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

Disqus - noscript

Since it is a legal requirement to have working lights, should it not be much easier than it is to change them? I have lost pints of blood struggling with the razor-sharp metal of headlight bulbs and had to remove the front bumper of my daughter's Micra to correct the Halford's cock-up where the bulb wasn't seated properly and was causing severe glare.

On the same front, since LED lights seldom fail, why is there not more drive towards using them for sidelights and indicators? I noted the other day that VW, who have LEDs in many models dating back to 2005, are still producing new models like the GTD with old-fashioned incandescent bulbs!

And where are the after-market wedge-base (used by the majority of recent vehicles) LED replacements, that are not polarity conscious and produce a legal light output and pattern? Halfords stock only the ones favoured by 15-year-olds for their pushbikes, or their Saxo equivalent!

I hope it was no coincidence that the Philips bulbs came out top despite the tests being carried out at the Philips Light Tunnel facility...?!

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Nice one Ebay Steve.. hit the nail on the head I think mate..

The article mentions "adjustment" - is this of the bulb in the housing to correct the beam pattern, or of the up/side adjustment of the light housing?

The article mentions "adjustment" - is this of the bulb in the housing to correct the beam pattern, or of the up/side adjustment of the light housing?

I fitted these in my Ford Focus Mk1 and they are very very good. Ebay was the cheapest source I could find as one one local motor factor stocked them (£7 dearer)

To get the best out of the bulbs particularly uprated bulbs the headlight alignment should be reset after fitting using proper equipment. This is the up/side adjustment of the light housing you refer to.

H1, H3, H4/9003, H7, 9004, 9005, 9006, 9007, 9008/H13C all European/ECE & USA/DOT approved, www.suvlights.com

and even brighter High Wattage Rally bulbs from PHILIPS/NARVA & OSRAM Sylvania

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LED sidelights are readily available. They are polarity sensitive (as all LEDs are), and is most common sizes, including push fit.