Lights! Action!

Dec 3, 2009

Auxiliary lighting isn’t voodoo or mumbo jumbo – far from it. Most of the products on the market today are easily identified for their particular use or uses by their product names. If a customer needs lighting for foul weather, chances are the packaging will say something to the effect of “Fog and Foul Weather.” And if the customer wants lighting that handles one or more specialty functions, odds are that those products are liberally labeled, too.

Lighting function versus use comes down to the pattern the lamps project down the road or path the vehicle is taking. That can be off-road, paved or something in between the two.

A number of manufacturers of auxiliary lighting offered up their assessments about selecting products for the right needs of restylers’ customers. In turn, restylers can make their customers more informed at the point of sale.

The first thing buyers and sellers need to know is that conventional or OEM lighting throws a broad beam containing both vertical and horizontal light. The second is lights come with both glass and plastic lenses, depending on the use and costs. Like so many other accessories, lights have subtle nuances that can make the difference for a driver, but it still comes down to function.

Fog and foul weather lighting

This type of lighting can also be used for dusty and foggy road conditions and is one of the more common accessory lights. Fog/foul-weather lamps are available in amber or clear beam color. Usually referred to as fog lights, they cast a short but wide beam for a good reason. KC HiLites, Williams, Ariz., notes that, “Unfortunately, the vertical light projected above the hood of the vehicle can illuminate particles of rain, snow, dust, etc. in front of the vehicle and create a dangerous glare that dramatically reduces the driver’s vision.” Good fog light patterns should broadcast below the horizon and throw a pattern that is low and wide to stay under the glare area. That pattern can be only a few feet high and, as such, is focused to throw just under the horizon. As a bonus, using fog lights in normal weather will increase the immediate left and right areas.

PIAA Corp., Portland, Ore., notes on its website that fog and foul-weather lights throw out in an approximate 45-degree pattern and up to 100 ft. PIAA: “Fog/foul weather lamps enhance your vehicle’s low beams for improved visibility in rain, fog or snow. Distance of illumination is similar to your vehicle’s low beam.”

At Hella Inc., of Peachtree, Ga., Fred Snow, vice president of U.S. Aftermarket, says, “All of our fog lights have a sharp cutoff. You want a very wide pattern and ours is usually 70 degrees. Aim the light slightly down and mount them as low as you can on the vehicle.”

In the seemingly age-old question of yellow vs. white fog lights, Snow says, “It’s the pattern rather than the color.”

Driving lights

This can be a somewhat ambiguous term but is usually associated with increased lighting for the vehicle’s high beams. PIAA explains that, driving lamps “are designed to increase the range and brightness of your vehicle’s high beams. They are especially useful at higher cruising speeds where they help to identify hazards and signs long before they would be seen with high beams only. That increases reaction time, another good selling point for additional lighting.”

“All driving lamps are extremely bright and must be dimmed with the high beams.” They project out in a narrow pattern of 10 ft.-25 ft. illuminating basically just the path alone. Typically, they are aimed at the center line of the horizon with slightly more above that line for distance.

KC HiLites offers this: “Driving lights are designed to supplement your high-beam lights. Their candlepower (approximately twice that of your headlights), coupled with a rectangular beam pattern, produces a light pattern that reaches farther than high-beam headlights. They also provide wider side lighting to help see things that are near the roadway such as children or animals.”

Hella offers its EuroBeam, a very-long-distance light, “but not as long as the pencil beam patterns,” says Hella’s Snow. The pattern is the same as a driving lamp but a more powerful version is 20%-30% stronger says Snow.

Long range

Generally seen on off-road racers, they are surprisingly seen more and more on non-race vehicles. They are designed to give the driver the maximum forward look and as such, throw a very narrow pattern that is aimed about 75% above the horizon. By comparison, long-range lights will have half the width of fog lights, yet are whiter than standard lights and utilize more candlepower. Seen in use with off-road racing, commercial and even agricultural vehicles, long-range lights are often mounted on top of the vehicle to add to their effectiveness, but also are seen on grille bars and even hood bars made expressly for mounting.

Hella describes its long-range lamps as, “pencil-beam patterns,” and according to Snow, “The pattern width is usually about the width of a two-lane road, and long and focused.” He warns that some people opt for the biggest candlepower only: “They should focus (no pun intended) on the patterns, too.” Snow suggests paying attention to how different colors show different intensities.

Combo lighting

When looking for a more subtle yet effective way to add more light power to their vehicles, some drivers opt for combination lights. They want their lighting to handle fog and driving lights duties. PIAA notes the company offers such lighting “for drivers requiring both fog/foul weather and driving lamps -¦PIAA Dual Lamps.”

“The PIAA Dual Halogen Lamp systems feature a standard fog lamp combined with a driving lamp in a single housing. Dual lamps provide a cost-effective solution for all driving conditions while offering a uniquely appealing, high-end appearance.”

Typically, combo lamps project a wide-swath beam slightly narrower than dedicated fog beams and shorter in overall distance than the usual driving-only lamps.

