Vanagon – H4 led light bulb experiment

Update, January 17 2017. I need to clarify a couple of things about this experiment. First, the led bulbs were tried in my Hella 7″ e-code (e 4 to be precise) lamps. The lamps are in good shape, no hazing on the lens and the reflectors are in great shape. They do however have stick on impact protection film applied. The beam pattern, specifically the low beam cut off, appears to be very similar whether it’s led or halogen bulb. But yes I should document that, and if I can find a suitable wall close by I will.

Second, I am having a hard time quantifying or even describing clearly my perception that the high beam distance projection seems less with the led bulb. I think you’ll just have to take my opinion on this for what it’s worth.

Oh and one more thing. The radio interference from these bulbs annoys me greatly. I have a fair bit of pwm regulated led interior lighting and have not noticed any interference from those. I have noticed a little interference from my “built into the bumper ” led back up lights, that should have been a warning I guess. Hindsight is so very very clear isn’t it? The interference effect now cautions me with another pwm project I have on the bench. I will test it in the van before going any further.

Ok, before you say anything, I know. I know the arguments about replacing the halogen bulb in H4 lamps with an led unit. And I agree with them. But, I had to try this.

What got me trying was reading a positive report about a Philips led bulb replacement. What was new to me with the Philips was the location of the led elements on the bulb. It mimicked the location of the high and low filaments of the halogen bulb and also had the little shield on the low beam elements similar to what is on the halogen bulb.

I think the Philips led units, and forgive me for not linking to a source, are around Ca$150 a pair. A bit steep for me but then I found what look to be close copies listed on Banggood. And, unlike other led drop-ins, these are passively cooled via a finned heat sink. Others have fans in the heat sink and for some reason I didn’t like that.

So for around Ca$45 bucks I bought a pair, and they arrived on the slow boat last week.

You can see the led element layout in that pic. Just to be clear they are double sided. And you can see the little shield or shade over the distal elements. Just to be pedantic, here it is compared with a halogen bulb.

I didn’t try to do any measurements comparing the led element positions with the halogen filaments but you can see they are approximately in the same location.

Another view of the led bulb.

It doesn’t look like those little shields on each side line up perfectly does it?

Installating in the lamp is a breeze. The three prong adapter ring is a twist fit on the bulb. You remove that and install the ring on the lamp and clip down the wire bail as you would with normal bulb. This pic shows the led bulb with the adapter ring removed.

And adapter ring installed.

And the bulb goes in with a push and twist lock. It didn’t seem like a very tight twist and lock, not pleased with that. Oh, and the bulb can be inserted in two orientations, 180 degrees apart. You have to be careful to get it right, to have the little shields/shades in the same orientation as the original halogen.

And there you go, lamp goes back into the van. I did this during daylight so a comparison picture ain’t that special. Mind you, taking any kind of picture of lighting is more or less folly. The pictures never seem to tell the same story your eyes do. But I did take a picture with one lamp having the led bulb and the other lamp with a 80/100 halogen. Both are on low beam, cam you feel the difference?

Yup, driver’s side has the led. Seems pretty bright eh? And with all high K value leds it makes incandescent lights appear more amber.

And what about when it was dark? Didn’t take any shots of the lights but I did do some driving. The low beams are nice, like the whiter light on the pavement. But the high beams are not so pleasing. As an aside, I bet most of you know this already, the colour value of the light seems to make a big difference in how you perceive the light. On high beams I was underwhelmed by the projection of the light. It’s hard to put in words, and I honestly can’t explain the effect, but the high beams just don’t seem as strong as the 100W halogens. Well, yes, I am comparing them to 100W so I have to add a grain of salt. What is very noticeable is how bright the reflective roadside signs appear under the led light. 

Once I got onto truly dark roads the lights appeared to project further. Boy this is hard to explain, all so subjective, but cut me some slack I am trying.

Tonight I lined the van up beside my friends Ducato van. Stock lights on that van and it was raining. Once again I’ll say pictures are really not very good at reproducing the actual lighting as I perceived it but here we go.

First pic is my van with led lights, low beam ( my van is on the right hand side of the driveway in all the pics so there will be a light bias towards the right of the driveway due to the low and right nature of the lamp aiming). 

And now low beams from the Ducato. See how amber the halogen appear

And high beams from the Ducato.

And high beams led.

Even though the pics don’t give a true representation of the lights, I think they do show that on high beams the halogens seem to shine further , or at least reflect back from a further distance. But then again it’s not super distinct.

Oh, one thing to note, the sharp cut off on the E code lamps on my van is still maintained with the led bulbs.

But here is the deal breaker. And it shouldn’t have been as much if a surprise as it was. The damn leds create radio interference. It’s only really bad on weak signals, but it’s very annoying. I bet the Philips bulbs do not do this, I bet it’s a result of the cheap price of the units I bought.

So what now? I’ll run them for a while and try to decide if they are worthwhile. I’m not sure of the things I like about them;

low current draw, the quality of the low beam illumination, immediate on/off high/low switching

Is enough to overcome the things I don’t like;

radio interference, long range reach in high beams, no heat on front of lamp to melt ice and snow.

  1. #1 by paul gordon on January 17, 2017 - 5:16 am

    Thanks for sharing Alister. Nice article. Paul.

