Are BMW’s Halogen headlights actually unsafe?

3-Series, News | March 30th, 2016 by 30
BMW 3er F30 LCI Sport Line Mediterran Blau 340i 01 750x500

Update – BMW of North America issued the following statement: The BMW Group has been an industry leader for headlight technology innovation for more than …

Update – BMW of North America issued the following statement:

The BMW Group has been an industry leader for headlight technology innovation for more than four decades. BMW was the first to introduce ellipsoid projector headlights, electronic adaptive headlight technology, xenon headlights and most recently BMW Laserlights. BMW has also pioneered Night Vision systems that can detect animals and pedestrians far beyond the range of the best headlight systems. While we are disappointed with the results of the IIHS headlight test of a BMW 3 Series equipped with basic halogen headlights, we remain confident that we offer our customers very effective headlight systems at a variety of price points.

So many automakers are switching over to LED headlights, including BMW in its post-LCI 3 Series. The BMW 3 Series’ Lighting Package costs $800 and consists of full LED headlights as well as automatic high beams, which sounds great. That Lighting Package may be a necessary option for many BMW buyers as, according to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), the BMW 3 Series’ halogen headlights scored the lowest marks out of any similarly equipped car they tested. The IIHS actually claims that the 3 Series’ halogen headlights are unsafe and could only present the driver with enough time to stop after seeing something in the road at around 35 mph.

“Many headlight problems could be fixed with better aim,” according to one of the engineers at the IIHS. “This is simple enough to adjust on many vehicles, but the burden shouldn’t fall on the consumer to figure out what the best aim is. Manufacturers need to pay attention to this issue to make sure headlights are aimed consistently and correctly at the factory.” So maybe it has to do with the headlights being improperly aimed out of the factory, whether this be intentional or by accident.

BMW 340i Touring F31 LCI 3er M Sport Paket 2015 21 750x497

However, BMWs equipped with the brand’s LED Lighting Package fared a bit better and scored a “Marginal” grade from the IIHS. It’s surprising to hear that the LEDs were only considered Marginal because I’m currently driving a 2016 BMW 328i with the LED lighting package and the headlights are superb. In fact, while driving down the highway at night, the LED headlights light the road three lanes wide and so far ahead that it’s silly. Every passenger I’ve had in the car at night remarks on how incredibly bright the headlights are and when arriving to someone’s house late at night, they remarked on how they could see the headlights illuminating almost the entire street before they could even see the car coming down it. So don’t seem dull or improperly aimed. They’re stunningly bright.

Now, obviously I have no way of comparing them to other cars using exact science or measurements and am certainly not as qualified as the engineers at the IIHS. However, it’s difficult to believe that the 3 Series’ LED headlights could be considered “Marginal” when they have stunned me every single night I’ve had the car. The high beams are even more ridiculous and the automatic high beam system works great. Maybe my standards of lighting are just very low. Or maybe that IIHS engineer is right and some cars are coming with their lights improperly aimed, which is entirely possible. It’s also the only explanation for the difference in discoveries between ours and the IIHS’. That would also explain why so many other cars, most of them from premium automakers, equipped with LED headlights are scoring so poorly, including the Cadillac ATS and Mercedes-Benz C Class.

So have you fellow readers experienced any issues with your LED headlights on your BMWs? And if so please let us know.

[Source: IIHS]

30 responses to “Are BMW’s Halogen headlights actually unsafe?”

  1. […] LED headlamps are the BMW really healthy? , source & photos: bmwblog […]

  2. cdickgo says:

    Try driving down an winding 2 lane road at night with only low beams. You have to slow down or it gets dangerous. The 3 series needs to point the beams higher to increase the distance. I don’t have the LED headlights, as I have an E93 M3, but I can relate to them not being adjusted high enough for back roads.

