Blind in one eye?

Xenon lights on cars are really nothing new. Although LED technology is now becoming pretty standard in all vehicle classes and laser technology is helping out with high beam, most cars on this planet still rely on halogen lamps to get them safely through the night. So is there some “basic fear” of xenon light? Or do many drivers shy away from it out of a healthy respect for the technology and the high voltage? Or are they put off by the cost? I decided to take a look at a lamp, also known as a “burner”, from a very early xenon generation. The D2R burners from a W 210 E-Class (“Avantgarde” model) are very very old and the right one now offers little more than a yellow glimmer.

Slow death

The D2R burners are the second generation of gas discharge lamps (the D stands for discharge) in reflector headlights (hence the R). Unlike halogen lamps, xenon burners do not have a filament. Instead, high voltage is applied between two electrodes to “ignite” an arc. The ignition voltage is around 20,000 volts. During normal operation most lamps are supplied with only 35 W. Even so, this is enough to produce a much higher luminous flux

than from an H7 lamp (approx. 3,200 lm compared to a maximum of 1,500 lm). At 2,000 hours the life of a xenon lamp is on average four times longer than that of a halogen lamp. But even xenon burners are not immortal. Sooner or later, time catches up with them. But again unlike their halogen counterparts, which depart this life with a pop and sudden darkness, they slowly lose brightness and change color. If one day you are standing in front of your car and notice that one of the two headlights is cloudy and yellow then it’s high time to change the lamp.

You can, but you shouldn’t

Whether or not you do this yourself depends entirely on the type of headlight and your own abilities with a screwdriver. Whereas even an absolute beginner can change a halogen lamp on almost any vehicle in a matter of minutes, you should keep your hobby-mechanic fingers well away from xenon burners. There is a risk from the high voltage supplied by the igniter, not only to yourself but also to the components identified by a bolt of black lightning on a yellow triangle. What’s more, the relatively complex connectors can easily break off, and too much “gentle pressure” can cause the new burner to sit askew in the reflector. On the old Mercedes everything is relatively easy to reach and also easy to dismantle. Which is why I’ve been able to remove a “burnt out” lamp for you and compare its outward appearance to that of a new one from Osram.

As different as night and day

The old burner really has had its day. My colleague Fritz described this loss of brightness in one of his articles. Our eyes are very good at adjusting to poor light, and we don’t realize that a headlight has been offering lackluster performance until we see the powerful beam delivered by a new burner. Suddenly everything is as bright as day again! If you don’t want to run the risk of having different light colors it is best (and indeed recommended) to change both burners at the same time – after all, xenon burners are not exactly expensive any more. You then have 2,000 hours of peace again – putting you in a good mood for a trip to your friendly workshop where you can get your headlights properly adjusted. Or where you can have new burners installed if you don’t dare do it yourself. So here’s to a beautiful bright fall!

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