Driving lights for Touring & 4WD

For many people spotlights or driving lights are a mandatory addition to the front of any 4WD.

Anyone who had driven for long periods or long distances at night time will immediately understand that good night vision is essential for maintaining alertness and concentration. Poor visibility wears out drivers faster than any other factor, the need to constantly squint and concentrate through dust or darkness hurting eyes and tiring brains.

People who have driven with properly set up driving lights can attest to the revelation of night driving in a 'tunnel of light' that exposes every visible element in front of the 4WD, truck or car.

In today’s world of ‘instant consumerism’ and bolt-on ‘formula’ purchasing, consumers are far less likely to research a product based on its merits. It’s far easier in a world pressed for time, bombarded by advertising and swamped in choices to simply purchase what Joe-next-door-has.

a range of spotlights
Who Buys What?

Travel to a small country town and examine the array of driving lights and 4WD accessories that hang from the front of every car in town and you will quickly realize that it is a reasonable representation of the product line up available at the local parts store in that town. When drivers begin to accessorise their 4WD it is often done as a reflex response based on what everyone else has purchased and what a 4WD is ‘supposed’ to look like. Stand in the main street of the same town and examine the trucks and road trains passing through the town and you will quickly realize that many professional drivers are more interested in performance than brand recognition.

Cost

Quality driving lights don’t come cheap. If you’re interested in looks alone then buy the biggest, shiniest and cheapest you can get. If you want to light up the road ahead like its daytime and have those lights last while you smash through scrub and rattle over corrugated dirt roads, then you need to spend some reasonable money. Budget for an absolute minimum of $100 per light before you even consider the additional wiring costs. If the budget doesn’t stretch to a pair of $100 driving lights then we recommend getting a quality single beam and adding a second light as funds permit.

Halogen or HID

The two most common types of night lighting for vehicles are Halogen and HID. Halogen lights have been around for ever and have long provided a real upgrade to the inadequate lights supplied on new vehicles – for rural night driving at least. HID is the newer technology and uses superheated Xenon Gas to provide the light source. HID lights provide a ‘whiter’ light than conventional lighting (closer to daylight) and are usually responsible for the blue colour sometimes seen in headlights. HID driving lights require less electrical power to run once ignited and contain no fragile filaments to break. The drawback is of course the price and quality HID lighting can be considerably more expensive than Halogen.

Beam Type

Driving lights come in either a pencil beam or spread beam arrangement and quality components are sold as individual lights. Pencil beams provide a deep, narrower penetrating illumination while spread beams allow a wider illumination to better lighten the edges of the road and the surrounding bush. Our preference when using 2 individual lights is to use a pencil beam on the driver’s side and a spread beam on the passenger side - getting the best of both worlds.

A few manufacturers provide a 'combination' light - a mix of spread and spot beams.

Construction

By inspecting the construction method used in the manufacture of driving lights it is possible to determine how well the housing of a light is made. However no amount of poking or prodding will indicate whether the thing actually performs. Weight is an important factor when installing accessories to a 4WD. The heavier a component is the more leverage and strain it places onto the bolts and fixtures holding it in place. If you are asking something to remain bolted to your vehicle while you hammer it up and down every bumpy gully in the country - then the lighter it is the better. However, weight should never be sacrificed for strength and a driving light should also be constructed of a heavy enough material to withstand the onslaught of constant movement. Brackets, pins and bolts need to be solid and well constructed with reinforcing in susceptible region like bends or welds.

Waterproofing is crucial, not only to keep out the rain being driven in at over 100kph but also to eliminate the insidious red northern dust of Australia from being drawn in and fouling lens clarity. If you plan on submerging your lights crossing rivers etc. then waterproofing should be a real consideration.

The rear reflector should appear well constructed. Modern reflectors can be made from a metal, glass or plastic substrate and usually have a vapour deposited aluminium layer laminated to the substrate. Avoid anything that looks like it has had a quick cheap spray with flaky silver paint. If this reflective surface diminishes you may as well run in front of your 4WD holding a candle.

Modern lenses are usually specialized glass or lexan. Lightweight plastics lenses are a dead giveaway that the product you are looking at is of suspect quality.

If you are the sort of person who can be bothered removing the protective lens covers on a daily basis - then make sure they are strong and the fitting system remains captive and is of a clever enough design to remain attached to the light. If you are like the rest of us, toss them under the seat, and cringe every time you pass a road train on a gravel road. Clear protective lenses provide a great solution to the dilemma of removing covers.

Wiring

Automotive electrical wiring is a science in itself although the fundamentals are fairly simple and the knowledge readily available. Choose a multi strand cable of adequate gauge (a minimum of 20Amps is not uncommon) to cover the proposed length of cable run.

Install a fuse at the main positive supply as close to the battery as feasible.

Install a relay greater than the required current.

Voltage drop occurs over distance and through components and in most cases with automotive electrical wiring – bigger is better.

A quality dashboard operated switch is convenient and useful. While many people wire driving lights to come on along with the high beam in some states it is a legal requirement to wire them independently.

Connections should be industry standard or better and additional protective insulation and protective sleeving should be installed.

The electrical run should be as straight and as short as possible with gentle bends and no overly ‘taut’ sections in the cable.

Be conscious of moving parts or the potential for rubbing and abrading to occur under movement especially where the cable enters the firewall into the dashboard.

Bared electrical wires touching metal 4WD parts are a recipe for failure and poor wiring will be quickly exposed by the rigours of constant vibration over corrugated back roads.

n Australia Bosch, Hella, Cibie, Lightforce,IPF and Narva are all reputable Halogen and HID driving light manufacturers and all are in the lighting business for the long haul. We are not here to recommend one brand over another however you would do well to begin your driving light search among these brands.

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