Avoid fitting illegal LED light bulbs to your car

Posted on February 2nd, 2017 by Rob Marshall

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Who would have thought that Light Emitting Diodes would become so popular? As a schoolboy, I remember them being rather useless, except for the weird creations that barely made it outside of the Design and Technology classroom.

Yet, 20 years later, LEDs have proven essential in reducing energy squandered by power-sapping filament light bulbs and many of us have invested in the technology to illuminate our homes and offices.

As LEDs provide brighter and more energy efficient lighting, it is logical to enhance your car, by fitting LED bulbs to your car’s exterior lamps.

GEM’s advice is to STOP. Here is why:

  • Exterior lamps on most cars are tested and E-mark approved to work with halogen filament bulbs only. Fitting LED conversion bulbs will prevent the optics within the lamp from working as designed, increasing the risk of dazzling other drivers, thus reducing the effectiveness of the lamp. It can also cause faults within a modern car’s electrical system, such as bulb failure warning systems.
  • Car bulbs must pass strict criteria that permit them to be sold, fitted and used legally on the road. Due to their construction, consisting of a halogen-type base with LEDs on top, an LED conversion bulb cannot be sold legally in the UK, because it is unable pass the required Type Approval performance standards and wear the appropriate E-marks.
  • Not only is it an offence to supply car parts that purport to comply with certain regulations, yet do not, but also fitting and using them on the road is not permitted. However, it is possible that a car can pass an MoT Test with an LED conversion bulb fitted to an exterior lamp; this is because the MoT Test, generally, does not enforce Type Approval laws. Yet, you still risk being stopped by a police officer and prosecuted for driving an unroadworthy vehicle with them installed, as well as invalidating your insurance cover.

The legal rationale:

New bulbs are one of the few aftermarket replacement parts that have to comply with compulsory technical standards. The UK’s Road Traffic Act (1988) cites that it is an offence to supply, fit or use vehicle parts that do not comply with the required Construction and Use stipulations. Selling an LED conversion bulb might incite the driver to commit the offence of driving an unroadworthy vehicle, leading to a risk of a prosecution under Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations (1986) and the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations (1989). Not even UK companies that specialise in automotive lighting and retail LED bulbs could tell GEM why they might not be breaking these regulations.

GEM is also not the only road safety organisation that is concerned about LED conversion bulbs. Tim Shallcross, the IAM’s Head of Technical Policy has commented to the press: 

“Purchasers may think that they are enhancing their safety by fitting a conversion bulb but the good intention is misplaced.” 

We shall follow-up the LED bulb issue in our next blog, as we investigate if and when LEDs can ever be fitted legally and safely.