Well, as a few of you have been following my saga, I received my new Startech grill a couple weeks ago. I tried to install it without removing the front fascia, but it was simply a lot easier to pull it. But that tutorial (with lots of pics) will have to wait a day or two.
Anyway, while the fascia was off I decided to replace my fog light bulbs to try and get a closer match to the factory HID's. Some folks here recommended various bulbs and I read different threads on the merits of each. Still confused, I decided to try them all. And here are your candidates, all 9005 model, single element high-beam bulbs (that also work as replacement fog light bulbs for the 300C):
Now, let's establish something right up front, true High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights are brighter (typically 3X vs halogen) and with very distinct color. Different halogen bulbs try to approximate that color as you can see with the various "tints" on the bulbs pictured above. The challenge is that even if the color comes close the light output is not. More importantly, that color can often come at a price - the more "blue" lights mean a thicker film on the glass and thus less light output. Think of wearing blue sunglasses: The darker the lens the less light it allows through. Some bulbs compensate for this with higher wattage. Unfortunately, some 300 owners report melted wiring harnesses when putting 100W (or greater) bulbs in the factory foglights. Not good.
So let's get started. We already know that the factory fog lights are very yellow compared to HID's. We also know that the light output is marginal. Example? Here is the factory bulb on the right with the Sylvania Silverstar Ultra on the left:
Pretty big difference, eh? Part of that is due to the fact that the lens is totally clear with not even a hint of blue tinting. The only other bulb close to it in color is the GE Nighthawk. Unlike the other bulbs tested, this factory bulb is a model 9145 designed specifically for fog light type applications. Thus it is also the only model tested that has less than 60 watts, weighing in at a paltry 45 watts. After reading the recommendations here, I decided to go with the 9005 bulb: Same 12V, single element system, but with higher wattage - typically used in high beam applications. That is the biggest reason the two bulbs are so different in the picture above.
So which 9005 bulb to buy? That depends entirely on what you want to accomplish. Do you want the brightest bulb with the longest range? Or the one that most closely matches the color of an HID light? This group offers it all. First, let's start with the GE Nighthawk (60W 9005 - $27 per pair) and the Sylvania Cool Blue (also 60W 9005 - $9.95 each). Stock 42W 9145 vs. the Cool Blue (latter on the right):
The Cool Blue are noticeably brighter and whiter - no question. So then I tried the GE Nighthawk, which I installed in my Denali a couple weeks ago (before I decided to do the SRT8 fog lights). Interesting that the Denali uses the 9005 (high beam bulb) for the projector-type low beam lights. Anyway, the brightness of the Nighthawk ("GE's brightest") was about the same as the Cool Blue, only with a touch more yellow. Again, the Cool Blue on the right:
So then I bit the bullet and dropped $35 (plus tax) for the 9005 Silverstar Ultra bulbs. They were on sale from their normal $44 a pair - by far the most expensive in the bunch, even with the discount. Like the Cool Blue's, the Silverstar Ultra's are made by Sylvania and are rated at 60W. They even have a similar blue coating on the bulb itself, not to mention identical filaments. Indeed, side by side you can barely tell the difference other than the base:
For those that are wondering, the Silverstar Ultra is on the right and the Cool Blue on the left in the picture above. So how do they stack up against one another in the sight test? Like the bulbs themselves, VERY close:
In the pictures above the Ultra on the left appears to be just a tad bit brighter and with a little less yellow. But the difference is so minimal from this angle that you have to wonder if it is worth double the price. We then stand by the front of the car and look at the light as it projects forward. The Ultra is now on your right with the Cool Blue on the left:
Here we can see a little more difference, in that the Ultra's light is a bit brighter, more white (less yellow), and seems to provide a "cleaner" beam - although I am not quite sure how. Either way, they look like they will be an excellent match for the factory HID lights, right? Uh oh...
Surprisingly, they aren't really that close. The HID's are a much brighter (of course) and much more blue/white light than either of these "blue" lights. But don't get discouraged, when compared to the stock fog light either the Ultra or the Cool Blue are MUCH closer to the HID:
That's the stock bulb on the right and the Silverstar Ultra on the left. So then comes the heavy hitter, the bulb touted here and on some 15,000
various eBay ads running as I type this: The Xenon bulb. And here is where the confusion sets in: How can some Xenon bulbs be priced at less than $4 each, while others are closer to $100 each? Surely there is more of a difference than just price and manufacturer, right? You bet there is! A true HID is a type of lighting technology that replaces the filament of the light bulb with Xenon gas. That gas is ignited to produce an arc of light when high voltage is applied. They require an incredible 20,000 volts to ignite that gas, which is why they use a power pack - or ballast. You guessed it, these are your $100 Xenon light bulbs.
