Xenon Headlamps

Posted by murmini Wed, 13 Dec 2006 16:25:22 GMT

The MINI Xenon headlamp system is one of those options that you really need to experience to appreciate.

Stunning blue-white light that truly illuminates with a surreal quality, this technology can offer up to a 70% increase in light output compared with the standard halogen headlamp. Unlike halogen lamps, Xenon have no coil or filament and subsequently they are a much more robust unit offering up to 3,000 hours of life per bulb. The lack of filament makes them much more resilient to vibration and shock and the efficiency of the design draws considerably less current for a much greater light output. The blue effect comes from the fact that they operate at a much higher 'color temperature' at the bluer or cooler end of the visible spectrum. This high end of the color spectrum with very short wavelength light is where the effectiveness of these lights comes from. Many after-market 'blue-coloured' lights do nothing but add a filter or coloration to the light while doing very little to the actual light energy within this spectral range.

So instead of using a filament, that heats up and glows when voltage is applied, as is the case with incandescent lamps, the Xenon light source creates light from an electrical discharge between two electrodes in a microenvironment of xenon gas. This is all sealed into a small quartz capsule. The arc tube is encased in a special glass jacket that filters the light to eliminate harmful ultraviolet rays. The light is emitted by an electrically energized gas plasma discharge that is sustained between the two electrodes. This type of light is often referred to as an HID or High-Intensity Discharge light as well as by Bi-Xenon, or Xenon, named after the gas that sustains the arcing electrodes.

These lights are capable of producing 2500 - 3000 lumens of light, for the meagre consumption of about 40 watts or power. While halogen lights only produce around 700 lumens for a similar power consumption. The arc within the tube has a special glass casing to prevent the ultraviolet light form escaping as it would cause havoc to the hardened polycarbonate lenses found in many modern automotive light units. The other feature of these lamp units is that the light source from the arc has to be gathered and focussed so as not to produce a dangerous glare. This is the reason why so many after-market Xenon bulbs are ineffective and frequently illegal. The Motor Vehicle Lighting Council has produced a nice little flier on Xenon lights

Below is the Xenon D2/S used in the MINI, the hig voltage warning on the side of the firing unit and the optical lens on the front of the light.


Xenon headlamp bulbs do not run on the standard 12 volt DC circuit like the standard halogen bulbs. They require a ballast for normal operation as well as a very high voltage ignitor. The ignitor is capable of delivering 25,000 volts as it 'fires' the arc. A special interlocking safety switch has been designed into the ballast/ignitor so that it is impossible to connect power to the ballast with a bulb removed and subsequently the bulb contacts exposed.

When the headlamps are switched on, the ignitor delivers high frequency pulsed current at about 25 thousand volts to establish the arc between the electrodes within the bulb for a very brief period of time. Once the arc is 'fired' and starts to vaporize the metallic salts within the arc chamber, the power transitions from startup operation to a stable arc-maintenance. This is achieved by the ballast delivering 85 volts to the arcing electrodes. Some of the newer mercury-free lamps are now using 42 volt ballasts and consume even less power.

All Xenon lights require additional systems to keep them safe and free of glare. One is the on-board light washers - on the MINI these are two small jets that come out of the chrome bezel that surrounds the headlamps and squirt water over the polycarbonate headlamp front cover. There is also a system of sensors, one on the front suspension left control arm and one on the rear suspension left control arm. These monitor the 'attitude' of the car and as the car points up, due say to an extra load in the rear or some 'spirited' acceleration, in fact anything that causes the vehicle to change its 'attitude' or inclination, the the lights are 'ratcheted' down to compensate. When you heave on the breaks, or something causes the front to dip, then the lights come up. These sensors are controlled by the general Body Module, which I will get around to describing in more detail at some point.

So all in all the Xenons are a great option and provide the added security for driving at night and in inclement weather. They are also have a very sweet lens arrangement as seen above and look incredible when they fire and then float up and down.



  1. mike c. said about 3 hours later:

    Thanks for the great write-up. I knew I wanted the Xenons, but didn’t know much about them. Very informative. This will be one of the “must have” options on my 2007 MCS.

