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Thread: HID lights and infra-red night vision

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    HID lights and infra-red night vision

    It's easier to see where you're going at night in a modern car - thanks to much-improved headlight technology, in particular High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting. Some cars even have infra-red night vision that can pick out the heat signature of people and animals so the driver can see them in time to avoid hitting them.

    HID lights entered the marketplace on high-end luxury and performance cars in the mid-1990s but have become commonly available on even modestly-priced vehicles during the past couple of years.

    Unlike old-technology sealed beam headlights, which have a filament through which electrical current passes to create the light, HID lights contain a capsule filled with Xenon gas, through which electric current is arced. This gives off an intense, blue-tinted light that provides superior straight ahead as well as peripheral illumination than sealed-beam headlights. The spectrum of light produced by the HID systems is itself a visibility aid - as much as the greater reach of the light itself.

    HID lights are especially worthwhile if you live in a rural area where roads are poorly lit and animals such as deer suddenly running in front of your vehicle are a common hazard. Needless to say, if you have poor night-time vision, having stronger/better headlights can be a real help.

    But there are some downsides.

    The first and most obvious one is the much higher initial and replacement cost of HID lighting systems. If you get into a minor accident that breaks the complex lens/housing of one of these things, it may cost several hundred dollars to replace the unit - vs. $20 or so in the past for an old-school sealed beam headlight. It's probable that it costs more to insure a vehicle equipped with HID lighting for just this reason.

    The other issue is that oncoming traffic may be bothered by the glare produced by these high-powered lights. NHTSA has received a fair number of complaints about HID-associated glare. Some drivers - many of them older - have reported being temporarily blinded by an oncoming car equipped with HID lights. I have driven several new cars with HID lights at night and had other drivers "flash" me to turn off my high beams - even though the high beams weren't on. The intensity of the low beams was apparently enough to bother my fellow motorists.

    For this reason, it's important to be sure your HID-equipped vehicle's lights are aimed/adjusted properly. In states that have annual vehicle safety inspections, this check is done as a matter of course as part of the inspection. However, if you live in a state that does not have annual safety inspections, it's a good idea to ask your dealer/service shop to check the aim of your headlights whenever the car is in for routine service, such as an oil change.

    And for the Do-it-Yourselfer: Some HID-equipped cars have adjustment indicators built in. They look like the levels you use in home improvement projects, with a small tube of fluid and an air bubble to show you were "center" is. Look under the hood to find these; if your car has them they will typically be near the top of the headlight assemblies and plainly visible. Your owner's manual should have info about checking the adjustment.

    Many automakers who equip their vehicles with HID lights also include "auto-off" high beams which automatically cancel the high beams when oncoming traffic is sensed, then revert back to high once the oncoming car has passed.

    Infra-red night vision is still a rare feature - and more controversial.

    Currently, this technology is available in only a few high-priced luxury cars (Cadillacs and Mercedes-Benz vehicles, chiefly). Infra-red night vision uses the same heat-sensing technology developed by the military to make people (and animals) more visible at night. In automotive applications, there is typically a small "box" in the forward viewing area of the driver's line of sight; the infra-red display highlights pedestrians in the road, or animals and children, etc.

    As with HID lights, the theory is that improved visibility will result in fewer accidents. However, unlike HID lighting systems - which illuminate the driver's entire field of forward and peripheral vision - infra-red systems may cause the driver to shift his focus to the infra-red display area, effectively causing him to take his his eyes off the "big picture" of the road ahead and dividing his attention.

    West Virginia University Professor of Opthalmology Marc Green thinks infra-red night vision in cars is a "terrible idea" for just this reason.

    Bottom line: If you buy a car with this feature, be careful not to let your attention wander - or allow your field of vision to narrow down to just the relatively small night-vision display area.

    As far as aftermarket (non-factory installed) HID lights: Fo the most part, these are not true HID lighting systems. They may produce a similar blue-white glow, but they don't produce the same type or intensity of illumination that true HID lights do. Factory-installed HID lights have HID-specific headlight assemblies - including reflectors and lenses - as well as different electrical requirements.

    If you are interested in retrofitting a true HID lighting system to your vehicle, ask your dealer or a shop that deals with automotive illumination systems.

    It won't be inexpensive but it can be done.

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    HID's that I know of (Volvo) are obscenely expensive to repair. If you need a ballast - you're looking at $300 - $500 dollars. Unless you live in the 'sticks' - skip this option.

    Same with factory GPS. Sounds good but if you find the supplied DVD's are not accurate, etc, you have no recourse.

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dBrong View Post
    HID's that I know of (Volvo) are obscenely expensive to repair. If you need a ballast - you're looking at $300 - $500 dollars. Unless you live in the 'sticks' - skip this option.

