Text: Brent Co / Photos: Brent Co | posted July 24, 2013 12:34
How to upgrade your lighting responsibly
HID or High Intensity Discharge headlamps have become popular lighting upgrades for car enthusiasts. Also known as xenon lamps, they produce light with an electric arc rather than a glowing filament found in traditional tungsten and halogen lighting. HID lighting can produce more light with less power, making it a more efficient lighting system. However, it is costlier than a normal tungsten-halogen bulb, since it requires an additional ballast to ignite it.
BMW introduced the first xenon headlamps for the 7-Series in 1991. Many enthusiasts have since gone on to upgrade their cars with HIDs to mimic the lighting of premium models which come with HID lighting straight from the factory.
The most common upgrade is a 'Plug and Play' kit which consists of a pair of HID bulbs, two ballasts and a wiring harness. These products were designed in such a way that even the car owner can install it themselves. The instant gratification of a significantly brighter lighting has indeed attracted many enthusiasts. A standard halogen bulb will produce about 1,000 lumens, while the HID bulbs will output around 3,200 lumens. With its increasing popularity, manufacturers in China have flooded the market with cheap kits to the delight of car owners.
While HID kits are immensely popular with the amount of light they produce, they can also produce a lot of glare when installed in reflector headlamps designed for halogen bulbs. Many European countries and certain localities in the United States have started regulating the use of such lighting. In the US, lighting products that do not conform to FMVSS 108 are not street legal. Europe imposes strict ECE regulations against improper lighting products, they even require self leveling and lens cleaning systems, features of which are not available in aftermarket kits. In the Philippines, regulation of lighting is a gray area.
Some China-made kits have caused damage to electrical systems in cars, burned headlamp reflectors, or cause permanent damage to plastic headlamp lenses. Being priced very low, the products had to cut corners like using cheap wiring, and substandard UV shields for the bulbs causing the problems.
Upgrading the proper way
Upgrading your headlights to HID is not a bad thing, especially when you do it the right way. We recently went to retrofit specialist Gary Quizon of HIDREtrofit.net to learn more about the proper way. More commonly known as ‘Gary Q’, he started with headlight upgrades about 4 years ago as a solution to his night driving woes. Like everyone else, Gary also tried to install a ‘plug and play’ kit in his car, but decided not to use it because after testing it, he noticed the output produced so much glare that it can blind other motorists and cause safety issues.
AI: How did you start HID Retrofit?
Gary Q: Personally I have bad eyesight when driving at night and almost 4 years ago, I had a 94 Civic which has one of the weakest halogen output for a car. I dabbled with all types of aftermarket and upgraded halogen bulbs but nothing met the standards I was looking for. This introduced me to the world of high intensity discharge (HID) lighting systems. Being an engineer, I was impressed with the technology and the actual output the bulb can produce, but I wanted to use it responsibly so I ended up retrofitting my Civic with projectors and it was my first retrofit.
AI: How has your engineering background helped with your projects?
Gary Q: Being an engineer, I use a systematic approach to retrofits and objective parameters in building my retrofits, not subjective methods of manufacturing. This also helps me solving problems being an engineer and an avid do it yourself guy. I use this in our techniques and process, tools we use, and even making my retrofits reproducible. My background also helps me in developing new retrofits for the market.
AI: How many cars have you done?
Gary Q: More than 250 retrofits, both for local and foreign customers.
AI: What's the wildest project you have worked on?
Gary Q: The last would be the quad bi-xenon projector setup on a 2013 Ford Ranger. This is really a passion for us and I love undertaking projects that challenge our creative and technical expertise in this business.
AI: Besides HID retrofit, do you do any other custom lighting jobs?
Gary Q: We do LED lighting upgrades like daylight running lights, ambient lighting, LED tail light retrofits and even upgrading lighting systems for motorbikes.
The HIDRetrofit.net team uses a systematic and meticulous approach in working with a vehicle. They have three 'stages' of retrofit with prices ranging from Php12,000 to Php29,000. Stage 1 uses an aftermarket spec projector, 35W HID bulbs and regular ballasts. The Stage 2 Performance Aftermarket package uses OEM-spec bi-xenon projectors, 35W D2S HID bulbs, and slim-type ballasts. The Stage 3 OEM package uses 50W Philips D2S HID bulbs and a Japan-made OEM spec ballast made by top manufacturers.
They start by carefully removing the necessary parts (bumper, grill,and headlight assembly) to ensure a trouble free install. The headlamp cover is removed to make way for the retrofit upgrade. The projector is mounted on the original reflector bowl making the install as OEM-looking as possible. For fine tuning, the original leveling screws on the headlights can still be used after the retrofit process.
The bespoke wiring harness is then laid out carefully to ensure a clean install with an OEM look and feel. The wiring harness connects the power supply to the ballasts and bulbs. An independent fuse and relay system makes sure both the lighting system and the vehicle’s electrical systems do not interfere with each other.
After installing the projector, the technician makes sure it is properly aligned to ensure optimal placement. Beam alignment is done with a flat wall with special markings 25 feet away. Once testing and alignment is completed, the headlamp cover is sealed back with an OEM-spec headlamp sealant to make sure there is no condensation or leaking. Depending on application an optional shroud may be installed. All installations come with a one-year warranty.