Spyder Auto Projector Headlights Review

In the last six months I’ve noticed that my headlights on the Volvo 850 kept getting dimmer.  They were HID projectors that were installed by the previous owner.

Doing some research, I found that it could be the projectors or the HID ballasts causing the problem, and I’d just have to replace them to find out.  Since the person who built these custom lights didn’t even use clear lenses (they were fluted glass intended for a regular halogen bulb), it didn’t seem sensible to spend any more money on a one-off design.

From searching around online, I found that a company called Spyder Auto made replacements for the Volvo 850 in both black and silver.  I chose the silver model (since they match the color of the car and the chrome grill), and bought them on Amazon.com for about $220 for the pair (here is the black version).

Here’s a shot of the Spyder headlights after they’d been installed:

The headlights came well-packed, in a large box.  Each headlight was packed in styrofoam to keep it safe.  The fit and finish is excellent, and for this car, they are a one piece design.  The original headlights are two pieces per side – a turn signal assembly, and a headlight assembly.  Combined with the fact that these are clear projectors, this headlight upgrade automatically makes the car look about ten years newer.

The headlights came with bulbs installed, which I used.  The plugs on the back fit the car’s wiring harness well.  So far, the headlights have been water-tight in the last month or so of Oregon winter, but we’ll see how they are in a year.

I do have one complaint about the wiring.  The main headlight bulbs – the ones you need to be road-legal – all come pre-wired into the harness, just plug them in and go – great!  But the LED bulbs – on this model, the angel eyes and the small pair between the angel eyes – are not wired in at all – the wires are on the back of the headlights, but they are not hooked up.  So, you have to wire in three ground wires and three hot wires on each headlight.

To wire the LEDs, I spliced them into the circuits that were part of the Spyder headlights themselves, leaving my car’s wiring harness intact.  I simply cut the appropriate wire in the headlight, and used a crimping butt connector to wire in the very small LED wires.  Before the final crimping, I slipped a piece of heat-shrink tubing over the wire, then crimped, and then shrank the tubing with one of those long barbeque lighters.  A lot of extra work, that could have been avoided if these headlights came with the LEDs pre-wired from the factory!

In Spyder’s defense, there may be a good reason for this.  There may be different state laws regarding automobile lighting, or there may  owners that want to customize their lighting or not use the LEDs at all.  I wired the angel eyes to be always on (wired to the parking bulb) and wired the LED pair to blink with the blinker (wired to the blinker bulb), as shown:



My other complaint specifically has to do with fitment of these lights to Volvo 850s that came with headlight wipers.  There is NO provision on these headlights for the wiper support that bolts to the factory Volvo headlights.  All that would be needed is a small hole on the bottom of the light for the headlight wiper support to screw into.  I think it is a single M10 x 10mm screw on the bottom of each light.  Basically, it is a metal bar that sticks straight out from under the headlight, and the wiper arm rests on it when not in use.  While not all 850s have headlight wipers, the overwhelming majority of them DO, and so I consider this a design oversight on Spyder’s part.

You can see the gap where the headlight wiper support is supposed to be coming out, in this photo:


So, what to do about headlight wipers?  Will they scratch the plastic lenses of the headlights anyway?  After all, they are designed for glass lenses, not plastic.  When Volvo switched from glass headlights to plastic with the 2005 S60/V70, they also switched from headlight wipers to headlight sprayers.   So, I just unplugged the headlight wipers on the 850 (a brown plastic wiring connector behind the headlight on each side), and stuck the wipers in the gap below the headlight.  Not perfect, but it looks fine for now.  (In the future, I might try to find a plastic piece for below the headlight from a car with no wipers, and have it painted to match.  Then I would remove the headlightlight wiper assembly entirely).