At Corona, Calif.-based Lightforce USA Inc., whose tag line is, “Forged in the Australian Outback,” the company points out that “wattage alone can be very misleading. It’s all about how the power is being utilized by the bulb – the more efficient the bulb, the more light. Simple really.”

“A huge disadvantage, besides high-amperage draw on your electrical system, is the immense heat output of high-wattage bulbs. Stories abound of people either melting or burning light housings, or cracking hot glass lenses when suddenly subjected to water. Light output is obviously a combination of the bulb, the reflector and lens. It is far more than just wattage or over-hyped candlepower. This is one reason why at Lightforce we choose to rate our light output at a 1-lux reading to demonstrate a real maximum distance potential.” What about lux? “Well, 1 lux is considered enough light to read a newspaper. We like lux, as it gives an easily understood performance benchmark.”

Sometimes, it’s not the light assembly but the bulb or lamp that can make the difference. Philips Automotive Lighting, Farmington Hills, Mich., recently introduced a new NightGuide headlamp, a lighting innovation that the firm says, “represents a dramatic advance over standard halogen lamps, and has been specifically developed for the aftermarket.”

In the zone

“NightGuide is designed to deliver specific illumination to three distinct visual zones to give drivers the best possible nighttime visibility and safety.” These lamps use special technology that projects specific colors of light, creating three distinct visual zones for the driver. In the center zone, NightGuide provides a brilliant white light, with a beam up to 50 ft. longer than standard halogens. In the right zone, blue light provides increased readability of road signs and markers. In the left zone, a warmer yellow light reduces glare for oncoming cars and helps improve the driver’s concentration on the center zone.

NightGuide’s three-in-one lighting technology is based on extensive night vision research. Philips learned that while white light improves perception of details, blue light produces a better readability of roadside signage. Research also showed that, although bright white light provides the best visibility for distance, it can be perceived as harsh or blinding by oncoming drivers.

Michael Scheiven, director at Philips’ Aftermarket Channel, brings up some interesting numbers: “In spite of the fact that there is five times more traffic during the day, statistics show that a third of accidents and almost half of the traffic fatalities occur at night, and the primary contributing factor is usually the driver’s vision. At night, our visual acuity is reduced by 70%, even more so with older drivers. The human eye is not adapted for nocturnal vision, so colors disappear, contrast fades away, and we are often blinded by oncoming light from other drivers. We designed our NightGuide bulb to address these issues and help the driver to compensate for vision loss at night.”

Philips Automotive Lighting also developed its X-treme Power high-performance headlamp bulbs, another upgrade from OEM lighting. The new bulbs employ proprietary technology that enables drivers to replace standard halogen headlamp capsules with a bulb that produces up to 80% more light. According to Scheiven these bulbs “provide a dramatic increase in nighttime driving visibility. That makes driving at night safer and less stressful.”

The X-treme Power bulbs, Scheiven notes “will appeal to more than just performance enthusiasts. They’re ideal for any driver who’s interested in making nighttime driving safer.” X-treme Power bulbs are street legal and DOT-compliant.

The variety of lighting options for on- and off-road driving is many. Restylers can enlighten their customers about these options.

So the logical first question to the customer who wants improved lighting should be the old standard, “And what kind of driving do you do?

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Installation Tips

While mounting auxiliary lights is more subject to vehicle limitations and the owner’s taste, wiring is pretty straightforward. Generally, installers will need to match white to positive terminals and black to negative terminals on the battery or system, then wire for the switch.

The most effective way to wire the switch is to go with a constant 12-volt circuit such as an ignition hot wire or fuse. Then, the lights can be used whenever the key is turned on. Also, if the driver leaves the lights on when done, it will turn them off.

Don’t splice the switch-power wire to an interval power source like a turn signal. It will make the lights flicker and also reduce bulb life.

Here are some key items to remember:

  • Never splice white wire into yellow wire.
  • Remove the relay from the harness before installing power wires and then replace it when completed.
  • Mount the relay close to the battery (terminals facing downward).
  • According to DOT specs, some states require fog lights be wired with low beams and driving lights with high beams.
  • Do not touch the bulbs with your bare hands. The oils on your fingers will cause the glass in the bulbs to overheat and break or burn out.
  • When installing lights upside down, make sure to flip the glass lenses so they will work properly. Also, some lights have drain holes in them (to let moisture out) that need to be on the bottom.
  • Something as basic as aiming is critical, too. If lights are aimed too high or too low they can be thought to be ineffective.
  • Aim lights before they are securely tightened. Aim so they slightly overlap each other in the middle for a combined beam.
  • About lamp locks: Auxiliary lighting can be expensive. Like other car and truck accessories, they can be targeted for theft. What can be done? Light locks are the answer for some. Lightforce offers this cheeky answer: “Well, these are the next best thing to having a kangaroo standing by your vehicle with a baseball bat. The simple-to-install security nuts will help protect your investment against ‘light’ fingered thieves.” Kits often utilize nuts requiring a special matched wrench or key to turn.