One of the most popular topics I run into on car forums is the discussion of how to “upgrade” a car with aftermarket High Intensity Discharge lamps, or Xenon headlights. I find the discussion amusing, because the posters readily admit that they could have ordered their cars with the Xenon headlights in place before they took delivery, and opted not to do so in order to save a few bucks. They often find out later that not only are those aftermarket conversion kits not legal, and not DOT approved, but properly installing Xenon headlights after a car has been purchased is prohibitively expensive.
Aftermarket HID kits are often labeled as being DOT approved, but the NHTSA does not approve motor vehicle equipment for sale. Several manufacturers of these kits have written to the NHTSA asking for approval of their kits, only to be told that they are not compliant with current US law regulating headlamps and that the NHTSA does not offer approval for motor vehicle equipment. According to a letter from Jacqueline Glassman, “The symbol “DOT” on replacement lighting equipment is often mistaken for “DOT approval” of the equipment, but, in fact, it reflects the manufacturer’s own certification of compliance.” You can read the full text of this letter here. In another letter to a vendor in California who was selling the kits from Letter #2, Glassman goes on to explain that she “[…] should advise you that we know of no HID conversion kit that can be certified by its manufacturer as complying with FMVSS No. 108.” Meaning that there is no HID conversion kit that complies with US laws that govern motor vehicle lighting.
As noted in the first letter to the maker of an aftermarket HID kit, in order to be compliant with Highway Safety rules, you have to replace the entire housing for your headlamps and the ballast in order to do this install properly. Doing so requires expensive electrical work on your car. In the long run, it will cost you more to have your car retrofitted for Xenon headlights with all of the equipment that is necessary to make them safe for other drivers, rather than just having them installed at the factory in the first place.
There are conversion kits on the market that are extremely popular right now with a lot of folks because these throw a light that is closer to the blue spectrum that allows the driver to see farther. The problem is, without doing a full conversion to replace the reflectors in your car, you’re causing danger to other drivers on the road. These aftermarket kits without the proper reflectors in place, merely replace the halogen bulb that is used in the vehicle and without specially designed reflectors that focus the light where the driver needs it, the light scatters all over the place and bounces into the eyes of other drivers on the road. The UK Safety Board has been putting together a public awareness campaign about the dangers of aftermarket HID kits to other drivers, and the show, “Auto Express” aired a segment about it that I think everyone interested in aftermarket HID conversion should see before they go forward with this install.
Stop, think and pay attention. There is a reason that these kits are illegal. They present a danger to other drivers on the road, and if your aftermarket headlights caused an accident, the maker of the kit won’t get sued. You will. You’re the one who installed it. You’re the one who didn’t get all the information. Ultimately, you’re the one who broke the law.
Don’t be that guy.