  2. Ian C. said about 4 hours later:

    Very nice, Murray :)

  3. Matt said 4 days later:

    Hey mike c., even better on the 2007 MINI we will have the Bi-Xenon lamps! Murray, this is a great write-up. May I use it at the dealership???

  4. murmini said 4 days later:

    Yes, sure you can Matt. Oh and the new Bi-Xenon on the 07 MINI will provide Xenon lights to both the low and the high beam – nice feature.

  5. QWKSLVR said 15 days later:

    Yes Murray..GREAT write-up on XENONS.. ..I had often wondered why the lights would ‘flick’ up or down on different occassions..and..NOW..I know why..!!! THANKS..for your most informative article..!!! :-}

  6. Pedro said 15 days later:

    Great job Murray!

  7. waterway4 said 15 days later:

    Very interesting. Thanks.

  8. FrankInMiami said 15 days later:

    Very good write up overall. But I would also like to add some of the “negatives” of Xenon headlamp systems, namely:

    Higher cost of repair/replacement than standard Halogen headlamps.

    Xenon headlights are prone of theft in major metropolitan areas. Here in Miami, theft of Xenons has become in a very successful underground economy and MINIs are not immune to the effects of this.

    Something to keep in mind when parting with $500 for these babies.

  9. Rawhyde said 15 days later:

    Great writeup! Thanks for taking the time to post this.

    I just had a headlight washer go bad and the dealership replaced the whole headlight! (The washer is available as a separate part, but they told me they replaced the whole unit as a courtesy to me.) Anyway, back to the point.

    I have read a lot of posts over the years about the excessive weight of the MINI Xenon headlights. I actually held one in my hand briefly, and the thing is EXTREMELY lightweight. I didn’t have a scale with me, but it was on the order of 3-4 pounds…certainly less than 5 pounds. For the big difference in the light output, the weight is negligable.


  10. Gumballer said about 1 month later:

    Yes great write up. I am however experiencing an anoying problems with mine. when i squat down in front of the car looking directly at the Xenon’s, or their reflection back at me from the rear of the car in front i’ve noticed that the whilst the left side beam is directed straight the right points slightly down and right. My Mini dealer checked the arc which was horizontal and ok however the beam is defiantly off centre. Mini have changed the Xenon’s three times now with the same effect. Is this normal?.


  11. murmini said about 1 month later:

    The actual xenon tube is seated in the lamp frame, this frame is gimbaled in the light unit so that the xenon tube can go up and down for self leveling. The tube can only go in one way if the locking ring is to be seated properly. The way the tube is held in the locking ring can be seen in the photograph I have in the article. There would be no way that this was not centralized or the assembly of the tube, retaining ring and starter would not go together properly. My question would be do the lights align properly to the MINI specification or does it just look odd? I have seen the gimbaled assembly become dislocated but when this happened, the xenon would not lift up and vertically adjust, it just stayed pointing down. You can disconnect your -ve battery terminal (as per manufacturer’s recommendation) and with the rubber cover clips removed on the back of the light unit. Then turn the xenon ignition unit to the left revealing the back of the xenon tube. Once the ignition unit is removed, there is a small interlocking electrical connection that can be removed so it is not left dangling. You should then see that the xenon tube is held in place by a large locking ring. If this is rotated to the left, the ring and the xenon tube will be free to be removed. DO NOT touch the xenon tube as oil deposits from the skin can cause it to have hot spots and fail. It should be noted that the xenon tube sets into the light unit by being lined up with a small keyway. This removal and replacement is not easy the first time you do it. It is also a very difficult place to work because you have to lie back across the engine and work up above your head.

