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How Do Projector Headlights Work?

White pick-up truck with aftermarket projector headlights installed.

While rising in popularity among drivers and auto manufacturers, many individuals wonder how do projector headlights work? Projector headlights are a newer type of installation compared to their reflector headlight counterpart. While reflector headlight installations have been present on vehicles for many decades, widespread use of projector headlights first came about in luxury vehicles of the 1980s. Now, drivers of all vehicles, including trucks and SUVs, are choosing to make the upgrade. However, it’s common for consumers to have questions, particularly when doing work on their vehicles themselves. Many individuals want to know how to adjust projector headlights and how to aim projector headlights, as well as what type of lightbulb is best suited for the installation.

At RECON, we’re dedicated to helping each of our customers and readers make the most out of their aftermarket truck parts and accessories. Choosing to make the switch to truck projector headlights, or replacing an outdated installation, is a big deal. After all, your headlights are what the world sees first when looking at your truck. They’re also one of the most significant safety elements on your truck. You want to be sure that you’re getting the right installation for your vehicle, and that the headlights are set-up in a safe and effective manner. We’re here to answer the question of “how do projector headlights work?” and more.

What Are Projector Headlights?

Projector headlights are a newer version of headlight, considered by many to be superior when compared to traditional reflector headlights. Projector headlights are both brighter and more focused compared to headlights of the past, meaning that drivers have the ability to see more clearly and further into the distance at night and in poor weather.

This type of headlight installation aims downwards, toward the road, instead of directly ahead of the driver. Many individuals prefer this set-up as it is less likely to blind other drivers or produce a glare back into their own eyes. Additionally, they give drivers the opportunity to use a better quality of headlight bulb, such as XENON HID bulbs or LED bulbs that last longer and draw less power from their truck’s battery source. These bulbs are generally too high-powered to use in traditional reflector headlight installations, which require halogen bulbs that are prone to burning out more frequently.

How Do Projector Headlights Work?

Projector headlights work similarly to traditional reflector headlights, with one key difference. The headlight bulb goes inside a steel bowl that contains mirrors, just as reflector headlights have. However, in addition to this steel bowl and the mirrors that magnify the beam of light, projector headlights also contain a lens inside them. This lens provides further magnification, making the beam of light even brighter and more focused.

The result is headlights that shine further into the distance, provide better peripheral vision and function better in inclement weather. They emit more light, as the lens inside the headlight bowl works to magnify the beam.

How to Aim Projector Headlights

Another key difference when it comes to projector headlights is that they aim downward, towards the ground instead of straight ahead. This means that they can emit a stronger light without posing the risk of blinding other drivers on the road. However, as the light that they emit is so strong it is essential to know how to aim projector headlights and how to adjust projector headlights if necessary.

When learning how to aim projector headlights, work with one headlight at a time. Face your truck toward a solid wall or your garage door, as this will serve as your “template” to test the height and angle of your headlight beams once you turn them on. The ground should be flat, do not park on a sloped driveway or floor. You will need to park your truck 25-feet away from the wall or the garage door.

Next, use a measuring tape and determine the distance between the center of the headlight and the ground, as well as the distance between the center of one headlight and the center of the other. Write down these measurements. Now, go to the wall or garage door and using a pencil or a piece of painter’s tape place a mark that corresponds with each measurement. You should have two “plus signs” on the wall or door that note where each headlight is. Take your measuring tape again, and mark a spot exactly two inches below each plus sign.

When you turn your headlight on, if it is aimed properly the light should align with the plus marks on the wall horizontally, and the mark two-inches below that vertically. Repeat the process with your second headlight.

How to Adjust Projector Headlights

If you do this test on your projector headlights and find that they are not properly aligned, you must adjust each headlight as soon as possible. Projector headlights that are not properly aimed pose the risk of blinding other drivers and create a danger on the road.

When learning how to adjust projector headlights, again, work with just one headlight at a time. Use the steps for how to aim projector headlights and turn on your low beam only. You will need to open your truck’s hood, and find the adjustment point on the rear of the headlight. There are adjuster screws in the back of the headlight–use the appropriate tool to turn the screws until your headlights align with the marks you drew as noted above.

Projector Headlights vs. Reflector Headlights

Many auto manufacturers still make vehicles with reflector headlights and many drivers wonder if it’s worth making the switch to projectors. When deciding which type of headlight installation is best for your truck, it is important to consider the pros and cons of each.

The pros of choosing projector headlights are that you will have a brighter beam that is more focused, performing better at night and in inclement weather conditions. However, some individuals don’t like the style or appearance. When considering reflector headlights, the most positive aspect of the installation is that due to the simple design they tend to be less expensive. However, with reflector headlights, you may not be able to see as well. The light may appear hazier or duller compared to a projector headlight installation.

Most truck lovers agree that projector headlights are the way to go and that they pose many benefits not just for the driver of the vehicle but for others on the road as well.

Can You Use LED Bulbs in Projector Headlights?

Another common question we hear is regarding the type of lightbulb that is best for use in projector headlights. Many drivers choose XENON HID bulbs, however, you can use LED headlight bulbs as well. In fact, using LED lights can offer an advantage–they are known to last longer than both halogen and HID bulbs, while being virtually just as bright as HIDs. This means you will not have to replace the bulbs as frequently, but will not have to sacrifice on the quality of light.

LED Bulbs vs. HID Bulbs

Once you know that you can use LED bulbs in projector headlights, you may wonder whether they are the best choice or if you should stick with HID bulbs instead. This is a common question among drivers. Generally, LED lightbulbs are better for projector headlights than HID bulbs. They tend to last longer, and unlike HID bulbs which may take 10 to 20 seconds to reach full illumination, light up at full power almost immediately.

However, it is important to note that if you are using LED bulbs in your projector headlights you may need to add a heat sink to the back of the bulb near the engine bay. This may not be possible for all MAKE and MODEL trucks. If this is the case, HID bulbs are the second-best option.

Shop RECON Today

When you shop RECON, our technical support representatives are available to answer any questions you may have regarding your new installation, including the question of “how do projector headlights work?” We stock projector headlights for a variety of MAKE and MODEL trucks and SUVS, including:

  • The FORD F-150
  • The FORD RAPTOR
  • The FORD SUPER DUTY
  • The FORD MUSTANG
  • The DODGE RAM
  • The CHEVY SILVERADO
  • The CHEVY TAHOE
  • The GMC SIERRA
  • The JEEP WRANGLER
  • The TOYOTA TUNDRA
  • The TOYOTA SEQUOIA

For a new set of projector headlights that will give your ride the major upgrade it deserves, shop RECON today and GET LIT!

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