A lot of design changes and improvements have been made to the Wrangler over the years improving it's on and off-road handling and capability, interior comfort and passenger carrying capacity. The one area that seems to have been forgotten about however, is the headlights. Not much has changed, since believe it or not, the birth of the Willys MB almost 75 years ago! Up until the release of the 2007 JK, all the previous CJ's and Wrangler's have used a sealed beam headlight that offered marginal light output at best. With the JK Wrangler finally came a non-sealed beam headlight that allowed you to replace or upgrade an H13 size bulb, rather than having to change out the entire headlight. Even still, the light output compared to other cars and trucks on the market was still not up to par. So it's not surprising that one of the first modifications many new Wrangler owners make to their Jeep is to upgrade the headlights.
Sealed Beam Upgrades
For all Wrangler's and CJ's older than the current generation 2007 and newer JK wrangler, sealed beam upgrades offer slightly better than stock performance for a pretty minimal investment. For about the cost of simply replacing a burnt out oem sealed beam headlight, you can step up to something like the Sylvania SilverStar replacements. Offering a cooler white light than the standard sealed beams yellow-ish light. Sure they're an improvement over stock, but don't expect a night and day difference in the light output, pun intended.
H4 Housings & Bulbs Upgrades
The next step up in head light upgrades, would be to switch out the old school style sealed beam light to an H4 Housing Conversion and a pair of upgraded H4 bulbs. Of course the JK Wrangler's stock headlights already uses a similar style housing, however they're made to accept an H13 bulb which sadly doesn't have the amount of aftermarket upgrades available as the more common H4 sized housings. Most of the aftermarket housings offer a better beam pattern than the stock housings anyhow, so it's worth making the switch to have more options when it comes to bulb selection.
HID Retrofit Kits
An option that hasn't necessarily been as popular in the Jeep aftermarket as it has in other automotive aftermarkets are H.I.D. headlight upgrades. H.I.D. stands for High Intensity Dischage, which is a type of light that uses a filament-less bulb housing two electrodes inside the lamp, along with a mixture of gas and metal salts. High current is supplied by way of an electric ballast causing an arc of electricity to form between the electrodes. While these systems can offer a large increase in light output, many of the retro-fit kits on the market simply offer the ballasts and bulbs and not full housings. Simply installing an H.I.D. kit into a housing designed for an H4 bulb is not only not street legal, but because the housing is not designed for the application, a lot of stray light and glare is created for oncoming drivers on the road. While there are some systems on the market that are DOT approved and offer high quality light output, the recent improvements in LED technology offering similar quality for less money, have caused H.I.D. kits to rapidly decline in popularity.
Which brings us to the most popular and biggest bang for your buck upgrade available in the aftermarket today. L.E.D.'s or Light Emitting Diodes, are small semiconductor diodes. When voltage is applied, electrons release energy in the form of light. Over the past few years, improvements in LED technology and their reduction in cost have brought quite a few options to the aftermarket for headlight replacement.
Within the spectrum of LED upgrades, there are essentially two types of headlights, reflector style and projector style housings. Both are great options and the increased amount and quality of light output over the Wrangler's original headlights will have you wondering how you ever drove at night before installing your new headlights! The difference between the two styles is how they go about projecting the light down the road and the output pattern of light you see on the road surface.
Reflector Style LED Headlights look similar to the oem style light, with a clear lens and fluted reflector at the back of the housing. The LED's are positioned in the center of the housing and bounce light off the reflector. The lights are usually divided into an upper and lower half, for low and high beam respectively. The amount of light output is far greater than standard headlights, and the color temperature is much closer to natural daylight.
Projector style LED Headlights have a very distinct appearance, different than conventional reflector style housings. By positioning the LED behind a lens and a cut-off shield, the light is more focused and the cut-off pattern of the light on the road is much sharper than that of a reflector style lamp. This creates a more even pattern of light on the road with less "hot spots". Projector style head lights utilize separate LED's and projector lenses for high and low beams, with some even featuring additional lenses for peripheral lighting to really light the road ahead. Of course, just as you would probably expect, with the additional lenses, LED's and manufacturing costs involved with projector style lights, the retail cost is usually slightly more than a reflector style LED. Both offer great advantages over the stock lights, and really it just comes down to personal preference in style, look, and how much cash you're willing to shell out.