4WD MODIFICATIONS - ELECTRIC & LIGHTS
LEDs – light emitting diodes – now dominate the headlight and driving light arena, having already taken over the flashlight, head torch and camping light business. LED lights are bright, white and directional, and have unprecedented durability.
Many 4WD owners are confused about the relative worth of HID and LED driving lights. Some are expensive – up to $1700 for a pair of driving lights, or for one high-powered light bar – so it’s important to understand the abilities and advantages of both types.
HIDs have been with us for some years now and at OTA we’ve had extensive bush experience with them. We’ve used several different brands and all have performed brilliantly.
Claims for HIDs over halogens are much brighter output, less current consumption and longer globe life, and our testing has confirmed this.
The claims made for LEDs are almost lifetime globe life, complete water resistance and tolerance of vibration. Our testing of the first LED driving lights – Hella’s Luminator LED model – showed that they suffered no ill effects from immersion or driving in rainstorms and we had no globe life issues.
However, we did note that they lacked the distance penetration of the Hella Compact HIDs we’ve been using as control lights for the past three years.
The beam length and width of the original Hella Laminators have long been surpassed by later LED developments.
To check out the performance of LEDs against HIDs we’re continuing to test different types of LED lights on the same stretch of road in identical conditions.
LED driving lights are available in two basic types: full-reflector types, such as Hella’s Luminator and partial-reflector types.
Hella Luminator LED
Hella was the first to introduce LEDs to the driving light market. This company’s traditional design uses reflector and lens technology and that’s the way it went with LED, using three LEDs in a reflector designed for spread or for distance.
More recent developments from Hella’s competitors show that LEDs seem best employed as multiples, each housed in a small reflector.
Hella doesn’t make any extravagant claims for the Luminator LED pair, quoting a range of around 540 metres. Here’s how their lighting looked during our test:
A Stedi Type-X pair of LED driving lights produces a NATA-accredited photometric laboratory tested 13,310 lumens, which is considerably more nett light volume than many prominent brands that cost up to three times the price.
The Stedi Type-X pair also produces a claimed peak beam distance of 838 metres at one lux.
Build quality seems to be very good, with a cast-aluminium A360 housing, layered with a polyester UV and abrasion-resistant powder coating. The lens is 3mm-thick Lexan.
The housing and lens assembly is IP68-rated for dust and water entry and is claimed waterproof to three metres depth. A Gore membrane allows for pressure equalisation.
Electrical connections are sealed Deutsch DT2 types and Stedi’s Pure-Drive circuit design is said to allow 97-percent of input power to go directly to the LEDs.
The Type-X has EMI and RFI suppression circuitry and is warranted for five years.
Each 8.5-inch diameter driving light holds 40 Osram Oslon LEDs, of which 12 have wide-beam reflectors that form a lateral flood pattern, designed to minimise light ‘scatter’. The spot beam spread is a narrow 5.8 degrees and wide beam is 50 degrees.
Colour temperature is Crystal White 5700 Kelvin colour temperature with excellent Colour Rendering Index (CRI).
Stedi Type-X driving lights are priced at $599 per pair, including an easy-fit high beam wiring harness, two clear protective covers and two branded back covers, making them excellent value for money. Free delivery is available Australia-wide.
Our test pair fitted up very easily, thanks to well-designed and robustly sized screws and nuts. The base plate reinforcements were generous and with a three-screw base attachment and two-screw side attachment the Stedi Type-X lights had zero shake on rough surfaces. Adjustment was also very easy.
IPF 900 Xtreme Sport spot pair
Like Hella’s Luminator LED driving lights
the IPF 900 LED driving lights use a central three-LED cluster with 6500K colour temperature and resin-reflector technology.
The test lights we checked out were both pencil beams and had bright hot spots out to around 500 metres, but light intensity fell off after that distance. A Touring light version is available to provide more spread, but less distance.
IPFs have always been well made and the LED driving lights are manufactured from die cast aluminium with integrated heat sinks and reinforced mounting bases.
The lenses are reinforced polycarbonate and the housings are fitted with water and dust resistant membrane breathers.
At around $780 for the pair the IPF LED 900 Xtreme Sports are expensive for their limited light output.
Here’s our video test:
Korr 80W LED Lights
The Korr 16-LED-each lights are among the lowest priced on the market, averaging around $600 for a pair. They’re solidly made, using a die-cast aluminium housing, strong brackets and polycarbonate lenses. The housings are tapped for additional side bracing if required.
