GEM’s latest research on illegal car bulbs

Posted on March 29th, 2016 by Rob Marshall


With the days becoming longer, you may not think that lighting is as important but, as GEM Motoring Assist discovered, when it contributed to an Auto Express investigative feature on illegal bulbs in issue 1410, at the end of February, even a minor, but well-intentioned, lighting upgrade could result in a driver breaking the law and, potentially, invalidating the car’s insurance as well.

With headlights, the main issue surrounds HID Conversion Kits, although LED Conversion Kits are starting to be offered. These are designed to convert halogen bulb-type headlights to accept either a HID ‘Xenon’, or LED bulbs. Unfortunately, the optics inside the lamp are unable to direct the light correctly from the new bulb type and the result is scatter, which can dazzle oncoming motorists. While an MoT Test pass may result, this does not mean that the bulbs are legal, because not only do they lack any of the mandatory Type Approval testing and markings but also they invalidate the Type Approval of the headlight unit and, therefore, the Whole Vehicle Type Approval of the car. This makes the vehicle un-roadworthy.

A similar issue exists for LED bulbs that are sold as upgrades. Pictured is a normal Halogen bulb, above an equivalent, LED conversion part. While these are legal to use within the interior, they are not permitted in any exterior lamp, at the time of writing. Like HID Conversion Kits, this is because the unit’s optics are designed to work with a filament bulb, not an LED type. Recently, a case was reported to us, where an insurance company turned down a claim, because a rear number-plate bulb was fitted with an LED conversion bulb. However, even reputable retailers sell these bulbs but they should be marked “for off-road use only.”

However, new cars are permitted to be fitted with LED/HID headlights and LED side lamps, because the lamp units have been designed and tested to work effectively with the bulbs and have passed the required Type Approval Requirements. If you wish to upgrade a car to HID (or LED) lighting, you have to buy a complete replacement lamp.

Primary legal rationales

The European Commission confirms that only Type Approved lighting systems can be sold legally in the EU, under UN Vehicle Regulations (1958). The Vehicle Regulations and Transport Innovations Section of the United Nations Economic Commission (UNECE) confirmed one reason why the required Type Approval cannot be granted to HID Conversion Kits and LED bulbs, that the bulb type and its base do not match. As the kits are incompatible with the internal reflectors, they are unfit for purpose, falling foul of the UK’s Consumer Rights Act, 2015. 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. Also, as the driver is responsible for ensuring a vehicle’s roadworthiness, (the Highway Code), a prosecution could result under Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations 1986 and the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations, 1989. As the act of selling a conversion kit might incite the driver to commit an offence, this could lead to wider legal issues.