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Firing Order: A K5, Night Wheeling, A Fence Post, And The Need For Good 4x4 Lighting

Posted in Features on June 21, 2017
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It seemed like a great idea at the time. A bunch of my 4x4 buddies and I were having a bit of a soiree around a campfire on a farm late one night when someone suggested we should go wheeling. My better judgment was already strapped into the passenger seat, beckoning me like one of those wily Sirens of Greek mythology. Short story: I climbed in the driver seat of my K5 Blazer, pointed it to a pasture, and promptly sideswiped a big ol’ fence post. Post was fine, Blazer wasn’t.

This was back in 1986 and the younger me had a lengthy excuse list as to why my K5 kissed that post. One of my excuses actually made sense, and it was that I didn’t see the post because it was dark. You see, my ol’ Blazer was only fitted with the stock headlamps. Ever since then I’ve been a firm believer that an off-road vehicle should have good lighting—meaning more lighting than just the factory forward-facing headlamps.

Since then, all of the project rigs I’ve been associated with over the years have had upgraded lighting and the results have been excellent. For example, our “Fiery Redhead” ’92 Ford F-150 project had forward-facing Lightforce HID lights, toolbox-mounted IPF side-facing lights, and a pair of rear IPF lights mounted in a Reunel bumper. Our “Trailhugger” ’08 Hummer H3 had 10 PIAA lights strategically mounted on a Gobi roof rack, which allowed light to be projected in any direction.

Our “Trailhugger” ’08 Hummer H3 had 10 roof rack-mounted aftermarket lights, which allowed us to light pitch light in any direction.

Lighting technology has changed a lot in recent years as manufacturers have created new ways to generate and improve light and some of that technology has made its way to the latest cars and 4x4s. I get to drive a lot of vehicles, from the latest 4x4s to rental cars. Thus, I get to experience factory headlamps on a number of vehicles. The last new 4x4 I drove that totally wowed me with headlamp power was a ’16 Ford Explorer. It had bright white LED headlights with a pattern that was almost perfect. A cool feature of the lamps was that each threw light slightly to the side of the vehicle, which was great on the trail. Prior to making a turn I could clearly see the terrain I was about to enter.

I’m surprised there aren’t factory upgraded lighting packages available for new work- and trail-oriented 4x4s. You know, lighting packages that push light in directions other than just forward. A new Ford F-150 we recently tested was equipped with LED lights in the outside rear view mirrors that projected light directly to each side of the truck. That’s a great start (and we wonder how long it will be until aftermarket light manufacturers make a replacement LED array that fits in the factory location and generates even more light). But why can’t we get a factory lighting package on an off-road-centric 4x4 like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon that includes rock lights, side-facing, and rear-facing lighting? This type of package would be great on a work-oriented fullsize pickup too, like the Ram Power Wagon.

Fortunately, the lighting aftermarket offers everything we need to make night wheeling safer and more fun. There are so many cool lighting options available nowadays it’ll make your head spin. It doesn’t matter whether you have a lot of space for lights or just a little, there are options for your rig. And there are so many mounting options you can put lights almost anywhere you need them on your 4x4.

–Ken Brubaker

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