Winters used to be very dark, back then at the start of the new millennium. Darker than usual. Driving a high-end sedan didn’t help to turn night into day. The headlights of my old Audi V8 were very big but didn’t illuminate the road nearly as well as my moped’s meager lights from 1975. Whether that was a design flaw or the reflectors were going dull – it’s all lost in the mists of time. The internet had an enticing but immoral offer in store: 110‑watt H4 lamps instead of the usual 55 watts. Dipped beam brighter than the sun. Twice as powerful, wow – a must-have. And prohibited in Germany. Somehow that combination appealed to me, so I went for it.
Here’s a little calculation for those of you who paid attention in Physics at school. The energy consumed by a light bulb, in other words its power, is the product of the voltage and the current. Power P equals V times I, expressed in watts. Everything in the car runs on 12 V, so I can calculate the current by dividing the wattage by the voltage. That’s 4.58 amperes per headlight for a standard 55‑watt lamp, and I have two of those at the front of my car. So a current of 9.16 amps flows just to the headlights. If I double the power of the individual lamps from 55 to 110 watts, I also double the current needed. When the lights are switched on there are now more than 18 amps flowing to the headlights on my Audi V8. That’s a lot of current.
Premium manufacturers usually design their cars in such a way that circuits, components and motors are overdimensioned. But someone at the design studio in Neckarsulm didn’t get the memo. And that’s why the light switch on the steering column of my car didn’t trip a relay which would then distribute the load current to the lamps – no, in this design the whole current was flowing right through the light switch. For whatever reason. So when I went on my first night‑time test drive with the 110‑watt lamps I was confronted with two phenomena. First, the road ahead of me was indeed a bit brighter but not in the spectacular way I was hoping for. Second, I only noticed the extreme temperature increase in the current-carrying light switch on the left of the steering column when the thing started dripping onto my thigh in the form of liquid plastic, burning a hole in my trousers and adorning my skin with a tattoo that is still going strong today.
By the time the fuse finally blew and the last glimmer of light vanished from the front of the car, I was long gone, running screaming across an adjacent field, ripping my trousers off. Yup, it really happened. Funny, isn’t it? Somehow it is. But somehow not. You can still buy 110-watt lamps on the web. But they’re not only prohibited as dipped beam; because of the high current they’re also quite dangerous for the whole electrical system and any body parts that might get in the way. Keep your fingers off them. If you’re after more light, take the Osram Night Breaker Laser. They put more light on the road, burning neither your car nor your legs in the process.