Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Halogen -> Xenon Upgrade

Despite some cleaning, polishing, and buffing, the headlights on my 2005 Mazda 3 were still quite dim on the road. This was partially due to age and haze in my lenses, but mostly due to the terrible orange/yellow halogen bulbs. 

Original Halogen Headlights

After quite a bit of research, I decided to replace them with Xenon HID bulbs. HID stands for High-Intensity Discharge. This is because HID's literally arc between two electrodes (typically tungsten) to produce a very bright light. These particular bulbs are Xenon HID's because the gas inside the bulbs is ionized Xenon, a  colorless, heavy, odorless noble gas. Xenon gas is typically used for headlights and movie projectors because it produces a light very similar to natural sunlight.

Another positive side-effect of using Xenon HID's is their efficiency. Although they do require almost 20 amps for starting up (Xenon's required a starting voltage between 25 and 50 kV), the current drops down to a mere 3 amps during operation (compared to a constant 5A for halogens). The energy savings is definitely welcome since I have plenty of other goodies running on my 12V system.

I purchased a 5000K Xenon HID kit off Amazon after researching it on a few car forums I belong to. I went for 5000K (the light temperature) for a few reasons: 
  • Closest to "white" light
  • Less blue tint
  • Less likely to be noticed by LEO's***
  • Easier to match with LED's (H11 Fog Towers)

My bulbs are H7 size, and although the bulbs fit, the retention brackets did not. I needed to add around 1/4" of insulation behind the bulbs due to the Mazda's headlights having an extra coupling adapter. 

Mazda H7 Headlight with extender (the black bit)

I used two 2" OD black rubber rings from Ace Hardware to create the necessary space for installation.

The whole kit was very easy to install. The most difficult part of the process was finding a place for the high-voltage ballasts. I wound up placing one on my fuse box with high-temp double sticky tape, and the other near my windshield washer fluid reservoir with some black industrial zip-ties.

New Xenon Headlights

Side-by-side comparison

There is a HUGE difference between the lights. Night driving is much easier on the eyes. I would say the beam is a solid 20-25 feet wider, and 50 feet further. It should be noted that before and after installation, I made sure that drivers would not be blinded by the lights. My stock reflectors are the same reflectors used for factory Xenon HID systems, and so they were compatible with the new lights. Later on, I did replace the fog lights with H11 LED towers. The LED towers do not provide any light, but are just for visual aesthetics. 

If I were to do the install again, I would probably go with 5500K or 6000K. These HID's are still just a tinge yellow compared to newer Audi / BWM HID packages. That said, it's all the taste of the driving. I don't like lights that are too blue, so I'm still very happy with the 5000K bulbs.

*** Do this mod at your own risk. It should be noted that using HID bulbs in housings / reflectors not designed for them is illegal here in CA. You can be cited for non-factory modification of headlights, and in the case of an accident you may be held at fault. That said, I've had no problems thus far with them (~1 year) and if anything they improve the safety of my driving. I've thoroughly tested them to make sure I don't blind drivers, head-on or behind them. I also carry around my original H7 and H11 bulbs for replacement, should one of the bulbs or ballasts act up.


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