  3. seancorr says:

    I don’t think it’s just related to the LED lights…even the xenon lights in the pre-LCI F30 had some issues as I personally know a few owners who adjusted the height of the beam themselves as they complained about the short beam and it gets worse if you lowered the suspension height. As for my pre-LCI F30 I’m okay with it so far…or maybe my judgement on the beam level isn’t great haha

  4. Shawn Sepehry says:

    The IIHS report mentioned tests the 3 series with standard Halogen headlights which is why it received the lowest rating. I think there are many holes in this testing, mainly the equipment of the various cars. Other cars that were tested like the new C Class had xenon equipment and still rated poorly. I think something in their testing was flawed.

    Another important factor is the NHSTA regulations on output of headlights compared to Europe which has been well documented on other models and the infamous retrofiting of eurostyle headlights to achieve better output. North American regulations have always been behind the curve when it comes to lighting.

    If a BMW with adaptive LEDs and automatic high-beam assist were optioned on the test car, surely it would have faired much better.

    • darex says:

      Yes. The author misread the tests. I have the LED headlamps in my MINI F56, and they are without doubt the best headlamps I’ve ever had! In the MINI fora, that’s a virtually unanimous opinion. I believe it’s a similar or identical unit to the F30’s.

  5. Ask says:

    I never liked the idea of LED headlights.
    I think xenons look better aesthetically.

    • Will Davis says:

      What, the quality of the light beam or the headlight array? Beam wise, LEDs have far greater potential. Array wise, LEDs have… yep, far greater potential as you aren’t restricted to the classic projector/reflector setup. You can cook up all sorts of awesome designs. LED also gives more choice of beam colour and angle.

  6. Donald's Burro says:

    BMW has better lighting features like anti-dazzle that are disabled for US region cars. I’ve read this is due to some old NHSTA rules required that switching from high/low beams requires a physical switch.

    • theseanofsydney says:

      Wow really, we in Australia as silly to disable the speed zone, HUD that gives you a chance to know the speed limit in the area you are driving because it might not be 100.00% accurate, fully the Sat Nav trys to make you drive down one-way roads the wrong way, and over concrete meadian strips, and still activated.

  7. Alexander S says:

    Do BMW use lense? Merc and Audi use. If BMW dont, its hard for me to ubderstand why.

  8. SgtDexter says:

    The IIHS findings pertain to BMW’s basic halogen headlights, not BMW Xenon or LED based headlamps. I find the BME Xenon and LED headlights to be excellent; I cannot vouch for their halogen lamps.

    • RBW says:

      Yea and the only BMW 3-series headlights that were acceptable as “marginal” were the swivelling Xenon lights. Ever had to replace one? They’re a cool $2200 for one headlight.

    • David Thompson says:

      I think the device they use to measure light output is based on incandescent fixtures and not on digital. LED headlights are operated in a pulsed mode

  9. Jay Allanby says:

    IIHS results are absurd. Everyone who owns a BMW knows that the headlights are excellent.

    • Lee Rhodes says:

      I’m on my 3rd 3 series in 14 years. The first two had the xenon lights. They were excellent.
      I opted for the standard halogens on my 2013. They are just as reported. ….very, very poor…in fact dangerous on dark roads.
      Next time it will be the xenon’s/LED’s.

  10. theseanofsydney says:

    I have the 340i and with the Adaptive LED’s

    Dry nights are great, and signage is clear and stands out hundred of meters away, they reflect very nicely.
    WET NIGHTS ARE BAD Bad bad,,,, But not the LED but the colour white.
    Yellow best for wet road, with greater reflections coming back.
    Halogen the next best,
    Then HID with below 3000K
    Then LED
    Then HID worst with 4500K-6500K
    The low K is yellower,,, then white and then Blue…..

    The Auto highbeam and the turning with the steering is also amazing with light moving to prevent cars in front having light in their eyes and keeping more light on the road of others.

  11. Major Hayden says:

    I have a 2015 X3 and the LED headlights seem as good if not better than the Xenon HID headlights I had in a 335d.