Now most of the lights advertised as Xenon actually do have xenon as a property: A very small amount of Xenon gas is used in halogen bulbs to produce a whiter light and to help keep deposits off the glass tube. Xenon acts as a blanket to retain the heat in the bulb and cause the filament to glow hotter. A hotter filament emits a whiter light. But these are still a conventional halogen bulb with a filament and not ignited gas. Heck, some don't even have Xenon in them at all: They are a standard halogen light bulb with a blue coating to simulate the color of a true HID (ignited Xenon gas) bulb. Our Xenon test bulbs were $9.95 a pair plus shipping from xenonlightshid.com. Labeled "HILITE", they are in the same exact hard plastic case as a dozen other generic Xenon bulbs on eBay with different names. Do these have Xenon gas in them? Their website doesn't say, nor do most of the auctions for similar bulbs. The packaging gives no clue either. Regardless, at first glance the color is definitely closer to a factory HID than even the Silverstar Ultra:
The Xenon bulb is on the right and is noticeably "whiter" than the Silverstar Ultra on the left. The light pattern is also distinctly whiter (more blue, less yellow). This time the Xenon is on the left and you can clearly see the difference vs. the Silverstar Ultra:
But wait a minute, a closer look at that picture above and you will notice something else: The Xenon isn't as bright as the Silverstar Ultra. Check out the far end of the light pattern and you can see how much more visible and distinct the concrete appears. You can also see that where the two light sources "cross" (the diamond in the middle), the Silverstar Ultra overpowers the Xenon. So I decided to test them even more: I replaced the headlights in my Denali with one Xenon bulb and one Nighthawk bulb. We already know the Nighthawk is the most yellow of the bunch (clear), so guess which one is the Xenon?
While the color difference is obvious, the difference in brightness is shocking: The Nighthawk is much brighter and casts its light much, much further than the Xenon bulb. The Xenon literally fades away after about 50-60 feet. Now we know that the Silverstar Ultra offers a "whiter" light, so let's move the Xenon to the other side just to be fair (with projection lenses like the Denali has each side is aimed differently from the factory). We then put in the Silverstar Ultra on the left. Once again, the differences are amazing:
So we know that the Xenon offers the least amount of light besides the factory fog light bulbs. Of course with 65W (the highest tested), you would expect it to outshine something - just not any of the other 9005 bulbs here. We also know that the Xenon offers the "whitest" light of the group and thus the closest color match to the factory HID lights, as shown here on the right with the factory bulb on the left:
The bottom line? The Xenon bulb was the least expensive of the bunch by far. It also offered the closet color match to the HID lights, although they were still different even in that respect. While having the most wattage (65 vs. 60 for the rest) they still offered the least amount of light. By contrast, the Silverstar Ultra was the most expensive, costing about 3X the Xenon with shipping and taxes figured in respectively. But they also offered the brightest light of them all and also some of the whitest light outside of the Xenon bulbs.
So which bulb would you choose? Here is what I did: As the fog lights are already aimed low, they simply won't project as far as the headlights. They can cast a wider pattern as they are aimed so low. While I would NEVER use one of these low cost Xenon bulbs as a headlight replacement for safety reasons, they are okay in a fog light application when color matching is a higher priority. Mind you, they still aren't an exact match, but here is how they look compared to the factory HID's (and yes, I put the fascia back on!):
As for the Silverstar Ultras, they are now the low beam lights in my Denali, while the GE Nighthawks are the high beams. I haven't messed with the high beam bulbs in my 300, but if they are the same 9005 series I will definitely spend the extra money for the Silverstar Ultras - if not an HID kit if one will work there. Let's face it, when you travel on dark highways you want all the light you can possibly get. Maybe even with your fogs...
Hope this helps!
PS. While I don't recommend Xenon lights outside of the fogs, I did end up having good luck with xenonlightshid.com. It was a little iffy at first, but they stood behind their product (faulty bulb) and offered prompt service.