As our video test shows the Korrs are very bright, with an even beam, but lack the spread and distance of the more expensive brands. However, if your need is for bright light out to around 300 metres the Korrs will do the job.
LightForce LED 180
LightForce released the LED 180 pair in August 2014. The lights are strongly made, with pressure-cast, finned housings and very sturdy mounting brackets with 17mm stainless bolts and nyloc nuts.
The brackets are eccentric and can be mounted with a forward or rearward bias. The light housings have two alternative connecting holes, so the mounting flexibility is excellent, allowing fitment to most bar types.
Fitting was easy and the supplied connecting harness and waterproof connectors were high quality.
Unlike some of its competitors LightForce doesn’t make extravagant distance claims for the LED 180 beams. The quoted laboratory testing claims a spot beam, one-lux penetration of 470m and spread beam distance of 410m. Effective spread beam width is 60m.
Our testing, as you can see from the following video, shows that these claims are accurate and we felt that the spot beam distance claim was quite conservative. The light quality was excellent, without excessive hot spots and blotches. There was also no wasted light ‘scatter’.
The LightForce LED 180s are quality lights that should suit most people’s bush-travel needs. Pricing is around a grand for the pair.
LightForce Venom LED
The Venom LED has been designed for mounting in locations where space is at a premium. Weighing in at only 1.2kg with a 66mm footprint, Venom LED is easy to mount, LightForce says.
Venom LED is compatible with the LightForce range of modular filters and with the addition of combo filters a spread beam up to 120 metres wide can be achieved.
The 75W Venom LED also has the highest attainable IP69K rating to protect against moisture and contaminant ingress. It has a pressure die cast aluminum housing and bezel, finished with a hard-wearing, UV-stable powder coat, and comes with a three-year warranty.
Opposite Lock Adventurer Seven-inch
The Adventurer range consists of seven-inch and nine-inch LED driving lights, 12-inch and 22-inch single, and 14-inch and 22-inch dual-row LED bars, amps, plus anti-theft and installation accessories.
All Opposite Lock Adventurer lights come with multi-voltage 10-30V DC input, waterproof DT Deutsch connectors, 304 stainless steel hardware and have electrical and radio interference protection.
Adventurer LED lighting comes with a five-year warranty.
The press release has representation light graphs that may be misunderstood if you don’t read the actual beam specifications.
The Adventurer beam distance diagrams shown are for light output of only 0.25 lux, but the beam distance measurement we prefer to use is the European Isolux system that displays beam distance at one lux intensity, not 0.25 lux.
One Lux represents the intensity of the light of a full moon (under clear atmospheric conditions) or just sufficient light by which to read newsprint.
The beam distance at one lux intensity in the Adventurer lights is around half the distance shown in the diagrams. Our preliminary ‘sighting-in’ testing of the seven-inch round light pair confirmed that and we’ve since done a video test with them. Spread beam brightness was very good, but the distance beam was limited to around 500 metres.
Recommended Retail Prices range from $300 per light to $600 per light.
Check out the seven-inch round lights:
Great Whites LED 170 Gen 2
We’ve asked the Australian distributors several times for a pair of Great Whites to test, but our requests have met with silence.
However, one of the OTA Team took a punt and bought a pair of 170 LED models – one pencil beam and one spread beam.
The pencil beam has a single LED set in a large reflector and the spread beam has 18 LEDs set in individual, small reflectors.
The Great White 170s are beautifully made from extruded 6061 aluminium and heavily powder-coated to a brilliant, glossy black finish.
Yoke-shaped mounting brackets are strong and attach to the balance point of the lights. The lenses are polycarbonate.
The Great White 170s are rated to IP68 waterproofing and dustproofing standards.
A wiring kit is provided with the lights, along with waterproof Deutsch connectors. The wiring to the relay is fitted with solid terminal ends, not just twisted wire. Very impressive.
Integrated Electronic Thermal Management (ETM) is said to regulate heat levels, to prolong the lifespan of the LED by engaging Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) integrated circuitry. This system flashes the LED faster than the human eye can see, for reduced heat and prolonged LED life.
Obvious quality comes at a price and on line sellers are typically asking $1600 or more for this pair.
As the accompanying video shows, the Great White 170s have good distance and moderate spread. For bush work we’d probably opt for a pair of the spread beams and angle them outwards. For pure highway driving in non-kangaroo areas the pencil and spread combo would be fine.
