Bulbs - We test 30

9 Oct, 2009 10:08am

A new set of headlight bulbs will help you see more easily on the road this winter. Our experts pick from 30 of the best...

As the nights draw in, many of us will be driving in the dark – so, now is the time to take a good look at your headlights. Technical innovations in recent years have seen even the most basic bulbs given a major performance boost.

Top-of-the-range versions now boast up to 90 per cent more light 75 metres in front of the car than standard lamps. Last year, we saw major improvements in dip and beam H4 bulbs, but does the technology work with single-filament lamps? We headed to Philips’ light tunnel in Aachen, Germany, with the UK’s top-selling design, the H7, to find out.

Our test of 30 bulbs revealed major differences – even between items from the same pack. So, be sure to get your headlights adjusted after fitting a new set. Without realigning, you won’t make the most of any increase in performance, and could end up with dangerously low levels of light or masses of glare for oncoming drivers.

The test
At the heart of this test is the amount of light a bulb puts on the road. So, we adjusted each product in a BMW 1-Series headlamp until the glare was within legal limits. We then measured the light at 50 metres on the kerb and in the centre of the road, plus at 75 metres.

To get our beam rating, we used an industry formula, adding the 50-metre readings and doubling the 75-metre figure – where light is needed most. We took an average from our two bulbs; the higher the rating the better.

Our contenders were divided into five categories, based on performance claims or style. We corroborated the results in the upgrade sectors (plus 30, plus 50 and 50 plus) by measuring the filament’s light output.

Three long life bulbs were included this year, but as their longevity would take months to prove, we’ve only given their beam ratings. All the bulbs were bought or selected from several samples to avoid filtering. Price wasn’t key, as it can vary so much. The figures quoted are for a pair, and do not include any delivery costs.


When it comes to H7 performance bulbs, Philips has the edge – and rivals are playing catch-up. The brand takes the win in all the upgrade categories, plus the style-conscious blue sector. If you need a standard lamp, look no further than Ring – it delivered a beam that matched several so-called performance bulbs.

Standard:  Ring Autobulbs
Plus 30:    Philips Premium
Plus 50:    Philips VisionPlus
50 Plus:    Philips X-treme Power
Blue:        Philips BlueVision

 * A1 Motor Stores (Autobar), 01455 822000, www.a1motorstores.co.uk
 * Bosch  01895 838551, www.bosch.com
 * GE  01283 216123, www.smpautobulbs.co.uk
 * Halfords  08457 626625, www.halfords.com
 * Osram  01744 812221, www.osram.com
 * Philips  01293 776774, www.philips.com
 * PIAA  01978 664466, www.demon-tweeks.co.uk
 * Ring  0113 213 2000, www.ringautomotive.co.uk