Are LED Lights Illegal in Cars?

Sealed beam, halogen, HID, and LED - we have come a long way since the first headlight was invented. Aside from the top aftermarket companies releasing quality automotive lighting systems, even OEM manufacturers are joining the flow. As a result, we can find LED lights on many modern vehicles as stock units.

But law-abiding citizens want to ensure that their vehicle lighting systems are all legal. After all, nobody likes to get a ticket. In general words, LED lights are more or less legal in almost all states.

But it depends on which light we are talking about (i.e., headlight, taillight, interior light), the state laws, the manufacturers, lumen, and color temperature.

Are LED Lights Illegal in Cars

Federal Laws About Vehicle Lighting

Federal laws apply to all 50 states of the USA. It has set rules for headlight lighting, which are mostly not as strict as one may think. The major ones you need to keep in mind are-

  • Your maximum headlight intensity can be from 20,000-75,000, depending on the type of vehicle and lighting system you are using.
  • You are not allowed to modify the vehicle's headlights or taillights. It basically means that you can't install a LED bulb into housings for halogen and vice versa. You also can't trim or shave any part.
  • LED bulbs are only allowed if your vehicle comes equipped with them from the factory or you go for a total reflector housing replacement.
  • There are laws about headlight angles as well. Basically, you must keep your headlight aimed at the road and not have dangerous glares.
  • There are also rules regarding the minimum candela of vehicle lighting.

Unfortunately, many of these laws aren't enforced properly in many regions. The law enforcers have no device to measure the intensity of the lights.

Meanwhile, it is so easy to replace headlight bulbs. So, people just replace to OEM bulbs before a state inspection and return to illegal LED aftermarket ones afterward. And very few adjust their headlight beam angle downward and, as a result, blind the oncoming traffic.

State Laws About Vehicle Lighting

Every state has some laws about vehicles and their lighting system. But they vary from state to state. Some are way stricter than others. Take NY, for example. Its law limits using headlights with lumen over 32 candlepower. So, most vehicle headlights on the road in NY are technically illegal.

Meanwhile, Georgia state law limits the headlight intensity to 3,771 lumens. But LED headlights seldom meet those criteria. All states require you to have your headlights on at nighttime and on roads with poor visibility.

Thirty-two states in the USA demand you to keep the headlight on during harsh weather. Even among these, there are 18 states that want you to turn on headlights right when you turn on the windshield wipers.

But none really says much about LED headlights. They just either limit the intensity or prohibits glaring. But combining them with the federal laws, most aftermarket LED bulbs have become illegal in all states.

Meanwhile, the OEM LED headlights are legal in most states, except those with a low intensity limit. Finally, any light must be DOT or SAE compliant to be legal, even if it comes from OE-certified manufacturers.

What About LED Interior Lights?

Laws from some states say nothing about the interior lights, and you can install whatever lights you want inside your vehicle. But others either limit the types of lights you can use there or straight up bans them.

States like Georgia or NY require you to use only the lights approved by their respective automotive departments. And among the approved lights, you mostly only have headlights, taillights, fog lights, park lights, and rear-view mirror lights. So, interior lights are illegal in those states. Others only want you to use the same bulb types as the stock interior lights. So, you cannot install LED stripes there.

Off-Road Vehicles

Most state or federal laws only apply to driving vehicles on the roads. Meanwhile, you may use LED lights, light bars, or any auxiliary lights for off-roading without worries. But you need to ensure you are not driving near an inhabited area.

It is risky to go off-road without having bright enough headlights. In fact, we also strongly suggest using a 40” light bar on these terrains.

So, Are LED Lights Legal or Not?

If we summarize the whole thing, most aftermarket LED headlights are illegal in the USA. You can get OEM LED headlights for cars. Meanwhile, some states have vehicle headlight intensity limits, and you should be aware of yours.

If you are from outside the USA, you must check your country or state law right after getting a car. It is a step many neglects, yet it is vital to stay safe from legality issues.

Final Note

LED headlights are legal in cars if they are stock units or OEM products. Aftermarket LED headlights mostly don’t meet the DOT standards. Some also give fake labels. So, stay careful about them.

If an aftermarket LED bulb is DOT compliant and you have a reflector housing, you can legally use that LED bulb. But don’t install a LED bulb in a projector or H4 housing. Also, before you get any alternative light, license plate light, interior, or under glow light, check if they are legal.

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