pairs, ranging from standard bulbs to ones claiming 120 per cent improved output. We measured the light at 50 and 75 metres in front of the car – critical for safe driving – to name our three winners.
Winner: Philips X-tremeVision
Price: £29.98 a pair
Rivals claim 120 per cent improvement over standard bulbs, but Philips’ plus 100 per cent is our pick of the performance bulbs. It uses precise positioning of the filament to ensure the extra light output remains within the upper limit of regulations. The result is a bright hot spot of light close to the critical 75 metres, with good consistency between our two samples. This is our favourite H7 bulb.
Price: £23.99 a pair
Performance always comes at a price. With bulbs, that price is primarily shorter lifespan. The harder you burn a filament to extract extra light, the shorter it will last. Up to 50 per cent bulbs provide improvements over standard versions without compromising longevity quite as much. Our choice of these bulbs, which were once the pace- setters, is the Philips VisionPlus. It delivered more than half as much light again as the standard bulb and was a clear winner in this category.
Autolamps Cobalt II
Price: £12.95 a pair
Blue bulbs designed to mimic the intense blue-white light of HID gas discharge headlights are popular as replacements. The coating that gives the blue-white look robs a little light, but this pair from Autolamps strikes a good compromise. It matched the plus 50 per cent VisionPlus in the light tunnel. Bigger brand names were close to matching its performance, but none could get close to that super price. The pack also includes two blue sidelight bulbs to complete your car’s lighting makeover.
Headlamp bulbs Q and A
Can I replace the headlamp bulbs on my car myself? Or do I need to go to a specialist?
It depends on your car, but DIY mechanics can usually replace bulbs. On some cars, you only have to open the bonnet, but we had to remove the front bumper of one test car to access the lights. Whoever replaces the bulbs, it is critical – as our tests have proved – that you get the lights realigned after fitting.
Can I retro-fit LED daytime running lamps?
You can. There’s a choice between daytime running lamps (DRLs) that meet the European ECE R87 standard and LED styling strips. For the full safety benefits of DRLs, look to companies like Philips, which produces a range of aftermarket solutions. These can be DIY fitted if you’re quite confident with electrics. They come in different sizes; the choice depends on how they fit your car.