    • #2 by albell on January 17, 2017 - 8:22 am


      It’s obvious that I wasn’t blown away by the lights, but they weren’t a complete bust either. The beam pattern is very good, it’s the same as it was with halogen bulbs so the led element placement must be pretty good. But there is something about the light quality that seems to fail for distance projection.

      Maybe our eyes aren’t as sensitive to that colour? Maybe the lower kelvin halogen, or it’s a more complete spectrum, is picked up better by our eyes.?




  2. #3 by Angus on January 17, 2017 - 7:46 am

    Easy choice Alistair, toss the radio!

    • #4 by albell on January 17, 2017 - 8:16 am

      Yet but, but… I like listening to some of your American stations 🙂

      I’m kinda on the fence about the led lights. If they could fit I would put them in the auxiliary lamps and keep the halogens in the main beams. Unfortunately the aux light metal housings are not deep enough, I would have to punch a hole in the back of them and have the led heat sink sticking out.

      Well maybe I might do that.



  3. #5 by Marius Strom on January 17, 2017 - 7:52 pm

    FWIW I ordered the H4 LEDs from CamperVanCulture. No-name bulbs that didn’t have great light cutoff, and the radio interference was also ridiculous. I added some ferrite cores to the wires and it helped. I ordered another set of H4s from Amazon, also some chinese production knockoff (shipped direct from China). No radio interference on these but the light pattern isn’t ideal.

    I’d actually be willing to try the Philips bulbs if I can find them. I’ve found that with LED lights in my house (I have nearly 50 LED bulbs in the house) that you get what you pay for in terms of interference and lighting quality.

    • #6 by albell on January 17, 2017 - 9:40 pm

      Hi Marius,

      Thanks for the comment. I was wondering about campervan culture’s led bulbs. Yeah it seems, form the little web searching I’ve done, that the radio interference is more common with cheap leds.

      And just to add to my experience with that is the interference is only audible with weak stations. But still, it’s not a good thing.

      If you had 49 bucks or so to squander, try the lights I bought. But who am I kidding, save up for the Philips original.

      The ferrite rings, you added them just to the power leads of the lights, right? I was thinking of adding one to the radio power lead as well. My radio didn’t come with any power conditioning boxes ( unlike radios I’ve had in the past).

      Thanks again for the comment,




      • #7 by Marius Strom on January 18, 2017 - 1:44 pm

        The ones I’m running right now are decent. I’m trying to source the Philips ones at this point though. 🙂 I think I’ve found a source.

        Yeah, the CamperVanCulture ones I had overwhelming FM broadband interference from. I couldn’t pick up any stations, even the ones with the massive 68kW transmitters nearby. I’d even notice people next to me tweaking their radio knobs when I’d pull up and turn on the lights. 🙂 I put the ferrite cores on the input leads to the little ballast box as well as the lead from the ballast box to the LED lamps themselves. I don’t think adding them to the radio power would have helped.

      • #8 by albell on January 18, 2017 - 9:26 pm

        I chuckled at your description of interfering with another cars radio.

        Hey if you do get the Philips leds installed, let me know how they work out.

        After a couple of days of use with my bulbs, dark and rainy nights, I’m still perplexed by the lack of light penetration at high beam. It can’t be related to the old thing with the yellow fog light effect can it? The leds are very much to the white and the halogen tending to the yellow, could that be really having an effect on my perception of light projection?

        I really have to do a test with the halogens and the leds side by side.




  4. #9 by Tom on January 20, 2017 - 8:56 am

    When I see an antique vehicle with the cold color of LED headlights it strikes me as “wrong”. Not as bad as some feller who put square headlights on an old bug, but “wrong”. I have ‘other vehicles’ with modern lighting, and I know how nice it is to have modern lighting.

    When I see a wicked overland adventure Vanagon I think “my god that looks COOL! I wish I was THAT GUY!” And then when I look at my van, which I’ve kept mostly stock looking; I think “what a beautiful machine, I’m keeping the looks mostly original”. Black bumpers, black grilles, bigger wheels, that’s it! So if your van looks a lot different than original then the LED lights are allowed. Agreed I’m being kind of a fart.

    I’m currently running the 80/100s with 14+volts of Subaru alternator and its “OK”. Except not so thrilled about the VW square headlights beam pattern. The 80/100s burn out quick and replacing them is “on-going”. Which reminds me I need to carry a spare 80/100 bulb. LED headlights that outperform the 80/100s AND are proper color temperature would be interesting.

    • #10 by albell on January 20, 2017 - 12:42 pm

      Yeah Tom, I agree, you re being a fart 🙂

      At night it’s harder to tell that the led lights are on an older vehicle, so there’s that.

      I was running the 80/100 W in those lamps, and I go through about one bulb a year. I’ll probably go back to them and see if I can use the led bulbs elsewhere. I’ll have to do more research to see if there is a reason I think the led lights don’t have the distance. Maybe it’s a colour perfeception thing.

      And if I could have bought these leds with a warmer colour I would have. I’m not sure they are available, perhaps the phosphor doping needed to make that colour doesn’t stand up to the higher power leds?

      It’s was an experiment ad maybe the mediocre results makes it harder to come to a firm conclusion.


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