Overall, I’m happy with these lights.  They are bright, the beam pattern and cutoff is very good, they look great, and the price is reasonable.  The install takes some time due to the extra wiring needed, but it’s not terrible.  And, Spyder is good enough to provide installation videos for most of their products, so it was easy to get started.  Long term, we’ll see how they hold up – I’m a little concerned about water leaks and UV radiation fogging the plastic (common with some cheaper aftermarket lights), but hopefully Spyder has done a good job with UV coating and weather sealing.  In about a year, I’ll update this with some long-term test results.


UPDATE, January 21, 2016:

It’s now been a year with these headlights installed and so far they are still good.  They haven’t leaked or faded from the sun.  They have a few small scratches from the car wash and the road but nothing visible unless you are really close to them.  Basically, they still look new.  I estimate I have put about 10,000 miles on them in the last year.  You can see two more recent pictures of them here and here.

The only problem I had with them was I burned out the original headlight bulbs that came with these headlights very fast – all four H1 bulbs (used for the high beam and low beam on each side) died within a month or two of use.  Maybe I just got a bad batch, or maybe they were just cheap bulbs.  The blinkers and LED’s have been fine.  But I replaced all of the H1 bulbs (one by one as they burnt out) with standard Philips H1 bulbs and they have been fine since then.

UPDATE, January 26, 2017:

So, I’ve been wanting more light in these bleak winter months.  There are a lot of LED headlight bulbs online, so I ordered the ones with the best reviews on amazon – currently the Hikari LED Headlight bulbs.  Pretty much all LED headlights have CREE LED’s and are made in China.  Reading the positive reviews, I ordered the H1 LED bulbs since my Spyder Projector headlights take H1 bulbs for both low and high beam.  My current bulbs are boring old Philips ‘Standard’ H1 bulbs, $15 a pair – a lot less expensive than $75 a pair for the LEDs!

These are the Spyder projector headlights, which I quite like in silver, don’t like much in black.  They make the car look about 10 years newer, since P80 cars had those two-piece headlight and turn signal assemblies.

Here are the images of the headlights, before and after.  Taken well after dark, no outside lights on, car running, same ISO (500), aperture (1.4), shutter speed (1/100), and white balance (Flash (5500/0)), on a tripod from the same spot.

Philips H1 ‘Standard’ Bulbs:

Hikari H1 CREE LED Bulbs:

As you can see from the images, the LED bulbs have a much better light distribution.  But according to the histograms below, they are only a little bit brighter!  However, they only draw 30 watts per bulb instead of 55 watts for the halogens – producing slightly more brightness with less wattage.

Histogram comparison:


Looking at the images histogram (here’s how to read one if you are curious), the Hikari LED’s do appear to have a much more blue tint (or less of an orange tint) relative to the Philips halogen H1s.  I would say that the second shot (with the LED’s) is a fairly accurate representation of the color of the shop door – in daytime, it is a very bright, saturated blue.  The first shot (with the halogen bulbs) is not accurate in color – the door appears gray due to the warmth of the halogens.

Anyway, the histogram clearly shows that the Hikari LED’s have a far more balanced output than the halogens!  Overall, it seems like the LED’s are pretty close to the advertised 6000K ‘daylight’ white balance.

So, I think I will keep them.  The LED’s do fit in the Spyder projectors, but I will have to cut the dust boots slightly if I want to use them long-term (following the Hikari instructions on how to fit the dust boots over the bulbs), so I wanted to do this test first and take a look at the images on the PC.

You also may find the wire clamp that holds down the bulbs a bit fiddly for the LEDs.  A good pair of needle-nosed pliers is needed to bend the wire a bit to get it to clamp down the LED bulb, but it’s not much work.

My only complaint so far about the Hikari bulbs is that you can hear the fans running, especially when the car is off.  The fans only run when the lights are on, but they are noticeable.  Still, a small price to pay I suppose.

Regarding the Spyder headlights themselves, they are still in good condition after two years of use.  I really don’t have anything to add to my previous remarks.