  12. Gumballer said about 1 month later:

    Thanks for getting back so quick Murry. Ok so firstly yes, against a reflection the Mini mechanics described how the lights did align properly, this i agreed with, flick on the Xenons and you see them lift up and adjust horizontally,(vertically?). But then as you walk away backwards say 10feet you see the right beam pointing off centre. The first time i took the car back they opened the “bonnet”/hood (i’m from England) the mechanic working upwards and behind the lights then supposedly adjusted/realigned the balance of the xenon tube sets in the light unit with a long angled type screwdriver, when finished they then placed a headlight measuring machine horizontally in front of the Xenons, the positioning appeared to be exact, however late back at home a I moved away, again – left beam straight, right beam slightly down and off set to the right. As you can imagine this very frustrating, my 2006 MCS is only 8 months old so i am reluctant to roll up my sleeves and go “exploring”, perhaps then it has to be A)The light frame is not centered B) the xenon tube is not moving up and down properly for self leveling or C) The locking ring is not seated properly (not centered), i don’t know. But they have now changed both the entire lighting units 3 times. You said “The other feature of these lamp units is that the light source from the arc has to be gathered and focused so as not to produce a dangerous glare? this is kind of what’s happening to mine plus the sensors, one on the front suspension left control arm and one on the rear suspension left control arm to monitor the ‘attitude’ of the car don’t appear to move.

    So yes whilst I too love the Xenon effect and recommend it as an option i’ve now noticed the same “off centre? effect on other Mini’s so I would recommend people to watch this carefully.

  13. murmini said about 1 month later:

    I will look at mine again and see if I see this off-set. One thing to consider is that the normal low-beam setting causes the left one (right one UK) nearest the crown of the roadis going to angled differently thean the one closes to the kerb. This is simply a function of providing an extra throw close to the kerb and a little less confronting oncoming drivers. All headlights have this slight off balance. The sensors are deisnged for extra loads in the rear (a couple of passengers) rather than every bump in the road – although I do ocasionally see mine alinging during sprited acceleration or enthusiastic braking.

  14. iJCW'04 said 2 months later:

    Why did a new Dealer replaced bulb look less white and more brown? (have a halogen look) The Dealer claims the new Xenon bulb will eventually have the same color as the old headlamp but could not say how long it would take. I have read on NAM where others have waited as much as 3-4 months without the new buld ever reaching the same intensity as the old one. Also, I read where different brand bulbs could have this same effect. Should I be concerned – it is very frustrating to look at. You seem the most knowledgeable of Xenons that I have read online. Is there something I can do? What advice can you give me – your suggestions and or recommendations? Thanks! PS. It’s been over a week now and I keep them on during the day as well – hopefully to get it fully charged as they say.

  15. murmini said 2 months later:

    I have actually seen a BMW Technical Service Bulletin from 2001 that stated ”...customers complain that when looking at the front of the vehicle the new bulb has a “yellowish-white” appearance compared with the “bluish-white” of the original bulb….”

    Apparently it casues no effect on the road illumination but is most noticable during the first 5 minutes of use and will resolve itself or stabilze after about 100 hours of use.

    Its unusual for the bulbs to have to be replaced, although they do sustain a fair amount of abuse every time the bonnet is slammed! Did yours fail prematurely or was it accident related?

  16. iJCW'04 said 3 months later:

    I noticed it flickering – more often than not. Had I know about this effect I would have waited until it actually failed or warranty about to expire. Interestingly, I am now noticing that for the first second or two after turning them on, both bulbs appear to have the same illumination/bluish white color, but soon after the replacement turns into the “yellowish-white” color. I certainly hope the replacement do stabilize itself after 100 hours because its just irritating to me :( to wait 80 more hours just seem like an eternity :( ....Thanks for the feedback!

  17. paul said 3 months later:


    i was wondering if the HID Conversion Kits are just as good as the factory fitted xenons. Im think of converting my halogens. Basically are they as bright?


  18. murmini said 3 months later:
    Paul: There are a number of issues to consider. The conversions kits I have seen are a much higher colour temperature and tend to be very blue. The other very important consideration is how the light ‘scatter’ looks. Some cheaper kits have poor reflectors. Then there are the legal aspects as many are not DOT approved. Make sure you see the type of replacement lights your considereing before spending the money. There are a lot of discussion threads on NAM concerning this that you may want to review. Hope this helps.
  19. paul said 3 months later:


  20. John Campbell Thurston said 3 months later:

    Thanks for great article. I have MCS with xenons which but they are both levelled down and do not varied at all. Range is very limited. First of only one unit was low and varied. Now both and permanent is ther something simple I can do as hassle to get to a dealer.

  21. murmini said 3 months later:

    John, I am not sure I fully understand. There are no user-adjustable parts on the self-leveling gimbal. There is a risk that it may have come off it’s axis. The only thing you can really adjust is the height of the light beam. Be careful doing this as they are brutal lights to shine in the face of oncoming drivers.

