NOT ALL HID LIGHTS ARE EQUAL
|Bad ass HIDs in action. (Random photo pulled from a quick Google search)|
So you just purchased a used BMW E46 and unfortunately it came with "boring" old halogen lights. Being the E46 fanatic you are, you probably want to swap your headlight bulbs out with some bad ass looking HID lights, right?
NOT SO FAST.
Go on any BMW forum and people are quick to boast about the mods to their "baby." These "mods" often include "HID" lights and this usually means a cheap generic chinese kit from stores like popular DDX Racing or other similar stores. When I was younger, I did have a DDX kit on my cars I must admit. So take it from years of lighting experience--don't install generic cheap budget HID kits on your car! (Stay tuned--at the end of this post I'll list some recommended HID products for all budget levels--except bus pass level)
But Mango, all HID is the same. It looks bright blue and bad ass! I look so gangster coming down the street with my slammed suspension and rap music playing. What's the diff, yo?
|Image found on Google which shows unwanted glare and hot spots|
The $25 Chinese "HID kit" you just jammed into your halogen reflector or projector was not designed with HID in mind. Lighting projection is finely tuned and tested by Engineers at 8-figure companies with millions of dollars of research and development. It's tested and designed to meet all sorts of safety regulations as well.
|BMW E46 Halogen Reflector as found on Google|
A halogen reflector was not designed with HID in mind. HID bulbs put out 2-3x more luminous flux (lumens) than a halogen bulb. Not only is there more light, it's bluer. The somewhat lazy projection of a typical halogen reflector is tolerable with relatively weak and "yellow" halogen output, but not with HID. Put a HID bulb in your halogen reflector and you are going to cause a ton of glare. Drive your car up to a wall at about 10-20 feet. Look straight ahead. Do you see light bleed at eye level? This is what oncoming cars see. Not only is it dangerous, it's ineffective. A reflector-based projection system designed for Halogen is simply not designed to efficiently project light. A bright sea of light immediately in front of your car may impress your local high school teenagers giving the false impression of "bright lights, yo" but it's absolutely trash and should be avoided.
|BMW E46 shown from Google with faxtory Bi-Xenon projectors|
Retrofitting cheap HID kits into a halogen projector system is lesser of the two evils, but still trash. Again, the system needs to be designed specifically for HID. The bulb seat, the bulb itself, and associated projection system and electronics must be designed to support a quality bulb. Avoid doing this if you can.
- The HID light hardware
OK so you bought a BMW without the factory Bi-Xenon option installed and you went for the next best thing: quality OEM-level or high-quality aftermarket projector retrofit. Now what? Can I stick my $25 DDX kit in that?
Well before you go sticking cheap sh1t where it doesn't belong, consider paying a few extra bucks for some decent stuff. I highly recommend high quality OE/OEM equipment from billion dollar names such as BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Acura. Remember, folks, we're talking about the main headlights of your car. Your life literally depends on this.
The problems with sh1tty generic HID bulbs is many. First of all, quality control is atrocious and varies from "brand" to brand. You never know what you are getting and where it came from. The color temp is often off from bulb to bulb and I've seen numerous instances where one side was different from the other. I've also seen the glass of some bulbs lean slightly relative to the base. This will heavily affect optics. Also it's been said these cheap chinese bulbs lack a protective UV coating that billion dollar companies like Osram and Philips incorporate into their glass. This protection will help prevent headlight components from prematurely yellowing. Do you really want to risk your $500 headlight with some crap bulbs?
There's many more things wrong with generic bulbs but I'll touch on the last and probably most important: longevity. The bulbs simply fade. And FAST. Billion dollar companies like Philips and Osram use proprietary trade secret formulas for the salt mixtures that create the light in their bulbs. These formulas are protected by armed security around the clock and cannot be reproduced by some weirdo r1cer boy in Taipei.