2006 V70 2.5T – Further Front Wheel Drive Adventures


So I ended up making another upgrade, biting the bullet and diving into a black 2006 V70 2.5T.  Volvo’s reliable 5-cylinder whiteblock, but in something a bit more modern.  I averaged 32 MPG on the way home from picking it up, and the ride is comfortable, quiet, and surefooted.  I shied away from the more powerful V70R model due to the reliability issues that come with that much power.  Beautiful wagons, but you have to pay to play, and for me, the value just wasn’t there.  A good V70 can sell for about half the cost of a comparable V70R, and that doesn’t count the higher insurance, worse fuel economy, more maintenance and more expensive maintenance.

You do occasionally see manual transmission T5 cars – “T5M” as they are called.  But the T5M is very rare, and only available from 2001-04.  The T5 and R cars, while more powerful than the 2.5T, also tended to be harder on the automatic transmissions.
The manual transmission 2.4 N/A cars are more common and get very good gas mileage, but the main issue with them is that most were base models with few options.  It is rare to find a manual transmission, 2.4 N/A car with leather and heated seats for example.
You can look up the options specific for each year (here, by changing the link to the appropriate year).  The available options, and how they were grouped, changed a lot from year to year.
I bought this particular 2006 V70 2.5T because of these reasons, which may provide some insight:
  • later years are better for these cars, especially the 5-speed automatic.
  • transmission fluid flushes were on the CarFax report and were done on schedule – extremely important.  transmission fluid was not new, but still red. I  flushed the fluid shortly after buying it for the 90k service (car has 89k).
  • car was from Southern California, rust free with one owner from 10k miles to now.  from 0 to 10k was a “corporate fleet” owner, likely a dealership.
  • car was black, and most of the colors that V70s came in are not appealing to me.  Silver, silver-green, silver-grey, silver-blue, silver-yellow, etc.  I was looking for white or black non-metallic ideally, or maybe blue or burgundy metallic.  V70R’s came in better colors (Passion Red, Sonic Blue, Magic Blue, and Flash Green for example) but sadly most of the ones for sale are usually black, gray or silver.  Boring!
  • car had most of the options I wanted (climate package, premium package, 17″ wheels, roof rails and cross bars.  missing: Dolby sound) and none that I didn’t want (nav, satellite radio).

So there is the V70 story so far…  I had the windows tinted a few weeks ago, put in a bluetooth radio adapter (so I can listen to some music from my phone), and have some maintenance work to catch up on (spark plugs, coil packs, vacuum lines) to sort out a very slightly rough idle.

I spent quite some time researching the P2 V70 cars and talking to mechanics about them.  Here are my notes from my search:

US engines:

  • 2.4 non-turbo (N/A) (01-07) (just “V70” badging)
  • 2.4 (01-03) or 2.5 (04-07) low-pressure turbo (“2.4T / 2.5T” badging, and the only option on all XC70s, 01-07).  The 2.5T was available in 03, but only on AWD models.
  • 2.3 (01-04) or 2.4 (05 only) high pressure turbo (“T5” badging)
  • 2.5 (04-07) even bigger turbo (“R” badging)

Mechanic notes:  All engines are solid, N/A easiest to work on and most reliable.  R least reliable due to high power and driver abuse.

US transmissions:

  • five speed manual M56 (01-04 on T5 models, 01-07 on 2.4 N/A models)
  • five speed geartronic (01-07, all models except 06-07 R, and only option on all XC70s, 01-07)
  • six speed geartronic was only available on the 2006 to 2007 V70R.  It never came on a non-R V70 or XC70.
  • six speed manual M66 was only available on the R cars.  It never came on a non-R V70 or XC70.

