Buying driving lights for your 4WD
For many people, fitting specialised driving lights to a 4WD is essential. The extra lighting offers huge benefits and makes it much easier to navigate your way in the dark, whether you are touring or working.
Most 4WDs these days are manufactured with a standard of headlights far improved than those from a decade or two ago, however, the 4WD industry has developed specialised products that go way above and beyond the factory setups on driving lights. These help to make driving at night significantly easier and safer, and here we’ll discuss the different setups, why you’d want them, and where you can get them from.
Fitting additional aftermarket driving lights to your 4WD increases your visibility when driving at night.
What’s the purpose of driving lights?
Aftermarket driving lights are designed to give you better vision once the sun goes down. Whether that’s for tackling a 4WD track, racking up the kilometres on a Friday night so you can enjoy a weekend away, driving on the job for nightshift or any number of other reasons. Additional driving lights afford a level of vision similar to daylight hours.
The risks associated with night driving are not just because of the reduced vision, but also fatigue. When your eyes are strained, you’ll tire quickly from looking for all the details that you’d normally be able to see during the day. That’s a recipe for disaster when it’s close to your natural sleep time.
Kangaroos are found throughout the country and in the northern parts of Australia, which can present as a road hazard. Fencing is not always there, making it not uncommon to find a big cow standing in the middle of the road too.
Whether it’s to see the shape of the road ahead, navigate through bad weather, to steer away from animals, or just to reduce driving fatigue, a good set of lights makes driving at night far safer and more enjoyable.
If you compare the consequences against the price of driving lights, it’s well worth considering an upgrade to your lighting. One accident with a kangaroo could wreck a holiday, put your vehicle off the road or worse. So simply put, the what-ifs more than justify the investment.
Swapping the old original halogen spotlights with a new LED light bar.
What types of aftermarket driving lights are there?
Driving lights are continually evolving alongside advancements in technology and although it may seem like you have hundreds to decide between, the initial choice is between two: spotlights and light bars.
Spotlights are generally round with light bars being long and narrow.
Within these two arrangements, you get a variety of globe options. Spotlights will be either Halogen, HID (High-Intensity Discharge), LED or a Laser and LED hybrid. Light Bars are mostly available as LED.
Look for something that suits you, your vehicle and your needs but before you purchase any lights, it’s worthwhile giving consideration to the following details.
8.5 inch Stedi LED driving lights.
Halogen, HID, LED or Laser
Let’s take a deep-dive into the four types of lights. Halogen is the original spotlight and was the type fitted to older 4WD’s when making modifications. They are a nice yellow light with a reasonable response time when switched on, and were significantly better than the factory lights of their time. They do, however, use a fair portion of power, which is not advantageous, especially when travelling remotely.
With the introduction of HID and LED, the Halogen spotlight has become far less popular, except for a few people who rave about the Fyrlyt versions.
This vehicle is fitted with HID lights for long range visibility.
HID lights use different reflectors and the premium units are able to shine several kilometres down the road. Do you need to see that far? That’s up to you but for most people, probably not. HID lights use a lot less power but have the drawback of a slight few second delay before they reach full illumination.
LED’s are a great alternative. They light up instantly, use little power and can provide some impressive results in both the spot and flood patterns – although flood is far more common. However being a white light, your ability to focus on contrast is reduced, making them not necessarily the best choice at night.
Relatively new to the market are the laser lights. This technology is being rolled out as a hybrid with LED lights and is considered to be a massive improvement on the distance you get from your spot beams. Used with LEDs around the laser, your visibility is spread across each side of the road and although the temperature is still a bright white, the spread of LED light greatly improves your peripheral vision.
Consider where and how often you’ll be using your lights.
How much light do you need, and where?
There are some seriously powerful lights on the market that enable you to see several kilometres up the road. The thing is, not everyone needs this level of brightness and you can spend a lot of money on something that is above and beyond how you use your 4WD.
Driving lights are generally considered to be spot or flood beam. That is, they shoot a lot of light to a narrow spot for a greater distance ahead, or they spread it out wide, but not as far. If you are travelling into the night at high speed, then seeing a long way down the road is a good idea. However, if slower, windy roads are your undertaking then a wider spread with less distance is more suitable.
You also need to consider how frequently you will be using your lights and align that with the type of travel we discussed in the previous paragraph. Spending a significant chunk of money on driving lights is unnecessary if you only use them once in a blue moon.
A lot of spotlights come split, with one as a spot beam and one as a flood. Light bars are also being made with part split and spot arrangements to give you the best compromise. The alternative is to fit two styles of lights and have the best of both worlds.
Lights on high beam (left) compared with the white LED light bar (right).
Understanding the difference between high beam and low beam
You should only use high beam under specific circumstances, and even in remote areas of Australia, you should always dip your high beams for oncoming traffic.
We all know that it takes our eyes some time to adjust when we enter a dimly lit room after being outside in the sunshine and reducing your lights from high beam to low beam is no different. Except, when you are driving at the same time as allowing your eyes to adjust, those moments can be extremely hazardous.
What kelvin lighting temperature do I need?
The variables in lighting temperature, ie. bright white, blue-white, yellow-white and several shades in between, is referred to as kelvin. Selecting suitable driving lights is akin to tailoring our home lighting. Different lights are good for different applications and for driving lights, anything that is too white will affect the contrast and in particular, animals hovering by the roadside. Unfortunately, a lot of LEDs are in this white range which means that although they are very bright, they are not always the best choice for nighttime visibility. You’ll find some conflicting information online about the optimal kelvin rating for driving lights but fundamentally, the higher you go, the worse it will be!
The most popular position for mounting lights is under the bull bar.
Where are you going to mount it?
There’s a whole different realm of opportunities for mounting driving lights on a 4WD, depending on where you live and what rules your particular state allows.
Under the bull bar is probably the most common location, with driving lights occasionally being put on top, or on the roof of a 4WD. They all have their own pros and cons, and as long as it’s legal you’ll get decent light.
Choose the type that is right for you and your needs.
How much do you want to spend and where can you get them?
At the time of writing this article, a basic set of driving lights on eBay cost about $50 for a cheap LED light bar and work their way up to about $2600 for two spotlights, or about $1500 for a really high end LED light bar. If you decide to go with a couple of different setups or more than 2 lights, you can easily spend a huge amount of money.
A budget lighting setup will cost you around $300. A mid-range one will be under $800, and a high-end one is anything above that!
There are loads of different brands ranging from generic eBay units, through to state-of-the-art models. Quality brands like Hard Korr, ARB, Stedi, Lightforce, Narva, Hella are readily available through stockists of 4WD, camping and automotive gear.
Our 42 inch LED light bar provides a huge amount of light.
What do we run?
We have gone down the path of a single 42 inch LED Light Bar, for around $350. It’s mounted to the roof of our canopy and provides a huge amount of light for all our driving needs, both on-road and off-road. We avoid doing extensive night driving anyway and is a great compromise for what we need without spending mega money.
Many people consider the ultimate setup to include a set of HID spotlights with an LED light bar. This arrangement gives you the long range distance of the HID with the bright foreground from the LED light bar. However, it is an expensive setup and not always necessary. In the end, get something that suits your style of use, and you’ll be just fine.
Do you have driving lights mounted on your vehicle and if so, how do you rate them?
About the writer...
If it involves four-wheel driving, Aaron loves it. When he isn’t writing for his blog, 4WDing Australia or the Snowys Blog, you’ll find him camping and driving around Western Australia.