  22. DannyBoy said 11 months later:

    murmini, great writeup. I’m the proud owner of a 2007 MCS. I graduated from a featureless civic. Funny story: when I first got my mini I noticed mystery water blasts off the front corners of the car when I would wash the windshield. I looked so hard for that front nozzle. Little did I know it was housed in my headlamps. For my next trick, finding room for 25+ more ponies.

  23. Dea said about 1 year later:

    HI, Where can you find the ballast when it goes out? And how much does it cost to replace?

  24. murmini said about 1 year later:

    When you remove the cover that is held on by a wire clip, you will see the ballast mounted on the end of the lamp. Its tricky to get the bulb and ballast out so take care.

  25. HID Conversion Kits said about 1 year later:

    I was hoping to buy a new hid conversion kit but I am not sure what colour looks good on my car. Any advice?



  26. JohnP said about 1 year later:

    I work in a Multiplex cinema and two things spring to mind. The high pressure of the Xenon gas means that we have to use face and upper body protection when changeing lamps. Also the lamp life is reduced considerably by switching them on and off. Do the same rules apply on the mini xenons? Cinema lamps run at 1600w to 20kws at 40 bars

  27. murmini said about 1 year later:

    Yes, I am familiar with the cine lamps, but the much smaller units used in the auto industry do not share those risks. However, when ever handling them, one should avoid contact with the skin as you can leave oil deposits on the bulbs which can increase premature failures. They are extremely ruggedized and do not suffer so badly from long usage.

  28. Ismaelg said about 1 year later:

    I owe a 2008 MCS, is there a retrofit kit for Xenon?


  29. murmini said about 1 year later:

    No, there really isn’t. It is way too complex requiring chassis positioning sensors front and rear on the suspension as well as the whole electrical install as well. There are some upgraded lamps available but be cautious as they do not meet some state standards. Xenons are super bright and must physically ‘dip’ down when the front of the vehicle rises such as bridges, hard acceleration etc.

  30. Graham H said about 1 year later:

    Hi, thanks for a great article. (I’m another Expat Brit – in Texas..) I’ve got a 2005 MC which I bought from my son in California – he didn’t even know that it had Xenons !! I’ve experienced problems with the passenger side not staying lit… After cleaning every connector and some WD-40 on the EHT unit terminals, it now seems to be working correctly again. It really irritates me when other cars have these Xenons fitted, but the glare is painful… now I know why.

    Thanks again.

  31. murmini said about 1 year later:

    Good to hear from you. I am not sure I would recommend WD40, try finding a switch cleaning fluid, Radio Shack has one and its also at Home Depot. The EHT terminals are tricky and rally do need to make 100% contact. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

  32. Tim said about 1 year later:

    Anyone have a wiring diagram for a 2003 xenon unit? I no longer have my MINI, but I have the whole light bucket and ballast set that I am (carefully) tinkering with…I’m trying to make a wicked bright “flashlight”.

  33. Fran said over 2 years later:

    Hi i wondered if you know why my light sometimes works and some times doesn’t could it be something to do with the sensor. (i would like to add as this point that i am a blonde women. And don;t really know what i am talking about.) i really really don;t want to have to buy a whole new light unit.


  34. Brokwing said over 2 years later:

    Hello I have a 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman with the Xenon headlamps and I would like to know if I can replace them with the D1S 8000K or should I just stay with the D1S 6000K. Thanks Brokwing

  35. Murmini said over 3 years later:

    I can only recommend you sticking within the manufacturer’s specification.

  36. rob said over 3 years later:

    can you tell me if i can tell if i have a right hand drive set of headlamps or a left hand side headlamps this i for a 2001 mini cooper s .

  37. murmini said over 3 years later:

    I would call a MINI dealer and ask the parts dept. to confirm the part numbers.

  38. Galexymg@yahoo.com said over 3 years later:

    Can I add xenon lights to my new 09 mini Cooper and If so is that something I can do by myself or those it need to be done at the dealer?

  39. murmini said over 3 years later:

    No, is the simple answer! Its way too complex and expensive. You need to have sensors added to the suspension, as detailed in the article as well as all the wiring harnesses in addition to the actual light modules themselves.