Mechanic notes: M56 very reliable.  6 speed GT (06-07 R models) very reliable.  M66 prone to hydraulic failures, clutch issues.  Look for popping out of gear during test drive – big warning sign.  5 speed GT terrible in early years as Volvo originally spec’d this transmission to never have the fluid changed.  Toyota used the same transmission in many of its cars and spec’d it at 30k.  Volvo later changed their recommendation to 30k as well, but not after many transmission failures on the early cars.  Early cars (01-03, maybe 04) also need transmission software updates from the dealer and “B4 servo cover” fixes that can be had from IPD.  Later year is better for this transmission. Pay attention to shifts, especially 2nd to 3rd.  Watch out for “flaring” where the car misses the shift and takes 5-10 seconds to go into gear – big warning sign.

US drivetrains:

  • AWD: all XC70s and all R’s
  • AWD: optional on 02-04 V70s — 2.4T in 02, 2.5T in 03 and 04 (had AWD badge on back)
  • FWD: all other V70 models

Mechanic notes: AWD systems prone to failure in numerous points.  Typically front and rear bevel/angle gears and/or sleeves.  Watch for any sign of leaks at front/rear diff when buying as evidence of internal failure.  Expect $2500 service to fix each end.  R cars prone to more failures to to high power/torque including axles and driveshaft issues.  “If you can, get a FWD model and snow tires instead”

US Model Year changes:

  • 2001: first year, variety of issues, esp. electronic throttle module – avoid.
  • 2003: updated AWD system
  • 2004: introduction of R model
  • 2005: “facelift” with new plastic headlights instead of glass, new bumpers on XC cars, new center console layout, etc.
  • 2006: updated AWD system, R cars get 6 speed auto
  • 2007: last year, probably best year.

Mechanic notes: never buy an 2001 (heard this from many, although 2001 manual transmission would be “OK” as majority of issues were transmission related), and avoid 2002-03 unless its a manual transmission.  2004-05 are good (but for an auto you want records of transmission service), and 2006-07 are ideal, especially for the XC and R models).

There is some other good information here as well.


Volvo S60 / V70 Plastic Headlight polishing

Just a quick post on some headlight polishing results.  Many of the newer Volvos have plastic headlights that are prone to fogging, fading, and yellowing over the years.  While the 2001-2004 S60 and V70 models used glass headlights, the later cars used plastic, as did all XC90 models.

On my sister’s 2005 Volvo V70, I recently buffed the headlights using this Meguiar’s G3000 HD Restoration Kit.  The kit comes with 1000 grit sandpaper, 2000 grit sandpaper, a bottle of polish, a polishing wheel that attaches to an electric drill, and a bottle of UV protectant.  The products are used in that order.

It’s easy to use, and with careful masking tape application and reading the instructions, plan on 45 to 60 minutes for the job.  The longer you spend sanding and polishing on each step, the better your results – especially on that final polishing step.

It is easier to access the tops of the headlights (which are usually the most faded) with the hood open.  And it is a good idea to double-up masking tape layers anywhere that you might accidentally wear through the tape.  I used 2″ wide blue painters tape.  Lastly, make sure to start the drill slowly, or you’ll fling polish everywhere!

Here are some pictures:

The consequences of big wheels

Front drivers corner with new Enkei J10 silver wheels

When I went to wash the 850 recently, I noticed that the front tires were badly worn from rubbing on the inner fenders (the plastic fender liner).  The previous owner had fitted very large 18″×8″ Volvo “Mirzam” wheels, with 235/40/18 Riken Raptor tires, which were too large for the car and had worn away the inner fender liners, and badly damaged the tires.  I replaced these with 16″x7″ Enkei J10 silver wheels and 215/55/16 Bridgestone Potenza tires, and made several repairs to the fenders and steering system.

Click here to read the full article.

Nine years at K-Jet.org

Nine years!  Can you believe it?  I never thought I’d live this long.  Well, my Volvo has saved my life at least twice now, so that may be the reason.

I will have a few posts coming up in the next few months regarding my foray into front-wheel-drive Volvos (the 1996 850 Turbo).  Mostly just maintenance stuff, but a few other surprises as well.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working behind the scenes a bit here on K-Jet.org to clean up the article and project categorization stuff, and organize the documents and greenbooks sections a bit better.