  12. Geo says:

    BMW needs to improve the reliability and sturdiness of these fancy headlights. After having one headlight (adaptive bi-xenon) break inside after driving over a pothole (the self-leveling broke, without any other damage to the car) and paying almost $2k to have it replaced, I will be certain to avoid all the fancy tech until it matures.

  13. Jackey says:

    My wife currently drives an E90 325i and I replaced her halogen lights with aftermarket LED lights and boy or boy do we have daytime during night time driving, the trick is to get the lumnes output right and always look for Cree LED’s coz they have true white LED chips. It’s even brighter than Xenons

  14. JohnS1000RR says:

    US regulations don’t allow full power LED lights so that’s the reason why all LEDs in the US look weak. If you want 100% strength for your LEDs in the US, you have to opt for coding.

  15. Lee Rhodes says:

    I have a 2013 3 series…with the halogen lights. My 2 prior 3 series had the xenons….which were excellent. In fact the best I’ve had on any car.

    The halogens are just as reported….very poor …unless you are on high beam. At first I thought it was
    me…but having ridden in other cars like the 2014 Accord….the problem is the halogen’s on the 3 series.
    “Quite” dangerous on dark roads.

  16. Lee Rhodes says:

    My friend….I believe it is the BMW halogens that are being critiqued as poor. And they are.
    The LED’s are great headlights….some of the best.

  17. 24 Hour Man says:

    I OWN a 2013 328i with halogen and YES my headlamps are GARBAGE… if I had known about this issue I would have made sure they were xenon; now I’m stuck with no viable upgrade from BMW

  18. Matt Brumbelow says:

    We rated all the headlight options (halogen, LED, and swiveling LED). http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/v/class-summary/midsize-luxury-near-luxury-cars

  19. Matt Gallino says:

    Saw this and was puzzled by it too. I had a bunch of bmw’s with xenon and now have several with LED. While it is super dissapointing that US regs wont allow anti-dazzle (have heard of some guys getting aftermarket coding to get this to work) – I still find the headlights to be excellent. I frequently travel for work and rent toyota, nissan, mazda, even infiniti and MB product. When any of these are fitted with halogens I feel like I am driving in the dark.

    • Quanda Dobson says:

      I own a 2012 BMW and I have no desire to drive at night because of the lights. The are TERRIBLE!!! I had them checked out by BMW and they said they were ok. I’m glad it came up and I hope BMW fix this problem in the older models.

  20. Tcap says:

    I have just taken delivery of a mini convertible with BMW LED headlights which are rubbish so I was pleased to see that the IIHS agree with me. The lights have two major problems. First is that the additional LEDs that come on with the high beam do not overlap with the low beam LEDs leaving a dark band between the beams in precisely the place where you want to see most. Also as you drive down the road the process of objects moving from the very bright high beam into the darkness and then into the apparently dimmer low beam caused me to feel very sick to the point nausea in just five miles. The second problem has already been mentioned by others. The lights are very bright and light a huge area; it feels like it spreads to the space station vertically and the next county horizontally. Wonderful you think. Well no actually as at least 90% of this illumination is utterly irrelevant to your safe progress down the road. In reality this unnecessary light reflects back into the driver’s eyes making it more difficult to see the actual road and increasing fatigue considerably. The old (pre-adaptive) BMW Xenons were a vastly better light for fast night time driving on twisty, narrow UK roads.

    My car is awaiting rectification by BMW (I hope) but in the meantime I have deemed it unsafe for night driving. I am totally with the IIHS’s views.

  21. Graeme B says:

    What is the CRI and Kelvin rating of these LEDS? How do they deal with moisture or dust in the air resulting in back scattering? Given the AMA American Medical Association released a 2016 report re LED street lighting citing typical deficiencies in LED 5000K or blue white light where do your light’s fit with visual acuity and glare?

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