LED / LIGHT BARS / SPOTLIGHTS / 4X4 / OFF-ROAD

QUESTION:

I’ve heard stories that some LED light-bars are flickering, automatically dimming, and in some cases, totally shutting down. What are your thoughts on LED light bars? Should I follow the trend, or look at buying a normal set of spotlights for my Jeep’s front bumper?

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ANSWER:

You’re absolutely right. Many of these lights do offer unbelievable lumen output  not just figuratively, but also in the literal sense. It’s a matter of RAW Lumens versus Effective Lumens, where the one is a theoretical measurement and the other a genuine output. Unfortunately, many light manufacturers quote the RAW Lumen figure of their product, as this is always higher than the more accurate Effective Lumen measurement.

It’s a similar scenario in audio systems, where amplifier manufacturers often quote the peak output of their unit (at the top of the sound wave), rather than the Root Mean Square (RMS) power rating – which is the amplifier’s continuous output reader.

In the case of auxiliary lighting, many light manufacturers purchase their LEDs from a supplier, and the suppliers quote a lumen output per LED unit. (Let’s say 1 000 lumens, for example.) Then, when the light manufacturers design and assemble their new product, (let’s say a 10-LED light bar), they simply multiply 1 000 lumens by 10 LEDs to get a RAW Lumen output of 10 000 lumens. In reality, however, there are multiple factors that affect the performance of that LED, such as lens design, reflection, and (in some cases) electronic design. Which brings us to the next point…

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LEDs hate heat, and the moment that they’re exposed to heat, their performance takes a dive. This is most often noticeable in the forms of dimming, flickering, and in some cases shutting down completely. In short, the difference between a poor-quality LED and one of high-quality is not always related to the LEDs themselves, but rather to the design of the unit’s electronics and its heat sinking (dissipating) abilities.

Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing whether an LED light bar is good quality or bad quality; but, like most things, you get what you pay for.

As for whether or not you should get a light bar in the first place… Well, we’d be reluctant to tell you what to do, here. There’s no denying that having a huge light bar bolted to the roof rack of your 4×4 looks badass, but while mounting the light high has its advantages (increased light spread on the road), the downside is that the light often causes glare on your vehicle’s bonnet and windscreen, resulting in eye fatigue. This is obviously counter-productive, as the reason for fitting auxiliary lights is to increase night vision and decrease eye strain and possible fatigue.

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There’s also the matter of legalities. Although having a light bar fitted to the roof of your 4×4 isn’t strictly against the law, it is illegal to operate it on a public road. Unfortunately, not all traffic cops are aware of this fact, and there have been reports of motorists being pulled over because auxiliary lights (regardless of type) were fitted to their vehicle’s roof.

It would be naive to say that roof-rack-mounted light bars aren’t fitted partly for aesthetic purposes, but the other appeal is that only one light is needed  which means saving the money which would otherwise be spent on a matching pair of spotlights / driving lights.

Although LED light bars are no doubt fashionable, there’s little doubt that a more practical set up would be to mount two auxiliary lights on your bumper, where each like can be directed (turned) at an optimal angle. Plus, you won’t have to worry about legal uncertainties regarding the roof-rack debate.

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