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Should you upgrade your car to HID headlights?

It depends on how much you're willing to roll the dice with your car and the other guy's eyes.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, Smart home, Digital health Credentials
  • 5G Technician, ETA International
Brian Cooley
2 min read

High-intensity discharge (HID) headlights are what you're typically looking at when you see blinding blue-white light from an oncoming car. They use high voltage to create an electrical arc between two poles separated by a tube of xenon gas, instead of making a filament glow like older headlights. They are, literally, arc lights and throw off more, and whiter, light than any traditional bulb.

Watch this: See how bright -- and how risky -- an HID headlight upgrade can be

HID upgrade kits for just about any car are widely available and remarkably cheap. But I get a number of questions about whether they will void your car's warranty. To a degree, they may: The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 says that your car's entire warranty cannot be voided just because you install a bad part (or have your car repaired somewhere other than the dealer) but it does allow for the warranty on that sub-system of your car to be voided if the dealer can prove your aftermarket upgrade caused a problem.


Maybe this is a great HID upgrade kit, or maybe $39.99 is just too cheap. Your car's warranty could, in part, be voided if it's the latter.


That's where I get concerned by the fact that not one HID upgrade kit on Amazon is made by a major auto lighting or parts supplier, and they're awfully cheap: $40 a kit for a 2012 Civic, compared to $1,500 for OEM Honda bulbs and igniter/ballasts. Now, nobody said factory parts are a benchmark for reasonable pricing, but the delta in this case suggests something more than just markup.

If you're still willing to try an HID upgrade kit, judge the results honestly: Are you getting better road illumination or just more light? There is a difference. Factory headlights are complex systems made up of lenses, reflectors and bulbs that are designed in balance with each other. Overwhelming those systems with too much, too hot or the wrong color light could be a white-hot mess. Add the HID upgrade in a way that will be easy to reverse, and be glad that you'll (hopefully) be out a maximum of $40 if it doesn't work out.