Our guide to halogen, HID, and LED vehicle-mounted lighting

Here’s the story: You’ve been out on the tail all day and you’ve worked yourself further away from camp than you thought. With the sun sliding down towards the horizon faster than you expected, you realize that you might not make it back before dark. Driving over rough terrain in the darkness isn’t only tough, it can be downright dangerous. Is that a dip in the road or a 100-foot drop? Fortunately, you’ve outfitted your rig with the latest in vehicle-mounted lighting to figure that out and get you back to home base safely.



KC HID lights combines a high-voltage ballast to energize two electrodes sitting inside a sealed hub.

Do Your Research

When you decide it’s time to shop for vehicle-mounted off-road lighting, consider what your intended use will be. Is it mostly for slower nighttime exploring on some of your favorite trails or high-speed bombing down sandy washes? Your application will determine the light pattern and type of light you need for your pursuits after dark.

Modern off-road lighting comes in three flavors: halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID), and light-emitting diode (LED). Each has its purpose and these lights vary by shape, dimension, cost and performance.


Halogen lights use a tungsten filament encased in a round, sealed bulb with a polished reflector. Inside a filament resides an inert gas used to keep the bulb from darkening over time, as would happen with a standard sealed bulb. The front lens of the bulb can be formed to provide a specific beam pattern as needed. Halogen lights are typically the least expensive type, and their bulb life ranges from about 50 to 300 hours, depending on power rating.

Rigid Industries RDS-Series light bars were designed to conform to curved windshields.
High-intensity Discharge

High-intensity discharge (HID) lights use two closely-spaced electrodes inside a sealed bulb, which contains a noble gas. A ballast module steps up the vehicle voltage to create an intense light discharge within the gas mixture between the electrodes. HID lamps are more power-efficient than halogen lights, and run somewhat cooler. With no filament to wear as with a halogen light, HID lights can last for about 3,000 to 5,000 hours of use.

Light-emitting Diode

As far as technology goes, halogen and HID light options are old news. Light-emitting diode (LED) lights are now by far the most popular. In these, electrical current is passed through a semiconductor junction that causes light to emit. This technique of producing light is by far the most efficient of the three types. Plus, LED lights can emit a variety of colors and hues of white light.

Halogen and HID lights that use a single point of source per light. However, off-road LED lights usually use multiple (sometimes dozens) individual LED sources to compose a single LED light assembly. One advantage to using an LED bar is the smoothness of light distribution over the beam pattern. With multiple sources working to produce the beam, you get a far more consistent blanket of illumination from an LED bar.

LED technology continues to advance all the time. Both aftermarket light suppliers and vehicle manufacturers continue to develop LED headlight solutions and push them into all their offerings – not just luxury. LED substrates continue to improve in efficiency, and thus, power capability. Today’s LEDs can produce more output using less space, as well. It wasn’t long ago that LED lighting simply couldn’t compete with HID units for racing applications. As of late, LEDs have proven they have a place in high-power lighting, and they’re here to stay.

KC Gravity Pro6 lights directs 100 percent of the light into the reflector resulting in no light loss.


KC Hilites Flex LED line is a modular lighting system that allows you to create an array of LEDs of any size you want. Link or stack lights to gain the array you need, including the use of spot- and spread-beam light patterns.

You May Also Like

2020 Alcan 5000 Rally Preparations

5,000 Miles of Arctic Fury: Prepping for the Alcan 5000 Rally Sub-zero temps and bone chilling wind. Teeth chattering opportunities and endless miles of snow. […]

Load & Go: Cargo Rack Buying 101

Underpacking. It’s a problem that only worsens with kids, dogs and neighbor’s kids. If you’re going backcountry, you need to know how to pack. Stuffing […]

Strong and Capable Wheels

Put Your Best Foot Forward Warm weather months are best for traveling, cruising, and looking for adventure. As we enjoy summer, it’s a good time […]

Wheels For Toyota Builds That Up The Ante

The Latest High Rollers Fit For Your Toyota’s Next Adventure Toyotas make durable rigs; they roll on way longer than many other trucks. When it’s […]