Ford F-150/F-250: Headlight Legal Requirements

Changing headlights is a common modification, but before getting started, it's essential to know what is and isn't legal.

By Brett Foote - November 25, 2014
Contributors: DIYiT, thelariat02

This article applies to the Ford F-150 (2004-2014) and F-250 Super Duty (2005-2014).

Headlights have come a long way over the last decade or so, with High Intensity Discharge (HID) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology making lights brighter and more efficient than ever. They also look a lot better than old, basic headlights. The good news is you can easily swap out your boring, dim old headlights for a new set.

HID and LED headlights are obviously a lot brighter than standard lights, allowing drivers to see farther in the distance and better avoid hazards. F-150s and F-250s are generally equipped with halogen bulbs, but higher trim levels come equipped with HIDs. Blacked out headlights give a menacing look, but you will want to make sure they are legal in your area. Plus, they can significantly reduce headlight output at night. This article takes an in depth look at each option.

HID Headlights

HID are typically illuminated by sending a charge through xenon gas. HID is a catch-all term for all lights with a similar output, but the majority of cars on the road today use bi-xenon bulbs. Different bulbs operate at different temperatures which creates different colors of light. As a result, there are a lot of headlight bulb options available. There are rules to upgrading, however.

Those considering upgrading to HIDs must know that retrofitting HID bulbs into a Halogen bulb housing is illegal and dangerous. You must install HID projectors too. Most F-150s come with halogen bulbs and housing. It's tempting to consider buying an HID retrofit without new housings because they're inexpensive. Yes, your lights will be brighter, but they'll also scatter light badly into the eyes of oncoming traffic. This is plainly dangerous and will also land you a fat ticket. HID bulbs are two to three times brighter than standard halogen bulbs and emit a different light pattern. Hence, they require a new headlight housing that has a projector lens already installed. HID conversion kits are generally illegal for street use and suitable for off-road use only.

Figure 1. HID headlights.

Lights—HIDs or otherwise—come in a variety colors, but the law says that lights on the front of a vehicle should be yellow or white. HID lights can seem blue-ish white at the top end of the spectrum which is okay. A safe range for color on the kelvin scale is between 3,000 K and 8,000 K bulbs. The light becomes very blue and very illegal above that limit. On the plus side, HIDs greatly increase visibility at night and look great. HIDs have excellent side to side distribution but do cut off at a certain height, limiting upper visibility on very dark nights. HID headlights are expensive, unfortunately, and can run anywhere from $300 to $1,000 for a set. Installation is easy with today's kits that have essentially become plug and play, requiring only basic mechanical skill and simple tools. Professional installation can add another $200 or so to the price.

Figure 2. HID headlight kelvin spectrum.

LED Headlights

LED headlights have the same legal concerns as xenon-HID headlights in general even though the technology is different. Several aftermarket headlight housings have LED strips around the headlight lenses that change color. These "halo" housings are legal so long as the color they're displaying is white or yellow while driving. LED headlights are the most modern option and many new cars are beginning to make them standard equipment. They look great and are super bright. On the downside, they are considerably more expensive and still not quite as bright as HIDs. LEDs are quite a few years away from being the best light solution, but if you want the latest in headlight technology, this is it. Depending on what sort of kit you go with, LEDs can cost anywhere from $300 up into the thousands, and professional installation can tack on a few hundred more. However, modern kits, like HIDs, can make this a simple process that requires only basic tools and skills.

Figure 3. LED Halo projector headlights.

Blacked Out Lights

You will definitely want to check your local laws before bolting them on, but you should assume that tinted headlights are illegal. Tinted tails are only illegal if they can't be seen while on from 1,000 feet. How frequently police and highway patrol enforce this will depend on your area, but there are good reasons for them being illegal. Tail lights are the key visual focal point for your car at night. If they're too dark, you might as well be invisible. Headlights have a similar issues with the added detriment of reducing light output; the heavier the tint, the dimmer the headlight.

If you want to DIY, you can purchase kits to tint your headlights for as little as $8-$10, and installation is very easy, requiring only basic tools like a wrench or socket set. Purchasing a set of lights that are already blacked out can run anywhere from $100-$300 or more depending on brand. Professional installation can quickly double the price, but this is an easy job almost anyone can do.

Figure 4. Blacked out headlights.

Legality of Blacked Out Lights

  • Blacked out lights look great, especially on a black truck. But are they legal? Here's what the law in California has to say about tail lamps:

"Tail lamps shall be red in color and shall be plainly visible from all distances within 500 feet to the rear except that tail lamps on vehicles manufactured after January 1, 1969, shall be plainly visible from all distances within 1,000 feet to the rear."

- CALIFORNIA VEHICLE CODE §24600

  • Regarding headlights, the code in Georgia says this:

"The headlights required by this Code section shall be maintained in proper working condition and shall not be covered by any type of material, provided that the covering restriction shall not apply to any vehicle on which the factory headlights were covered."

- GEORGIA STATUTES AND CODES § 40-8-22 - Headlights

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