Whether or not blue headlights are illegal is a simple question with a complicated answer. These strong, bright beaming headlights often frustrate oncoming motorists, but the fact of the matter is, some cars with blue headlights arrived that way from the factory and are completely legal. On the other hand, some cars with blue headlights have been illegally modified. These illegal modifications can and likely will lead to an expensive ticket, or something worse. That’s why it’s important to understand what you can and can’t do when making changes to your vehicle.
If you’ve replaced your headlight bulb with something other than a simple stock replacement, we suggest checking the specific laws where you live and drive to ensure you aren’t traveling around in a car with illegal parts.
Originally published in 2017, this blog has been updated in 2020 to conform to changing manufacturer and industry standards.
What’s the Difference?
The reason the legality surrounding blue headlights is so complicated is because there are actually two different kinds of aftermarket replacement bulbs that can appear blue. However, just because they both look blue doesn’t mean they don’t rely on two totally different technologies.
Stock halogen headlights are just plain, regular halogen lights with a blue film. Most modern vehicles use halogen headlights, due to their ease of replacement and lower cost. These headlights are made up of a permanent reflector assembly and a halogen capsule. When they burn out, all you have to do is replace the halogen capsule, rather than paying for and replacing the entire reflector assembly.
High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights are similar to stock halogen lights, but use a projector assembly instead of a reflector. This means that although you can purchase HID capsules that easily fit into your factory headlight assembly, you may create issues with bright, unfocused headlight beams that shine all over and cause problems for other motorists.
The NHTSA Nitty Gritty
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, is part of the Executive Branch of the United States Government, and the Department of Transportation. This federal agency aims to “save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes.”
Currently, most counties in the US require headlights to follow their safety standards, specifically Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) 108. These regulations are in place to keep all motorists safe, and require that replacement headlight capsules match the exact dimensions and electrical specifications of the original factory equipment.
The question of blue headlight legality can shortly be answered with FMVSS 108. Because HID headlights don’t work the same way that halogen headlights do—such as using a ballast that halogen lights do not—the NHTSA holds a strict view of what is and isn’t allowed.
According to NHTSA, in order for an HID replacement to be legal, the H1 halogen bulb would have to exactly match an H1 bulb’s filament size and placement, electrical connector and ballast. However, this is an impossible standard to follow, due to the fact that halogen bulbs don’t utilize ballasts to begin with.
Furthermore, the NHTSA has also determined that HID conversion kits typically exceed the regulated output of factory headlights by quite a large margin. In some cases, aftermarket HID headlights have been found to exceed more than 800 percent of the power of the halogen headlights they replace.
The DOT Approval Rumor
There is a common rumor that you can legally install an HID conversion kit, as long as it has a Department of Transportation Approval logo on it. Unfortunately, this logo only indicates that the company manufacturing the kit has met federal requirements.
The NHTSA is responsible for setting requirements, but doesn’t, and likely will never, certify that any specific product meets their standards. You may think the logo means the product conforms to the Department of Transportation’s standards, but there is actually no such thing as a headlight that’s been approved by the DOT.
Because NHTSA has said in FMVSS 108 that it is logistically impossible to install a legal HID conversion kit/headlight, don’t believe that you’re following the law just because your kit has a DOT-Approved label on it. We suggest always investigating the products you modify your vehicle with, and brushing up on your local and state laws to be sure you aren’t breaking any. When it comes to the law, you should never just take a company or person’s word that you won’t get a ticket.
HID Headlights That Don’t Break the Law
Like we mentioned previously, some cars come with blue headlights straight from the factory. Anything that comes with your vehicle directly from its manufacturer is and will always be legal. And it’s likely that if you replace your headlight reflector assembly with the precise projector assembly, aim the headlights properly, and the installation is done professionally, you may never get pulled over or scolded by other drivers.
Understandably, it is important to note that with any blue-appearing headlight, you may get pulled over and given a ticket—even for halogen lights with a blue film. Whether or not your ticket holds up in the legal system depends on the specific laws regarding headlights where you live. We always encourage you to familiarize yourself with the laws before installing any aftermarket product in your vehicle. The last thing you want is an expensive ticket and drawn out court case because of something as simple as a headlight.
About Christian Brothers Automotive
At Christian Brothers Automotive, our passion isn’t just exceptional automotive care, it’s people care. Whether you need a headlight repair, and oil change, or engine diagnostic test, our team is committed to your convenience and safety. Visit or call your local Christian Brothers Automotive today.
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