Automotive lamps: The legal requirements
The legal requirements that a headlight lamp needs to meet are set out in the regulations drawn up by the Geneva-based Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). Automotive lamps are safety-relevant vehicle components, so manufacturers are required to have their lamps tested for approval in line with ECE regulation R37 before they are allowed to be placed on the market.
The crucial point here is that even if samples pass the test and are approved by the certifying institute, this is no guarantee of the quality of the mass-produced lamps placed on the market later. The ECE leaves it to the manufacturer itself to ensure the quality of current production by making "Conformity of Production" (COP) arrangements. However, as tests at Karlsruhe University's Lighting Technology Institute revealed, manufacturers of supposedly cheaper no-name products, in particular, frequently fail to fulfil this obligation: they turn out too many substandard products.
ECE sets uniform standards
The ECE's goal is to promote economic development by setting mandatory standards. All EU member states, most other European countries, Japan and Australia recognize the ECE in the automotive sector. The advantages are obvious: companies receive approval for their product in one country and can use it in all other member countries; consumers, for their part, can tell from the E-mark that the product in question is approved in an ECE country. The number after the E-mark identifies the country in which an auto lamp received its approval. For example, E1 stands for Germany, E2 for France, E13 for Luxembourg and E43 for Japan.
Approval process for headlight lamps
Approval to place headlight lamps on the market is received by a manufacturer from the approval authority in one of the ECE member countries. In Germany, this is the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA). Approval is granted if the manufacturer can present a positive evaluation report by a recognised testing agency that has tested five sample lamps in accordance with ECE rules and found them standard-compliant.
The regulations set out limits and tolerances. Aspects tested include luminous flux, lamp power, luminaire geometry, base and external dimensions as well as optical performance in a standard headlight.
So there should therefore be no vehicle lamps on the German or EU market that do not conform to ECE rules. However, the tests at Karlsruhe University's Lighting Technology Institute show that many headlight lamps are not up to scratch. Only German-made brand lamps passed the ECE-standard tests with flying colours.