headlamp upgrade question


Newly Enlightened
Jul 9, 2014
I have an 86 Toyota Camry. I have Sylvania Silverstar headlamps in there and as I age (71) I want something bright. I have no problem dropping $500 or so into this. Suggestions, thought please. I probably don't want to do the work myself but will if it becomes necessary.


Mar 26, 2004
Welcome to the board. The headlamps on an '86 Camry are not a particularly efficient design, and yours -- assuming they are originals -- have almost 3 decades worth of wear on them. It might not seem intuitive to think of headlamps as a "wear" item, but in addition to the obvious deterioration (lenses pitted or cracked) there is less obvious but equally severe degradation of the reflector which starts out not far from 100% reflective, but deteriorates over the years until its reflectivity drops well below the new value, all before any difference can be discerned by looking at the reflector with the naked eye. The problem here is that new headlamps may no longer be available from Toyota, used ones will be at least as bad as the ones you have now, and aftermarket (non-Toyota) units are all junk. (It is also possible that new headlamps can still be bought from Toyota, and it's even possible that headlamps better than the original type might still be available from Toyota).

There's the wiring to think about. It was OK (just) when new, but again, it's almost 3 decades old and it will not be efficiently feeding the bulbs any more. Toyotas are built with complicated headlamp wiring, so installing relays isn't as simple as on other-brand cars, but it's certainly possible without too much difficulty. You might want to talk to Dan Stern and see what the present recommendation is for a car such as yours.

Bulbs: Whatever headlamps you wind up with, discard those Sylvania Silverstars -- they are not as advertised, in fact they are opposite. They don't improve your headlamps' real performance, they reduce it. The same goes for any/every brand of bulb with blue-tinted glass (no matter how lightly tinted) claiming to produce "whiter" light. Generally the Philips Xtreme Vision and GE Night Hawk Platinum are the top choices in regulation-wattage bulbs, but which bulb is the best will depend on what headlamps you end up using.

Whatever you do, do not install any kind of "HID kit" or "LED conversion". They are dangerous and, for that reason, illegal.

Alaric Darconville

Flashlight Enthusiast
Sep 2, 2001
Stillwater, America
The one (partly!) saving grace is that those Camry headlamps have glass lenses (no yellowing as with the plastics). Unfortunately, as Scheinwerfermann points out, the reflector itself is well past its prime, and the wiring is also surely needing improvement. But even when they were totally brand new, they were still hampered by being designed for the 9004.

Now, if you can find new headlamps for that body style, but sold in Europe, those (as far as I can tell) will use an H4. cheaptoyotaparts.co.uk would be a place to start-- but be sure you specify that the vehicle is for Right Hand Traffic (the terms "Left Hand Drive" and "Right Hand Drive" aren't exactly correct descriptors-- it's traffic directionality that is of importance).