    Same with factory GPS. Sounds good but if you find the supplied DVD's are not accurate, etc, you have no recourse.
    I think unless you're rich all this stuff is just another brick in the road to bankruptcy. Middle class people waste huge sums on this sort of thing because they've been conned into believing they must have the latest gadgets. The fact is most of this stuff we can easily - and comfortably - live without. And if we did, life would be vastly less expensive and we'd be less strapped for cash.

    A phone used to cost $15 and you plugged it into your wall - finis. You paid another $40 per month for the phone bill.

    Today, people think they have to have video-enabled, GPS-equipped, music-playing sail fawns that cost $400 each - and then they pay another $100 (or more) per month for the sail fawn service contract.

    One used to get by with a perfectly adequate AM/FM stereo - now it has to be a 30 gigabyte music storage system with Bluetoof wireless and voice activation.

    Gotta have flat screen monitors, multiple DVD players, keyless ignition, mice and menus. 19 inch rims that cost $400 each shod with 150 mph tires that'll never see the high side of 100...

    This is unsustainable.

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    One reason for the high insurance premiums associated with HID lights is the existence of an, ahem, secondary market, for stolen HID light assemblies. To add insult to injury, at least one insurance company won't pay for replacement HID assemblies if yours are stolen; they will only pay to replace them with base-model lamp assemblies.

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    Eric -

    You are partially right on the phone issue. It is true that a phone bill was about 40 bucks, but that did not include long distance, which could go to $100-150 if you made a lot of calls.

    The sail fawn costs me about $100.00 per month, but there are cheaper plans coming. I use mine as my primary telephone, so the costs are about the same.

    I do agree that cars are way overequipped with electronic baubles that serve no real purpose. An AM/FM receiver plus a CD player does fine with me. No need for Satellite radio or expensive navigation systems. A $99 Garmin unit mounted to the windshield does just fine, if you really need that. Paying for map updates and traffic monitoring is largely a waste of money.

    A sizable portion of people have been stupid with their money. The amount people are paying for their TV entertainment is astounding. You buy a $1200 LCD 1080p TV set and then pay $75.00 per month in cable charges each month. In my opinion, it's obscene.
    Last edited by swamprat; 01-09-2010 at 10:58 PM.

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    Eric -

    You are partially right on the phone issue. It is true that a phone bill was about 40 bucks, but that did not include long distance, which could go to $100-150 if you made a lot of calls.

    The sail fawn costs me about $100.00 per month, but there are cheaper plans coming. I use mine as my primary telephone, so the costs are about the same.

    I do agree that cars are way overequipped with electronic baubles that serve no real purpose. An AM/FM receiver plus a CD player does fine with me. No need for Satellite radio or expensive navigation systems. A $99 Garmin unit mounted to the windshield does just fine, if you really need that. Paying for map updates and traffic monitoring is largely a waste of money.

    A sizable portion of people have been stupid with their money. The amount people are paying for their TV entertainment is astounding. You buy a $1200 LCD 1080p TV set and then pay $75.00 per month in cable charges each month. In my opinion, it's obscene.

    Yep!

    When it comes to electronics & "toys" - the problem (in my opinion) isn't the toys per se, its that people live beyond their means, in particular when it comes to things they want vs. things they really need.

    Hell, I'd enjoy owning a new Shelby GT500 Mustang but I restrain myself because it's not something I could easily pay cash for. That's my personal standard when it comes to buying most things: If I can't pay for it, I don't buy it. That means no credit, no loans - and no debt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeHalloran View Post
    One reason for the high insurance premiums associated with HID lights is the existence of an, ahem, secondary market, for stolen HID light assemblies. To add insult to injury, at least one insurance company won't pay for replacement HID assemblies if yours are stolen; they will only pay to replace them with base-model lamp assemblies.
    The LED tail lights are also expensive to replace. I have heard that some models do not have replaceable LED's - you gotta buy the entire assembly!

    A friend has a Volvo with the Blind Spot sensing option (it's built into the outside mirrors). His wife hit a parking gate with the mirror - $1100 to replace!!!

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    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    Yep, I love new HID lighting systems. I would love to shoot the damn things out. When one comes toward me, especially on wet or icy roads, the glare can be blinding to the point where you can't see. Or see nothing but Golf Balls when they have past. Agreed, the old Sealed Beam lighting was no HID system, but they were a lot better than the 'BULB' type we had many years ago. Then the Quartz type came out in the Eighties. That was better than the sealed beam lighting. It also allowed the designers more flexibility on their designs. But, since you can get higher wattage bulbs for these lamps, and if you can keep the plastic lenses from turning Yellow, are properly adjusted, you should be able to see just fine. They work for me. Now on the other hand, when I find some one that forgot where the dimmer switch is located, I do have a fine set of Fog Burners on the front. They do help me see the road when needed. As far as all the crap that's on todays vehicles, we really don't need it. Just another way to milk more hard earned cash from already tapped out consumers. But for the brain dead Techno Geeks out there, that has to have the latest, it's a perfect world. I have friends that fit that bill, in fact there's one in the family. No, lol, it's not me...

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