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LED Headlight Upgrade

2014 Mazda5 Sport: Say Hello To Tom's Hardware's Project Car
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Headlight technology is constantly improving on high-end vehicles. While luxury marquees outfit their flagships with the latest LED lights, and continue development of laser-based headlights, mainstream cars are still stuck with halogen and high-intensity discharge options. Mazda does offer HIDs on its top Grand Touring trim, but our base Mazda5 employs pedestrian halogen technology. Fortunately, the company focuses its halogens with excellent projectors that provide a sharp cut-off and plenty of light. Still, the 55 W H11 bulbs Mazda uses are limited to around 1200 lumens.

Philips, Sylvania, PIAA, and others manufacture replacements able to mimic the color of HIDs, promising greater brightness at the expense of longevity. For example, Sylvania's SilverStar is a popular white halogen bulb rated for just one year. They're not cheap either, priced at $40 for a pair. Ultimately, we went with Philips' cheaper $10 alternatives.

And so those of us with halogen headlights are stuck with expensive bulbs that die every year or less light output with a longer life.

There’s always the option to drop a HID kit into your housing. But that's not ideal either; it causes severe glare issues that can blind oncoming drivers. We considered going this route before coming up with a seemingly more suitable solution.

A company called Hellst (which coincidentally sounds similar to the German automotive lighting supplier Hella), offers drop-in LED replacements for vehicles equipped with H11 bulbs. Naturally, we contacted Hellst hoping to check out its technology. The company promises up to 3200 lumens from two large LED elements, a 5500 K color temperature, less power consumption (35 W), plug and play compatibility, and a 40,000-hour lifespan. 

LED headlights aren't cheap, though. Hellst charges $174 and $15 for global shipping. That seems pricey up until you take the promised lifespan into account. Sylvania rates its SilverStar zXe for 650 hours and sells that kit for $60. By the time Hellst's bulbs need replacement, you will have gone through 60 sets of the SilverStar zXe. Over time, paying extra for LEDs makes sense.

The kit was easy to install; the bulbs drop right into the stock H11 fitting. They do rely on ballasts that need to be mounted, but Hellst includes Velcro to simplify placement. We stuck the ballasts to the inside of each fender and plugged in the requisite wiring. Notice that the bulbs have a heat sink and small fan protruding out the back. This is necessary to cool them. The fan engages when the headlights turn on and is rated for up to 20,000 hours (half as long as the bulbs). Nevertheless, the lights dim if the fan goes out, protecting the elements inside. Hellst also says it'll issue a free replacement if your fans fail.

Since these headlights employ two bright CREE LEDs mounted back to back, their orientation in the housing is important. I mistakenly installed the bulbs with the LEDs situated horizontally, creating a dead zone of light. It didn't look right at all. So, I moved the LEDs to a vertical position, which fixed the issue.

At first I was impressed at how bright the Hellst H11 kit was. It projects a clean, white light directly in front of the car, where driving lamps are typically aimed. But after a couple of evenings, I noticed that the peripheral coverage wasn't as good as the halogens. You get lots of light up close and down low, but then it falls off down the road compared to stock.

Hellst LED Headlights

Currently, I'm not comfortable recommending the Hellst LED replacements until we can get to the bottom of the peripheral illumination issue. Driving around town, the improvements aren't as apparent as we hoped, since we're fighting blinding oncoming traffic, street lights and lots of glare reflecting off of the wet Washington roads. In typical driving situations, Hellst's solution offers little improvement beyond the initial wow factor.

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  • 0 Hide
    Gelid03 , June 13, 2014 4:40 AM
    Looks great cant wait for the rest of the planned mods.
  • 6 Hide
    Amdlova , June 13, 2014 4:40 AM
    nice mazda 5 you have sir :)  I liked the wireles charge.

    I want see some night vision on car. drive without lights...
  • 0 Hide
    Matthew Busse , June 13, 2014 4:59 AM
    I might have to upgrade the wife's 2010 =)
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 8:29 AM
    Thanks guys. Next up will be a Blind-spot monitor system from Gosher's, ScanGaugeE, and some sort of wireless storage. Even have a set of Mazdaspeed 3 wheels ready to go, just waiting on tires :) 
  • 0 Hide
    SinisterSalad , June 13, 2014 8:30 AM
    I recently picked up a non-Nav equipped CX-9 Grand Touring AWD. I look forward to the head unit reviews. So far, I've put on an aftermarket trailer hitch, and half installed a Pyle backup camera system.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 8:32 AM
    Quote:
    I recently picked up a non-Nav equipped CX-9 Grand Touring AWD. I look forward to the head unit reviews. So far, I've put on an aftermarket trailer hitch, and half installed a Pyle backup camera system.


