Car Light Bulbs – Yellow Versus White

The importance of car lighting is often underplayed. As one of the primary safety measures in automobiles, its uses are varied and indispensable. The lighting and signalling devices in motor vehicles are popularly known as automotive lighting and it is a comprehensive topic with a long history. Its discussion could take us through different kinds of illumination; interior and convenience lights; light sources; distributive lighting and many other components. But for starters, let’s discuss the simple light bulb.



Standardization is common for all types of automobile light bulbs. Some types are regulated and others are not. For instance, bulbs used in brake lamps, headlamps and turn signals are required to meet national and international regulations that govern their usage. Interior and auxiliary lighting applications are mostly not regulated but even they are standardized among all automotive manufacturers. The ECE Regulations are applicable on countries that follow the UN regulations for acceptable light sources in vehicles. These commonly include Regulation 37 and Regulation 99. Nevertheless, some countries like Japan use their national regulations in tandem with the UN regulations and others like Germany have national regulations for vehicle bulbs that supersede the ECE regulations.


Types of Bulbs

There are tons of options for car bulbs in the market to the extent that the difference between each can get a bit confusing. The most popular ones in the market now are halogen, HID and LED bulbs.

Halogen bulbs are the oldest type simply because they are the successors of the incandescent bulb. These bulbs contain a tungsten filament and are filled with a halogen gas, which emits a yellow light. Halogen bulbs are all-purpose, easy to replace and relatively inexpensive which is why they are probably the popular choice. A disadvantage is that they are not as long lasting as the HID and LED bulbs.

HID bulbs are known to be better than halogen bulbs for several reasons. Within the bulb, they use an electric arc between two electrons and are filled with xenon gas. Resultantly, they emit a much brighter white light than any halogen bulb. As headlights, HID bulbs are extremely effective and a preferred choice but its applications are quite limited. Drivers also have to consider that they are more expensive.

LED bulbs are famous for their cost-efficiency as they produce optimum light using considerably less energy. They are made of light-emitting diodes and have a long lifespan. Ideally, there should be no need to replace LED lights for many years. LED can be used as headlights and interior lights.  

Yellower or Whiter?

Drivers have been debating this for years. Which is better—yellow or white light? Some swear by yellow lights, which are said to be better in all weather conditions whereas others vouch for white lights as they are much brighter.

Headlights have had a yellow tint for decades. The first one invented was a yellow light that was powered using an acetylene lamp. Since then, with the advent of the electric light, yellow lights had become standard issue. Early research showed that yellow light was safe because it was conspicuous but not startling. The greatest advantage was that yellow light is an all-weather light. It works better in rain, fog and snow compared to white or blue lights. So for many years yellow lights were extensively used in all vehicles especially as headlights. Its usage however has been decreasing recently because it is now being said that although yellow light is more advantageous in wet or foggy conditions, it is not as effective under normal conditions. Most countries permitted the use of white and yellow lights for many decades but it seems that yellow are slowly falling out of popularity.    

Nowadays, many countries are enforcing the use of white lights as headlights. For instance, European regulations insist that all manufacturers use white lights on all new vehicles. This is because white light is known to have several advantages. Firstly, it is said to provide the same effect as sunlight does giving it a more natural look; secondly, white light does not use any filters, which allows it to be brighter; thirdly, it is said to be better for driving in normal conditions although many also claim that yellow light has no significant advantage over white in rainy or foggy conditions. Any colour would work just fine.

For headlights, the ideal colour is said to be pure white, while interior lighting could be either yellow or white.