following writeup attempts to answer some of the common questions about
high intensity discharge (HID) automotive headlights. There's
a DIY description and photos of installing a conversion kit into the
2003 and up Hyundai Tiburon.
Installation - 2003/2004 Hyundai Tiburon Troubleshooting 1. What are HID's?
The best way to describe an HID headlight is to compare it to a more
conventional halogen headlight. A halogen bulb consists of a wire
filament surrounded by an inert gas. When electrical current is
applied to the filament, it glows brightly to produce light.
Contrast that with an HID bulb which has no filament, but instead
consists of xenon gas, mercury, and metal halide salts. The xenon
gas is ignited by an arc of high-voltage current and glows
brightly. Also, the high voltage is supplied by a ballast, so in
these respects it is like a fluorescent light. HID's are original
equipment generally found on luxury and exotic cars but are
progressively finding their way into the mainstream. For example,
the 2004 Mazda 3s at ~$17k will include HID's.
2. Why install
If chosen properly, the improved light output of HID's will give you a
better field of vision and thus improved safety. Plus, let's
it, they look cool.
3. What is meant
by color temperature?
The Kelvin (K) is the unit of color temperature. 4100K is the
brightest, most natural white light similar to that of daytime
and therefore the HID color temperature used most in the OEM automotive
industry. When you look at the light coming directly out of an
headlight, it possesses a bit of a blue or purple hue which most people
recognize as the expensive, elegant look characteristic of HID's.
For this reason, some HID kit manufacturers produce 5400K, 6500K,
etc. bulbs that give an even more distinct blue hue but at the expense
of overall light output. For comparison, most halogen headlights
have a color temperature around 3200K which gives them a "dingy"
yellowish appearance compared to HID's.
Blue light is more fatiguing to the eyes, both to oncoming traffic and
to the driver. Oncoming cars will see your lights for only a
time, but as the driver, you must deal with it for the duration of your
drive. The bluer the tint cast on the road and surrounding area,
the more quickly your eyes become tired. It's a personal choice
and I recognize and respect that some install HID's mostly for the
look. However, very blue headlights might get you the wrong kind
of attention from law enforcement. Personally, I'd like to
from my investment in the way of increased visibility and safety.
Be aware that most of the 6500K and higher bulbs are produced by
inferior manufacturers to capitalize on the maketability of "the bigger
number must be better". Their 8000K bulbs may not measure
8000K. Don't be fooled.
4. What are some
good quality brands to look for?
Generally speaking, Philips or Osram (division of Sylvania) kits are
recommended because they are the brands used by the major automotive
OEM's. They count on quality components because dependability is
critical to auto manufacturers. Other brands may use bulbs or
ballasts of inferior manufacture that are prone to early failure.
Perhaps even more sinister, some kits tout their use of Philips or
ballasts while they covertly use cheap bulbs of unknown origin that
out quickly. So it is a good idea to check the brands you
buy. They likely won't be branded by Philips or Osram directly,
rather they are usually rebranded by another company. If the
seller doesn't specify who makes their components, it is a
A low price is very tempting (believe me, I'm the same way), so my best
advice is to solicit opinions and do your research before buying.
5. What is
included with a HID conversion kit?
A typical HID conversion kit includes:
two ballasts (with built-in igniter)
The bulbs don't
need any more explanation. The ballasts are small boxes
(usually one per bulb) that convert the car's 12VDC into high voltage
required to illuminate the xenon gas. Usually built into the
ballast is the igniter initially required to start the bulb. The wiring harnesses allow you
to plug directly into your exiting car wiring with a minimum of
sometimes included as well, one per ballast. They use the 12V
the original bulbs to switch in a lower resistance path to 12V to power
the ballasts. They aren't always needed.
6. How does this
stuff work together?
Let's look at the diagram from left to right. When you turn
on your headlight switch, it puts 12V across the relay coil which in
turn closes the contacts. The contacts switch in 12V from the
battery to turn on the ballast, which in turn ignites and powers the
bulb. Pretty simple concept.
7. Should I replace both my high and low beams with
Most of us spend the majority of the time driving with our low beams
on. Compared to the high beams, the lows usually leave the most
be desired. And HID headlight conversion kits aren't cheap.
As of this writing (Jan 2004), quality kits typically cost
$350-$500. For these reasons, most people opt for low-beam
conversion kits only.
8. Wow, HID kits
are expensive. Can't I get the same look and light output from
Yeah, they don't exactly give them away, do they? You'll get a
lot of strong opinions with this question. From what I've read,
those who've taken the inexpensive route seem to prefer Naxos or
Sylvania Silverstar bulbs. They are direct replacements for
factory halogens, meaning they operate on direct 12V and therefore do
not require a ballast/igniter. However, many argue that these
produce a light that, while better than typical halogens, is not a true
white compared to HID's. They are a lot less expensive,
though. You can find them for around $30 a pair online.
These HID-look bulbs achieve their light output by drawing more power
from the vehicle's electrical system. Some pull as much as 100W
while most stock halogens draw around 50W (typical HID's draw
35W). Also, while I haven't seen any reports of quality problems
from the Naxos or Sylvania bulbs, some of the other bulbs have a nasty
reputation for burning out quickly. Logically, it is probably
because of the increased heat due to higher power consumption.
Some users have also experienced damage to their light housings as a
combination of cold weather and the increased heat from the bulbs
bulb housings such as those used with some fog lights, in which the
is concentrated within a small area).
