Blinding Ridiculous

Posted on February 4th, 2014 by Rob Marshall

headlightEven though I spend much of my time driving in the dark at this time of year, I have been dazzled, with greater frequency, by the headlights of oncoming cars. While some of this could be attributed to misaligned lamps, I have identified that the worst offenders tend to be equipped with High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights.

Instead of the light source emanating from a glowing tungsten filament, it is created by an electric arc. Referred to informally as ‘Xenons’, which references one of the gases used within the bulbs, they have become increasingly-popular over the past fifteen years. A very simplistic way of differentiating them is to compare a normal non-energy saving light bulb with a strip light. As the light is formed in a different way to that of the traditional tungsten filament bulb, the reflectors and lenses, within the lamp, have to be bespoke, plus the bulb has to be fitted with a levelling device and a washer jet, in order to reduce the chance of dazzling oncoming motorists.

Yet, even though they have been approved by European legislators, as suitable for sale on new cars in Great Britain, they are less than perfect. The self-levelling takes time to react, meaning that an oncoming driver can be blinded temporarily, until the self-levelling system does its work and lowers the light beam. Yet, my wrath is not directed at them. It is concentrated at motorists that fit HID bulbs into their conventional halogen headlamp units, by buying a kit that contains not only the bulb but also the electronic ballast that strikes the arc and maintains the voltage.

The main technical problem is that, because the light does not originate from a filament, the lenses within the halogen lamp are incompatible with the new bulb. The light is not reflected properly and a significant amount of light scatter occurs, which dazzles oncoming motorists. The Department of Transport recognised this concern and issued a document in 2010, which remains the most recent advice on the legislative requirements. It emphasises that it views these kits as not only illegal to sell but also to use these kits on the road.

Yet, a quick Internet search shows that hundreds of UK companies sell these conversion kits. I contacted several of them, all of which said that they were unaware of the DfT’s document but, after requesting they made contact, I received no further comment from anybody senior within the company. Although one can understand that small, backstreet businesses might be ignorant of the DfT’s statement, I would have expected the nationwide components giant, Euro Car Parts (ECP), to be more considerate, considering it has promoted discounted HID bulb conversion kits strongly over the winter period, the last one of which I received in an e-mail on the 30th January 2014.

I approached Euro Car Parts’ (ECP) press officer last October, to find out why the company sells the kits. The response I received was that it is ‘not illegal to sell and supply the kits and that there is still demand for the HID products with consumers’. When I replied, asking why the company’s view appears to contradict that of the DfT’s, the company was emphatic that:

‘The HID parts we sell are regulated, e-marked, which meet the standards required, and are not selling illegal products to the aftermarket. It is not illegal to sell the conversion kits.’

I telephoned the advertised supplier of the kits that Euro Car Parts is retailing, which confirmed that, while the separate ballast and bulb were E-marked, the kit as a whole was not. Therefore, it is not suitable for on-road use. However, ECP’s emphatic response continued:

“You can only use the kits if your vehicle has, or is fitted with, self-levelling head lamps and head lamp washers.”

Rob Marshall comments: not true, the whole headlamp must be changed, as per the DfT’s advice, because the reflector is incompatible.

“It is still a grey area with MOT, however many cars still pass with HID and no headlight washers and levellers.”

Rob Marshall comments: The issue is not necessarily concerning the MoT Test, it is with Construction and Use Regulations and the Road Traffic Act 1988. However, cars with HID conversion kits have also failed the MoT.

“ECP advises to ‘consult your local countries (sic) regulations, with regards fitting and use on the road’ and we state this on our website for our customer guidance.”

Rob Marshall comments: This is true, although it can be argued that it would have been more responsible to highlight the DfT’s advice on these kits, instead of passing the onus onto the customer

“Companies are frequently advertising their products in trade and retail publications and HID kits can be purchased from 100’s of outlets in the UK.”

Rob Marshall comments: Again, a true statement, many companies are selling, and making profits from, these products; Euro Car Parts is not the only one but I do expect that a larger company would have a greater duty of care.

The DfT report you are referring to is three years old, we are not aware of any legal policies – many forums discuss the issues which appear to surround HID conversion kits”

Rob Marshall comments: The DfT has confirmed that the 2010 statement is the most up-to-date information, plus the Road Traffic Act makes it clear about altering a car, to make it un-roadworthy, as well as selling the parts, being an offence.

However, the problem seems to lie with enforcement and, until the DfT’s view is imposed, not only me but many other motorists will have to tolerate being blinded by these deeply questionable kits. It also has been reported that such kits can invalidate an insurance policy. Should a court case end in the successful prosecution of one of those many sellers, big or small, I shall watch the outcome with great interest. It cannot happen soon enough, for the safety’s sake of all our eyes.