    How do you like the CX9 so far? The CX5 is still one of my favorites to drive. I've yet to get into a CX9 but I do love the Ford Flex, its platform mate.
  • 1 Hide
    SinisterSalad , June 13, 2014 9:08 AM
    It's been good so far. I got it at the end of April, so haven't had it too long. The only thing I don't care for is the headroom up front. I'm 6'3", and If I have the seat adjusted more upright like I prefer, my noggin hits the roof.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 9:14 AM
    Quote:
    It's been good so far. I got it at the end of April, so haven't had it too long. The only thing I don't care for is the headroom up front. I'm 6'3", and If I have the seat adjusted more upright like I prefer, my noggin hits the roof.


    How's the driving dynamics? The CX-9 is supposed to be fairly sporty compared to the usual dreadful driving CUVs.
  • 1 Hide
    SinisterSalad , June 13, 2014 9:16 AM
    It does drive very much like a car. I'm coming from a '02 Durango. I had also test drove the Acura MDX. Very similar ride at a lower price point.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 9:18 AM
    The first gen Durango's are awesome. I still love how they look. The MDX is nice. I drove the latest one and its a very nice car minus the annoying dual screen infotainment system. The price tag didn't help sway me either. As much as I enjoy driving expensive cars, I'm quite frugal when it comes to my own car :) 
  • 0 Hide
    SinisterSalad , June 13, 2014 9:25 AM
    It's an SLT+ with the 5.9l and a bad tranny. Interested?? LOL
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 9:26 AM
    I don't need anymore cars, but you sure it's not just a sensor? My dad picked up a '97 Grand Cherokee 5.2 a few years ago with a bad tranny. Turns out it was a bad sensor or something. Been running fine.
  • 0 Hide
    danwat1234 , June 13, 2014 10:24 AM
    THANK YOU for the LED headlight install. I have been watching this tech and am intrigued at the LED headlight kits on Ebay for under $100 that look similar to the kit you bought. It's now competitive to HID kits, though not as bright especially compared with 55w HID kits.

    Maybe if you adjust your headlight up a bit with the adjustment screw the light pattern will be better?

    I would be skeptical that power into the LED is 35 watts. Most say 25 watts or so on Ebay. More watts is more heat and less lumens/watt probably.

  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 10:25 AM
    Quote:
    THANK YOU for the LED headlight install. I have been watching this tech and am intrigued at the LED headlight kits on Ebay for under $100 that look similar to the kit you bought. It's now competitive to HID kits, though not as bright especially compared with 55w HID kits.

    Maybe if you adjust your headlight up a bit with the adjustment screw the light pattern will be better?

    I would be skeptical that power into the LED is 35 watts. Most say 25 watts or so on Ebay. More watts is more heat and less lumens/watt probably.



    I wanted to like them so much but the way they're designed, you can't really get proper lighting out of them. If you're in the city and only need close range lighting, sure they'll suffice. However, I live in the country side and being able to see the signs way down is necessary. I ended up pulling them out and buying wiring harnesses to install H9 bulbs. They're 65-watt and 2100 lumens. Life span is shorter but they're only $15 a piece.
  • 0 Hide
    SinisterSalad , June 13, 2014 10:50 AM
    Quote:
    I don't need anymore cars, but you sure it's not just a sensor? My dad picked up a '97 Grand Cherokee 5.2 a few years ago with a bad tranny. Turns out it was a bad sensor or something. Been running fine.

    I've thought about the possibility of it just being a pressure sensor. The transmissions in these are notoriously bad, though. I haven't decided if I want to bother with it yet or not.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 10:52 AM
    I'd at least get the code read and if its just a sensor, replace it and sell the car for much more.
  • 0 Hide
    SinisterSalad , June 13, 2014 11:14 AM
    Quote:
    I'd at least get the code read and if its just a sensor, replace it and sell the car for much more.

    No codes are being thrown for it. :( 
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 11:16 AM
    That's odd. Could just need a flush and new filter?
  • 0 Hide
    SinisterSalad , June 13, 2014 11:18 AM
    Did that less than 10k before this. Went from WI to Badlands and back just fine last year. Did everything to it as far as maintenance right before the trip out. Mechanics are family, so I trust them. ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 13, 2014 11:30 AM
    Yea if its not throwing codes, could be anything from solenoids or clutch packs burning out :-\.
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