Off-roading requires more than a capable vehicle prepped with a few accessories. Sure, you’ll have basic protection, and supplies to last the length of the trip, but some necessities are often overlooked. When driving in the Outback, there’ll be little to no light as dusk emerges, and visibility is reduced to the point that you’re clueless as to where you’re going. Having a dedicated set of lights rigged for off-road use will provide all the visibility you need.
There are tons of off road lights available both online and in-store. They’ll differ in the type and intensity of the light they produce and where they are mounted on your 4WD or ute. Build also comes into play, as you’ll be traversing unchartered territory. Most off-roading lights are bundled with the required wiring and installation brackets, but you can also choose from a range of lighting accessories that meet your needs. When driving, consider state regulations as to which can be used on paved roads.
Bulbs and Lighting Tech
The intensity, colour temperature, efficiency, longevity and distance of the beam depends on the bulbs used. Three basic bulb designs are currently sold – halogen, HID and LEDs. Halogens are old-school bulbs, that tough while cheap, will produce the least amount of available light, and often in a yellowish hue. They’re also more power-hungry, so while saving some cash here, you be spending it to get a secondary battery, just in case. Also, halogens tend to last less than comparable HID or LEDS setups, so you’ll need to stock up more when one blows. Lastly, halogen bulbs have the shortest beam distance.
One step up are HID bulbs, more commonly called Xenon light bulbs. These offer a more focussed spread of light, that shines brighter and in a pronounced bluish-white colour. They’re the type of off road light you’d want in particularly dark or dim settings. In addition, they’ll last longer than halogens, while also consuming much less power.
Then there’s the rave about LEDs. These technically aren’t bulbs but light-emitting diodes grouped together. Most vehicles now have them as standard equipment. The popularity of LEDs is due to their efficiency, relatively low price, high durability and long lifespan. They’ll also put less strain on the car battery, and have comparable intensity and beams as HIDs.
Common Types of Off-roading Lights
Different uses, different lights. Some more commonly used lights while off-road are spots lights, fog lights, floodlights and driving lights. They differ in the type of light they produce, the spread of the beam and where they’re mounted on the vehicle. Spotlights have spots of focussed beams that typically reach longer than other lights, but side visibility is not the forte. They are usually mounted higher up, alongside mirrors or on fitted roof racks. A better spread of light is achieved with floodlights, that illuminate a wider area but at a shorter distance. These also double as work or camping lights and are also set higher up. Driving lights are combined with the car’s high beams for the best of both worlds, long and wide beams that are ideal in dimly light off-road settings. These sit along the bumper or are fitted to the grille. And when the weather turns sour, fog lights work well with headlights and driving lights and allow other vehicles to see you. Good if you’re travelling in groups. Fog lights are mounted low along the front bumper or bull bar. All types can be fitted with different bulbs, and priced accordingly.
Off road lights can be fitted with different filters and covers. Clear filters can alter the light beam to produce more focused or spread lights. Coloured filters increase visibility according to the conditions. For instance, blue filters increase clarity when driving, and amber and yellow filters work well in fog, haze and dust. Black or clear covers protect lights when they’re not in use.
Using an array of mounting brackets and accessories, lights can be fitted along the entire vehicle, and in places drivers deem best. Brackets allow for side and top mounting, while clamps affix lights to roof racks and along bull bars. These off-roading additions have multiple mounting points, so positioning is easy.
What to Look for in Off-roading Lights?
In short, build, light intensity and price. Lights used off-road come in differently shaped housings. Popular and compact solutions are LED light bars, but you can also find square or round light pods. Shape will ultimately affect vehicle appearance more than visibility. Most housings are reinforced with aluminium outers, have durable coated membranes to last in the wet and dirt, and are supplied with the appropriate wiring. In terms of output, go by overall lumens. The bigger the number, the brighter the light. LED and HID lights here have a clear advantage and will also drain the battery less than halogens. Lastly consider where you’ll be driving, to ensure that you have the right setup. Cost is a major factor in this respect, but skimping out on quality can come at a price. LEDs and HID lights are similarly priced, with halogens coming in much cheaper. Quality, purpose-built off-roading lights are available at car lighting specialists, 4WD stores and well-stocked general automotive stores.