The next thing is the ballasts. They're often jammed onto the stock wiring which isn't made for the initial loads that ballasts demand. You really should be using a wire harness with two relays that will draw directly from the car's battery. You overheat a wire and it ignites something next to it that's flammable and there goes your car, bro. Not only that, the fire-on time of ALL (I MEAN ALL) aftermarket ballasts I've seen is atrocious. You want to look like a $200,000 Mercedes with instant-fire on headlights? You need to go full quality OE/OEM ballasts. Even your "premium" Quasimoto $150 r1cer ballasts won't fire as quickly or reliably as a high-end ballast from Lexus or Acura. You turn on your headlights and I see them slow-warming--I'll know you're a broke ass that installed some ding dong HID. Don't do it. The fastest-warming and somewhat OK budget alternative is the Morimoto D2S Ballasts.
|Wow. Sad face HID time. Image pulled from Google showing 8,000k gangster-bro bulbs|
Lastly, the color. The highest quality effective option from OEM companies is 5,000k. Don't go higher temp than that. Not only does it look stupid (you look like a stupid high school teenager or hardcore gang banger in a Nissan Altima with 20" chrome wheels, dark tint, and raiders stickers on the back window), it's dangerous and ineffective especially when you go higher. Blue was cool for like 2 months in the late 90s. Not anymore. You look like a jerkoff. Stop it. Go for factory 4,300k to 5,000k ONLY from high quality manufacturers like Philips or Osram. I recommend bulbs like the D2S Osram 66240 CBI or D2S Philips 85122+. As I'll mention later, if you must be on a budget, check out the well-regarded alternative Morimoto D2S.
SO MANGO WHAT SHOULD I BUY FOR MY E46?
Professional Factory BMW BI-XENON or other OEM projector from Acura, Lexus, etc.
|Professional Original Equipment BMW E46 Bi-Bosch Xenon Projectors|
If you can, find a car with factory bi-xenon installed. Not only do you have $1,500-a-side high end optics and equipment from billion-dollar companies designed in conjunction with BMW, you also have Dyanmic Auto-Leveling from the factory. This system, not to be compared with the static adjustments all cars have, ensures your projectors are optimally level as the load of your vehicle's suspension is changed. This is done using position sensors and micro-controllers which make tiny adjustments to the headlights as you load your car with cargo/passengers or during braking or acceleration. It ensures you have optimal light on the road when you brake and you aren't pointing light in peoples eyes as you accelerate. A nifty little system indeed. And to think this was featured on these cars in the early 2000s! If you already have this system, GREAT. But if you have the factory bulbs, they are tired and weak by now with as much as 75% lumens reduction (light output) REPLACE THOSE BULBS! You can purchase Philips 85122 or Osram 66240 CBI replacements.
You can also replace with projectors from big car brands such as Mercedes, Lexus, Acura, etc. These are expensive and require advanced skills to retrofit. These units are very high quality and feature top-notch materials and bi-xenon solenoids.
High Quality Aftermarket FX-R, Morimoto Mini D2S, or replacement Retro-Quick projectors
|Mini D2S Projectors as seen on Google|
If you retrofit projectors, there are still several options out there if you can't afford factory or if your factory ZKW-brand headlights have burnt projectors. You can retrofit some good-performing stuff out there.
If you go with FX-R projectors (high quality and popular aftermarket replicas of Infiniti hardware), there will be drilling and cutting required. Advanced skill required. These units perform very nicely, so it may be worth it.
Direct bolt on for people with E46 Halogen Reflector headlights are the E46 Mini D2S projector kit. Do a Google search on it for more info. The projector screws onto place by a locking collar/thread system from the back and accepts high-end D2S bulbs. You have to mount chromey shrouds on front of the projectors so they don't look foolish. But don't worry, theres kits for the E46 that come with shrouds.
Last option is called the retro-quick projector kit for E46. This is for people with burnt/yellowing/fading ZKW-branded headlights. Are your E46 lights dim or do you own a ZHP sedan? Look at your headlight "glass," if it doesn't say "AL" on the front, it means it's not Bosch. And if it's not Bosch, it's ZKW. And if it's ZKW, there's a good chance the chrome coating on your projector bowls have faded/burnt and is no longer reflecting the light from your HID bulbs. This kit is a direct bolt on but disassembly is required. Not hard. This could work with Bosch headlight units as well but I am not sure.
If you're going through the trouble of installing quality projectors, I highly recommend OE/OEM ballasts and bulbs such as Denso ballasts and Osram CBI 66240 to pair with them. I also recommend a dual relay HID wiring harness. Don't risk starting a fire and don't risk losing your headlights in case one relay fails.
Well I hope you enjoyed my post.
Remember I am not an expert at lighting or any other topic discussed here and any modifications done to your vehicle are at your own decision and risk. You should consult a qualified and competent technician before performing any work or modification to your or anyone elses' vehicle. Always check your local, state, and federal laws to ensure any work done to any vehicle is compliant.
The information expressed on this blog and postings are for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes. Products provided in links are also subject to change in availability and pricing. Do your own research and above all stay safe!