Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Very few things can compare with the sense of freedom, beauty, an exhilaration that an off-road experience can bring. But as all of us who love doing it on a regular basis can attest; once the light fades and the sun slowly descends below the horizon, darkness becomes a factor when you’re on the trail. It's not like the dark we've gotten used to, living in the big city, but the kind of pitch blackness that gives children (and some adults) nightmares of boogiemen and other scary mythical creatures.
Fortunately, we have our trusty 4x4s to take us back to camp, civilization, or wherever we’re headed. Nevertheless, your factory headlights may not be able to deliver enough light to guide our path to safety for you, your passengers and local wildlife. Today we’ll take a look at the range of aftermarket driving light technologies available on the market so you can assess which is best for your rig:
LEDs are arguably the best technology currently available and are typically available as headlights or the ever-popular . LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, have come a long way since they first appeared. Today, they are incredibly durable, compact, and long-lasting. The best quality lights will usually last you more than 50,000 hours, which is most cases will be longer than the life of the vehicle. What else could you ask for from an off-road lights system? They work on multiple voltages and draw a lot less power than its other counterparts, especially halogen lamps. They don't fog, produce little to no heat, and best of all, they look great. The LED light bar mentioned above will offer you both a broad light arc, as well as the long distance typical of headlights.
Since lamps are cheap to produce and provide excellent light, they've become the go-to for the global automotive industry. However, despite the low cost, they do come with certain disadvantages. A single 12V/100W bulb will draw around 8 amps. Rig up four or more of these bad boys to your relay, and you're looking at least 33 additional amps. That much juice needs to come from somewhere and requires additional wiring and relays to back it up. If the entire charging, wiring, and lighting systems aren't accurately calibrated, melting wires or even fires are a genuine risk.
HIDs, or , are the in-betweens. Also known as Xenons, these bulbs use xenon gas that creates an arc of energy between two electrodes, generating light in the process. And since they don't require a thin and delicate filament, HIDs are more durable and versatile than halogens. Unfortunately, however, they can't run directly on low-voltage DC, meaning that you'll require an ignitor and ballast. This implies more parts which, in turn, will make HIDs more prone to breakage than LEDs.
Nevertheless, Xenons produce quality light but it may take some time before it reaches full brightness, which at best is annoying, and at worst, can lead to some other visibility problems, especially in an off-road expedition. Likewise, HIDs give off a brilliant light over long distances, but in a narrow field. And while you won't have any problems seeing in front, your side view will be limited. When it comes to price, HIDs are somewhat cheaper than LEDs but still more expensive than halogen.
So, there you have it. In short, LEDs offer the best light, in terms of both brightness and range. They're also sturdy, versatile, and energy efficient. LEDs are, however, the most expensive. Halogens are the cheapest but drain energy and break relatively easily. HIDs are, as we've said before, in the middle regarding everything, including price.