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.
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.