For the same money you can have better performance from a pair of 200mm lights, but in the 170mm LED market the Great Whites are very good performers.
European-spot-beam-rated, 175mm-diameter pair came from MCC4x4, with12 LEDs in each housing, totalling 60 Watts.
M-Performance makes no outlandish claims for these LED driving lights, quoting a useful beam distance of 300 metres. We found that they’d pick up reflectors on guide posts out to more than 400 metres.
The LEDs are mounted behind ‘bubble’ lenses, in front of an aluminium reflector. The outer clear lens is polycarbonate and although the lights come with blue-tinted protectors, but we took them off for the test.
The M-Performance lights mount with a single stainless steel bolt and 17mm nut and vertical alignment is done by mounting-bolt tension on a hinged bracket with notched upper and lower faces. This arrangement doesn’t provide infinite vertical adjustment, so it’s possible that some installations might see the lights pointing higher or lower than optimal.
However, we found that the beams had a fair amount of upper and lower ‘scatter’, so there’s some flexibility around the ideal setting.
The M-Performance pair weren’t the most powerful LED driving lights we’ve tested, but they weren’t the poorest performers either. The beams gave useful spread to both sides of the road and, or those who aren’t in a tearing hurry, adequate distance.
Big Red LEDs
Big Red LED driving lights use reflector technology, like Hella, rather than the multi-LED approach used by all other LED driving light makers.
The result is less performance than the best performers in this light size.
However, the Big Red pair is priced from around $560, so they’re among the lowest-priced LEDs in the market.
Big Red has a finned aluminium housing with a polycarbonate lens, behind which sits a free-form reflector and a centrally-mounted, 30-watt three-LED globe. Current draw is around 2.2 amps. There’s also a one-watt position LED, but we didn’t wire it into the parking light circuit for this test.
The mounting system is a single stainless bolt and nut, connecting the narrow mounting yoke to the base of the housing. Vertical alignment is done by a transverse stainless bolt, with nyloc nut. Keeping the light from ‘nodding’ on rough surfaces took considerable clamping force on the transverse bolt
and nut, but it worked.
Big Reds are said to meet IP67 weatherproofing standards and, for the price, fit and finish was very good.
The beams were narrow-spread, out to around 400 metres.
Big Red High Power 180 and 220
The Big Red LED range has expanded, with the addition of 180mm and 220mm driving lights.
These dual voltage 12/24V lamps have an array of 5W high power ‘Cree’ LEDs. The 180mm lamp produces 8000 lumens and has a claimed one lux at a 370-metre range The 220mm lamp has 30 LEDs for an output of 13,000 lumens, with a claimed beam distance of one lux at 500m.
Light ‘temperature’ is a bright, white 6300° Kelvin.
Each new lamp has a die-cast aluminium housing and a heavy duty, stainless steel bracket with a three-bolt mounting system. Rubber base and cheek pads isolate the lamp housing from the bracket, giving increased vibration resistance.
The LEDs are housed behind a polycarbonate lens that is fully sealed to IP68, making these driving lights well suited to the toughest off-road applications. There’s also a polycarbonate lens protector.
The lamps are pre-wired with a weatherproof connector and matching connectors are supplied.
Big Red’s High Power LED driving lights are covered by a three-year warranty and are available from leading transport, automotive and four wheel drive outlets throughout Australia. RRP for each 180mm lamp is $330, or around twice that of the earlier, cheaper version.
We tested a pair of the High Power 180s and found them to be much brighter than previous Big Red models.
Check out the video test:
The 220 High Power models are even brighter, with improved spread and distance, as you can see in this video:
Hella Compact Xenon HID Lights
As the following video shows, medium-sized HIDs out-distance medium LED driving lights, so if your focus is on beam distance for bush highway travel an HID pair may be the go. Many of the makers of LED lights we tested make excellent HID lights as well.
There’s also a new breed of LED plus HID lights that combine extreme spread and distance.
However, LEDs are virtually indestructible, completely water and dust resistant and medium sized ones offer bright, even lighting out to 350-500 metres, so for off road driving – on and off tracks – they could be the correct choice.
A light bar is long and narrow, so it can be mounted easily on a nudge bar, or on a roof rack. An LED light bar could be the ideal fitment on a vehicle that doesn’t have a ‘roo bar.