9. Are HID's
Installing HID's into a
vehicle not originally equipped with them from the factory is technically illegal. Practically speaking, you stand
little chance of being cited for them provided you educate yourself on
the requirements of HID lighting and take the necessary steps to ensure
you have the right equipment and adjustments to keep it safe.
is, make sure your vehicle's headlight assembly uses an appropriately
designed projector lense (as opposed to a reflector), and of course
your headlights are properly aligned after installation. Many
newer vehicles use projector lenses because stock halogen bulbs also
benefit from the "light shaping", but having just any old projector
lense does not necessarily ensure that the beam pattern will be
correct. It is absolutely essential for HID's to give the light
output a sharp cutoff line to prevent blinding oncoming traffic.
As HID's become more popular, aftermarket projector housings are being
produced for some vehicles.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) states that improperly-installed
HID's are getting a lot of complaints. Vendors will usually
include a disclaimer that they are intended for offroad use only, but
it's no secret that people don't follow this rule. Now, there are
a lot of aftermarket automotive parts that qualify as illegal but
strictly enforced. Logically, the safety implications of blinding
oncoming drivers are more serious than, say, an exhaust that exceeds
the legal noise level. So the DOT has actively gone after vendors
of HID conversion kits, threatening monetary fines if they continue
selling them, and consequently there are now fewer places to buy them.
Be responsible. Do your research. Nearly every vehicle make
and model imaginable has an enthusiast community on the web. The
people there take this kind of stuff seriously and can help you
understand the HID requirements for your car. Some good resources
I've found are: Whatever
happened to the HID ban scare? - from the NASIOC (North American
Subaru Imprezza Owners Club) forums Updated
ban thread - from HIDForum.com Daniel
Stern Lighting - thoughtful writeup to the NHTSA (National Highway
Transportation Safety Administration)
UPDATE 01/29/04: I
received the following email from Richard <last name omitted> of
Why don't you tell the truth about the 'HID ban' No HID retrofit kit can be
legally sold. It is that simple.
Richard x. xxx xxxxxxxxx Chief, Visibility and Injury
Prevention Division 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Room
5307 National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration Washington, DC 20590 001 202 366 xxxx V 001 202 366 xxxx F firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed in this
message are my own and not necessarily the official position of NHTSA on
this matter. Should you need an official confirmation of an answer or
need a legal opinion that would be used as a basis by you for making a
decision on a business or legal matter, you should write to:
Chief Counsel 400 Seventh Street, S.W.,
Room 5219 National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration Washington DC 20590 001 202 366 3820 F email@example.com
You may use postal service,
facsimile or email. Please include your name, address, and voice and
facsimile telephone numbers.
Installation - 2003 Hyundai Tiburon
Installing the HID
conversion kit is very easy. Decent kits are plug and play.
The Xenon Depot kit I
was very straightforward to install. Simply take out the three
bolts that hold the headlight assembly and set it aside. I chose
to mount the ballasts under the lights (see photo right) to keep them
concealed as well as out of the hot engine bay. Judging by its
cleanliness, this location does not get wet from rain or water
spray. The ballasts and the wiring harnesses are sealed so a
little water wouldn't hurt them anyway.
Then find a location to mount the relay. I mounted them to
existing bolts on the engine compartment sidewall, just behind the
headlights (see photo). Run the fused 12V leads to the battery,
and affix the ground ring terminals to chassis ground.
Use a hole saw or spade bit (in this case, 1.0" dia) to drill a hole in
the center of the round bulb cover to accept the rubber wiring
grommet. The cover I'm referring to is the sealed cap that keeps
dust out of the headlight assembly, and gives access to the bulb to
replace it. Fit the grommet in place and install your HID bulbs
into the headlight assembly. At this point, it should just be a
matter of plugging the wiring harnesses together and re-mounting your
headlight assemblies. Fire them up and be sure to adjust the beam
alignment to give yourself maximum visibility and prevent blinding
That's all there is to it!
This section shares the solution to an issue I was having with my HID
kit. The problem was, when I would turn the lights on, my parking
brake and ABS lights on the gauge cluster would come on. Half the
time they would turn off after about 5 seconds, the other half of the
time they would stay on until I shut off the engine. I couldn't
find anything actually wrong with the car, neither with the HID's nor
with the brake system. Still, it was irritating, so one weekend I
set out to fix it.
Being that a few people have had problems with the electrical system
(battery, alternator), I figured it was a large instantaneous inrush
current causing the car's voltage to sag and upset the ECU. I had
a capacitor left over from the sound system in my last car, so I went
ahead and wired it up in the engine compartment. When I turned on
the HID's, the voltage momentarily dropped by about 0.5V. Not
enough sag to cause any problem, but the parking brake and ABS lights
still came on, so that wasn't the fix I was looking for.
voltages and ground continuity everywhere; no issues. Okay, so
maybe it's one of the ballasts. I tried each one individually and
found that it was the passenger side causing it. That's when I
noticed something that had eluded me so far. The ABS module is
located next to the spot where I mounted the relay (on the L-bracket
used to secure one of the plastic engine cover pieces).
Apparently, when the relay engages, its magnetic coil interferes with
the ABS module. Bizarre, really. I can't imagine the relay
producing a very strong stray magnetic field, but the ABS is apparently
very sensitive. I relocated the relay to the bolt shown, so that
it is basically laying down about 6" away from the ABS module, and the
problem is gone.
Maybe no one else has run into this, because it would mean a
combination of having a Tiburon equipped with ABS and choosing to mount the relay in
the exact same location as me. But just in case you have that
of extraordinary bad luck, here it is.