Don't Get Burned by HID Lighting

- by Ryan Kooiman

Remember when a customer could stop by a shop and a technician could “quick a minute” install a new headlight?  Those days are distant memories for many technicians. With new body designs and technologies such as High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting, a “simple burned out bulb” may now require significant diagnosis and removal of the front bumper cover to gain access—all of which could lead to a hefty repair bill.

I recently heard a story that underscores why you shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of HID bulbs. Here’s the short of it: a salesperson from a used car department brought a newly purchased Ford Flex with a burned out headlight to one of the dealer technicians. The salesperson thought the vehicle needed a quick bulb replacement. Instead, it required a complete replacement of the headlight assembly (it was cracked and waterlogged), a new HID ballast, and a new HID bulb!

Unlike older halogen headlights, which use a filament to produce light, HID bulbs use electricity arcing between two electrodes to produce light. As a result, the HID system requires more than the 12 volts typically required for a vehicle to run. To provide the higher voltage needed to produce the brighter light, the system needs a ballast to a) start the light when it’s first turned on and b) adjust it to a lower voltage (80-90) to maintain the illumination.  Due to the high voltage and extreme temperature of the bulbs, it’s important to use extreme caution when working with or testing them.

Given the potential complexity of modern HID repairs, it’s as important as ever to diagnose the jobs properly, quote all the required parts, and install quality parts that will perform as well as or better than the originals.

Kooiman 3 Ryan Kooiman is the Director of Training at Standard Motor Products. In addition to leading SMP's award-winning PTS training program, he is the face of SMP's 'Installation Spotlight' videos on YouTube. He has ASE Master L1, L2, and L3 Certifications, and has had articles published in over 30 periodicals.