Research by the German automobile club ADAC shows that LED lighting systems do have a longer service life than those with conventional lighting technologies. But in many cases, the useful life of the vehicle exceeds the life of the LED lighting. In Germany, for example, cars are used for an average of 18 years, but the LED lamps in the vehicle’s exterior lighting are only designed for a service life of 15 years – and there is usually no provision for repair.
If LED lights are defective, they have to be completely replaced, and the price for this can quickly run into the thousands. High-quality matrix LED headlamp systems, for example, cost well over 3,000 euros, and in some versions even more. According to the ADAC, there are generally no repair concepts for LED lights in place. Only repair kits for light sockets are available. These can be used, for example, after minor parking bumps, provided the LEDs and the cover lens have not been damaged. Often, LED headlights or taillights can only be replaced at all with disproportionate effort: The lamp housings are sealed and a repair procedure is not specified. This means that LED headlights and taillights can only be replaced in their entirety. Depending on the vehicle model, this can cost up to 4800 euros for matrix headlights and up to 600 euros for taillights.
As with all semiconductor components, the actual service life of LED lights depends very much on the temperature. A very warm environment such as a hot engine compartment, a radiator or air-conditioning condenser near the headlights and, in addition, high outside temperatures can significantly shorten the service life of the LED.
In addition, the efficiency of an LED deteriorates with increasing light output and temperature, and the amount of heat emitted increases disproportionately with the luminous flux. Depending on the design and construction of the vehicle manufacturer, LEDs may therefore have a shorter life. Failures of the complex control electronics, moisture or poorly processed LEDs can also lead to premature failure. The ADAC therefore assumes only 3,000 to 10,000 operating hours for headlights instead of the 15,000 operating hours promised by the industry; taillights usually last somewhat longer.
The ADAC also points out another circumstance that makes the repair of LED lights difficult not only technically and financially, but also legally: LED lights may only be repaired if this is specified in the type approval of the headlight or taillight. However, most luminaires are simply not designed for repairs. Nevertheless, a repair would often make sense, for example, if it is not the LED light unit that is broken, but the integrated control electronics.
Against this background, ADAC is calling on vehicle manufacturers to use LED lights that are designed to last at least the real lifetime of a vehicle. In addition, repair concepts should be developed to make necessary repairs inexpensive and sustainable for the consumer, the motorists’ club demands.
More information (in German): https://www.adac.de/rund-ums-fahrzeug/tests/technik/led-leuchten/