  40. 53chevy said over 3 years later:

    I have installed a pair of 2008 mini cooper xeon head lamps. can you tell me what i need to buy to make them burn? Thank, 53chevy

  41. murmini said over 3 years later:

    I am not sure that I understand what you have installed. Have you installed the chassis position sensors and integrated it with the other vehicle lighting control circuits? Please read the article again for all the specifics on what is integrated into a Xenon system. If you have just purchased Xenon bulbs there are some safety and legal issues you should be aware of as well.

  42. jdsnavy@yahoo.com said over 3 years later:

    We have a 2006 MCS with Xenon headlights that we purchased in the US. we recently transfered to Japan under Military orders and brought our MCS. my problem/question is, how do I adjust the lights to accomidate oncoming traffic whis is now on my right hand side? it is required that I adjust the lights to pass a japanese vehicle inspection. any advice or cheap way to get this done?

  43. murmini said over 3 years later:

    There certainly are vertical and horizontal adjustments on the light unit, but I can not find out if it will meet the tolerance for international compliance. Why don’t you give MINI customer service a call try this. 1-866-ASK-MINI

  44. Joe said over 3 years later:

    Was wondering about the Xenon interior lights. Do the interior xenon lights also require a blast? Or can you just swap out the standard blubs for the xenon?

  45. murmini said over 3 years later:

    They are not Xenon… The only Xenon lights are the optional headlight units.

  46. foremans54@aol.com said over 3 years later:

    I’v been working on a 53 chevy car for 3 years. I frenched in a set of 2008 Mini cooper xenon lights,Now I ready to wire them up and turn them on. Can you help me with what it will take,Maybe a list of parts. Do you know if anyone has an after market kit ?

    Any help would be really appreciated


  47. teran@live.co.uk said over 3 years later:

    hello, i have a mini cooper s from england and i am driving in spain, i need to ajust the xenon lights to the diferent traffic, is this posible or i need to change the whole lights? Gracias

  48. murmini said over 3 years later:

    Sorry, I can’t help you on this one. Give a call to a MINI dealer and se what they say. There certainly is some adjustment on the lights, but not sure if it will allow enough to meet the European standard.

  49. teran@live.co.uk said over 3 years later:

    ok, thank you anyway, i will

  50. surjnotay@hotmail.com said over 3 years later:

    Hi, it looks like your in the know when it come to mini xenon headlamps; i’m from the uk and have xenon on my mini. I am having a issue with the left hand headlamp not always working – you turn the headlamps on the right hand side fires up fine but nothing on the left hand side. If you keep switching the headlamps on and off eventually the left hand lamp fires. Any ideas on what might be causing this problem.

    Many thanks,

  51. murmini said over 3 years later:

    Hard to tell by remote but assuming all the connectors are good and not corroded it sounds like the ignitor is at fault.

  52. Drucito said over 3 years later:

    Hving the same problem as sujnotay – left side lamp won’t fire up consistently, but sometimes switching it off and on in quick succession gets it to turn on. It’s a real problem, cos I’m in Kosovo where the only thing cops want to pull me over for is not having headlights lit. Bigger problem is that i know so little about the xenon setup (bought my 03 MCS here with xenons already in) and the “authorized” BMW>Mini dealer here just tells me that ‘the light is bad’. I can have them check the connectors and ignitor – but i’m not 100% sure the beemer techs even know what those are.

  53. murmini said over 3 years later:

    I feel for you… but its almost impossible to analyze what the problem is remotely. You may need to swap out the bulb and see if that is it. TheBMW dealer should be very comfortable with this technology it has been used in the BMW 7 series since 1991. I am sorry I don’t have an answer for you.

  54. Water Based Parts Washer said over 4 years later:

    Great article on MINI Xenon headlamp system … I really liked this article keep posting more…

  55. mike@mexec.co.uk said over 5 years later:

    Xeon gone wrong on second Mini. First one stuck up, this one stuck down.

    Any guesses what the bill will be??

  56. mike@mexec.co.uk said over 5 years later:

    Above – you apply tape to the headlamps to convert from R-L or L-R – see the handbook (dealer does it!!!!)

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