Off-road lights look really really cool, and nothing screams serious off-roader more than an array of bright lights grinning across the roof, sides, and front of your vehicle. Especially in my 1990’s childhood, they were also the “must have” jeep accessory as it seemed everything from speed boats to Marty McFly’s truck had some bar welded on that seemed to serve no other purpose than as a fixture for a grinning row of KC-lights.
I’d argue little has actually changed except for the diversity of products offered and the main taste of the consumer. With the advent of LED’s, they have fast swamped the industry to the point that my own hometown area host 10 companies dedicated to importing Cheap LED’s for the off-road market. The people I work for even backed out because it’s a very price competitive area… which is good news for you the buyer!
However, LED’s are not the end-all of your off-road lighting choices. Some people have different taste, and like me feel that circa 2016 LED lights on a 1990 Ford Ranger would look anachronistic or just don’t like them. Still others really want even more performance than the best LED’s can kick out! And they pay good money for the privilege…
I’ve tossed a quick list together of the three main options on the market today:
- Easy to find and cheap to acquire used
- 1000-hour life span per bulb
- Matches the look of older retro rigs best
- They get really hot to touch
- They are yellowish
- Cost about the same or more than LED’s new
- High Draw limits number of lights /taxes older electronic systems
- Dim as bulbs wear out
- Easy to find and cheap to acquire new
- 2000+ hour life span
- Slim design allows better aerodynamics and more mounting choices
- Clean white light or colors look cool
- Low energy draw
- Durable against rattling
- Stay relatively cool
- Cheap units are plentiful and burn out quickly
- Have to be replaced as whole assemblies
- Quality units’ approach HID’s in cost
- Strongest beam and brightest
- Powers through inclement weather beater than other options
- Moderate Amp draw and temperature
- Very costly
- Take a few seconds to “warm up”
- Thieves recognize them…
Outside of just picking a “type” of light, there are a plethora of options about where to stick the things. It’s impossible to describe exhaustively all the differing get ups I’ve seen in just my short time really paying attention in the industry back scenes, yet a short list for those that don’t have a light obsession or need for anything major has to include:
- Simplest place to mount with lots of aftermarket support
- Best place to mount for visibility increases for Fog, Rain, etc. that’s why fog lights are mounted low
- Helps the most on the road because it is a “down the tunnel” beam.
- Also an easy mount with lots of aftermarket support
- Good to increase peripheral lighting
- If not focused spotlights and/or aimed forward they reflect of the hood and make your view WORSE
- Small size limits especially LED effectiveness
- Can be a mix of lights around the vehicle increasing front, sides, and even rear
- Best for low and slow where you need to see everything
- Most difficult to install, many times you have to modify the vehicle to make it look good
- Depending on installation they may just light the roof/hood, use should determine choice of design
*I also have a habit of backing up into worse situations, so one I’d strongly suggest is a stronger backup light.*
Note about Headlights
Once someone goes towards the light, they start to see all kinds of things differently. I think a near universal feeling is the “Blah” that stock Halogen headlights induce once they are turned on beside your new and pure white light bar.
It sticks out pretty bad! Especially if the cheap plastic lenses that even luxury cars use these days have started to dull and oxidize… you can clean oxidation of headlights, but restoring headlights too new is impossible.
For some, they have a vehicle that was put together by one of the many manufactures that have started to realize people just don’t like halogen lights anyways! And boy, at up to an extra $930 profit I think these brands are onto people’s taste! We also have this marketed to us…
The temptation is to upgrade headlights cheaply.
This is a major no-no. The Feds have cracked down on it; people on the inter-webs still sell illegal headlight conversion kits that promise to make replacing your stock halogen lights a matter of just changing bulbs.
The rub is, that the internal reflectors used between different headlight systems are NOT interchangeable because halogen, LED, and Xeon filaments face different directions, and HID’s don’t even have filaments!
Honestly this is a matter of $5 between doing it the right and wrong way
The only way to switch systems is to change the whole assembly from a halogen to LED or other system. And having done it myself most the major mid-level players put out affordable quality products that installs in minutes, and if the factory offered the option it’s a Junk Yard trip.
****The REALLY ANNOYING stuff to upgrade to LED’s is turn signals. They require voltage dampers and what not that require splicing and mounting.
That said, headlight changes are only cosmetic because maximum outputs in lumens are gov’t regulated. The appearance and subjective glare can be tweaked by changing wavelength patterns (some even argue the Halogen has the best pattern because it “soft glows” really faint things) but max output is fixed.
The fact the light “hurts” doesn’t mean much to Uncle Sam, as his scientist state the “discomfort” glare and “disability” glare are two different things. And it’s at that max lumen limit that they hold the line is crossed.
So “Myth Busted” in that the “super bulbs” etc. do anything but seem brighter against a fully functional, aimed, and clean halogen assembly as even halogens can break the lumen limit rather easily.