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GUIDING LIGHTS Understanding Off-Road Lighting By Dan Sanchez Photos by Get Some Photo Along with big tires and performance shocks, auxiliary lighting is one of the essential elements of any off-road vehicle. Over the decades there have been plenty of auxiliary light designs that have graced the bumpers and rooflines of countless trucks, Baja Bugs, and race vehicles. Modern off-road lighting, however, has dramatically changed with new advancements in LED technology, adapting to the needs of modern race and enthusiast vehicles. START WITH A HIGH-QUALITY LED Aftermarket LED lighting technology starts with the light-emitting diode (LED) itself. According to many off-road lighting manufacturers, the quality of the auxiliary light as a whole begins with a quality LED. Most use LEDs manufactured by CREE, who make some of the highest quality units, but according to auxiliary light manufacturers, there are now several other companies that make high-quality LEDs. But an LED from a quality manufacturer doesn’t necessarily mean the light output is the same. During the manufacture of LEDs, there are deviations in the production process causing some batches to be of higher quality than others. The LED industry calls this binning. It’s a sorting process where LEDs with similar performance characteristics are grouped in bins. “Depending on the quality of the light you want to make, aftermarket light manufacturers can decide which quality of LED to use,” says Brandon Nelson, Marketing Manager at Vision-X. “At Vision-X we use LEDs with a high binning standard, and combined with high-quality components that we manufacture in-house, we create a high-quality product.” For off-road light manufacturers, bin criteria directly affect the product performance. This includes light output, both in Lumens and Effective Lumens, as well as color temperature (measured in Kelvin degrees). “What we use depends on what we are trying to put the LEDs in,” says Adam Boucher, Engineering Manager at Rigid Industries. “For example, aftermarket lights that are made to fit Society of Automotive Engineers standards (SAE), use an LED with a bin rating that meets those standards. For a high-powered spot, a higher bin rated LED is used with the correct color temperature (daylight is 5500K) that can pierce through the darkness and reduce eye fatigue.” The quality of LED used is only one of the main differences between an aftermarket light from a known brand manufacturer such as Vision-X, Baja Designs, Rigid Industries, etc., versus a light that looks the same, but is less than half the cost. “Let’s say, for example, a LED chip with a high binning standard is $5. Multiply that times 40 LEDs on a light bar. Then you have a manufacturer that uses a low binning LED at .12 cents per LED on the same size light bar, and you begin to see the difference,” added Nelson. Well-known brands also take pride in manufacturing their components in-house from the electronic circuit boards to wiring harnesses, housings made from billet or extruded aluminum, and high-impact resistant lenses. All this attention to the build quality allow some lights to be dust and water ingress resistant, as well as able to withstand extreme vibrations. Many go through testing to achieve industry standardized Ingress Protection ratings, two numbers of which the first range from 0 to 6 for solids entering the electronics, and the second number from ranging 0 to 8 for protection against liquids. Most known brands have IP ratings of IP68 which is the maximum protection for the smallest solids (dust) and continuous submersion in water. Most of these higher-quality light manufacturers also have plenty of experience and history in motorsports, proving themselves during countless SCORE Baja races. CHOOSING THE RIGHT COLOR TEMPERATURE Color temperature is another factor used by auxiliary light manufacturers to optimize lighting and reduce fatigue. Light manufacturers have determined through studies and testing, that daylight temperature, 5500K, is the best for viewing. This color temperature is white to warm (some yellow) which is most pleasing to the eye. Higher color temperatures appear blue, while lower light temperatures appear deeper yellow to orange. “The light from budget brands is not the ideal light color temperature to have,” says Brennan Scully, Sales Manager at Baja Designs. “Premium components deliver better light which includes achieving the proper color temperatures. We don’t want racers driving at high speeds at night, getting fatigued from their lights when they need to be as focused as possible.” LIGHTS WITH A PURPOSE Reflector technology and the type of outer lenses focus the beam of light to produce a pattern that can provide light as a narrow spot, a wide pattern, or a combination of both. “For racing applications, we will go with teams that are using our products, and test the lights and aiming,” says Scully. “This means changing lenses, to achieve lighting patterns that best suit the driver and current needs for that race.” Race vehicles and enthusiast vehicles require two distinct types of lighting, but light manufacturers have adapted their products for each. “We see two different markets, racing and weekend off-roaders,” says Boucher. “All of our pods and light bars are offered in different optics types. For example, our Baja Designs D-Series is available in a flood, drive, and spot configuration. Larger light bars like a 50-inch can also incorporate a combination of a spot or drive, or flood and drive to cover everything an enthusiast would need off-road. In general, we try to hit all types of lighting zones all from the smallest light source possible. Our Baja Designs LP series has seen tremendous success as they are pod lights that have the classic light appearance. We’ve also added some additional features that include a high beam and amber backlight that offers a cool aesthetic.” Vision-X has a popular modular design light bar that not only makes it easier to change lighting patterns, but one in which a consumer can add more lights, or utilize the same light bar on a different vehicle. “Our modular system allows owners to daisy-chain our light pods together,” says Nelson. “Let’s say you have a Polaris RZR and need a 12-inch light bar. Then you sell the UTV to buy a Jeep, and you need more lights. You can take that light bar off, add new mounts for the Jeep, and you can add more light pods to it. Consumers can also change the light patterns and color temps on the lights. If you’re driving where it’s going to be foggy, put on amber or our elliptical selective yellow lights. For the consumer/enthusiast, you can get a single 40-inch modular light bar that retails for $900 and comes with everything necessary to wire it up and use it the same day.” Rigid Industries’ Adapt and Reflect systems are also popular with enthusiasts looking for the widest range of combinations from a single light source. “On Rigid’s Adapt system it not only adds a lot of light, but it also offers power management, which is important, especially to UTVs,” says Ryan DeBoe, Project Engineer at Rigid Industries. “For example, a light bar can pull 80-watts at full power across 40-LEDs but the Adapt system senses power levels of the batteries and regulates the power draw. This dims the lights to a certain extent to save the vehicle’s battery. We feel that power management is a big topic in our industry at the moment. The automotive market is pushing towards electrical vehicles, and soon, accessories pulling more watts from batteries will be a concern.” WHAT TO GET According to off-road lighting manufacturers experienced in SCORE Baja racing, racers should consult with them to set up the most cost-effective and optimum lighting solutions for their particular vehicle and class. “There is a small window of opportunity to pass in the dark, depending on the speed of the vehicle,” says Vision-X’s Nelson. “What works on a SCORE Trophy Truck doesn’t on a UTV. For racers, it boils down to being an ala carte system.” Lighting manufacturers believe that enthusiasts are also moving toward lighting systems with custom mounts for their particular vehicles. “Customers don’t want to drill holes into their vehicles and are looking for vehicle-specific mounts,” says Rigid’s Boucher. “We use the same light as what racers can use on their vehicles, but we end up designing mounts specific to different vehicles using factory bolt holes and locations.” “For the casual off-road enthusiast, being able to bolt something on that’s plug-and-play is a tremendous value,” says Baja Design’s Scully. “They don’t need much of what the race teams do and our vehicle-specific kit are some of our top 20-selling items. Lighting has evolved to need a lot less. This saves money and is more efficient.” SJ SOURCES: Rigid Industries Vision-X Baja Designs

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