Because Seeing Is Believing
Ernie digs night cruises. He loves the crisp air and the way the dark blue sky looks with a million stars freckled across its dome. Ernie loves the mutter of his engine's exhaust and the sound of his rig's creeks and rattles while it churns over a tough, rocky path. Indeed, Ernie's rig is built right: fat tires, lots of torque and a nice heady lift. What Ernie is missing, however, is vision. He hasn't installed off-road lights. Oh, he's got headlights-even Ernie needs to pass inspection-but he's ill-prepared for the daunting obstacles of nighttime trail driving.
How do you choose the right lights for your 4x4? It's easy. Analyze the kind of 'wheeling you do-or would do, if you only had better nighttime visibility. The key is to build your lighting system so that you drive within it, no matter how slow or fast you drive. If you're a "slow-trail-runs-at-dusk" kind of 'wheeler, your choices are likely to lean toward lights that throw wide, flat beams. If you're more of a "40-mph-cruise-through-sand-dunes" driver, you might want to think in terms of powerful beams that will throw light as far ahead as you need to see, given the speed at which you drive. Some manufacturers make products that can help in both situations. Bottom line: Consider when and where you'll be using your lights to help you make the right choice.
Certainly halogen lights are among the brightest and longest lasting available. Halogens, like regular lights, use a tungsten filament, but halogens are encased inside a much smaller quartz envelope, instead of a glass bulb. The gas inside the envelope comes from the halogen group, hence the name. When the temperature inside is high enough, the halogen gas combines with tungsten atoms and gets redeposited on the filament, allowing the filament, and consequently the light, to burn more brightly and last longer than standard incandescent lights.
High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, which create brighter, whiter light than even halogen lamps do, use mercury and sodium vapors to create their beams. However, designers of the headlights had to solve one problem with normal mercury vapor lamps: long startup times. They used a gas called Xenon to solve the problem.
High-end lights can be pricey, but that doesn't mean quality lighting is strictly for the rich kids. Good illumination is not completely out of reach, as there are alternatives to the high-end lights. Many of the kits here are priced well within reason. And if you want to try and simply brighten your stock beams, you can install relays that'll get more juice to those wicks. If you're still unsatisfied, go for one of the kits below. Whatever your view, the right lights make 'wheeling fun and safe. If you can't see that, you probably need new lights.
The new P-3000 purports to be one of the most revolutionary lights on the market because it has three unique functions. PIAA's flagship off-road light provides a driving lamp, spotlight and marker lamp all in one. The P-3000 is fitted with a 55-watt plasma ion yellow bulb that, according to PIAA, generates 85 watts of illumination. The light is housed in a black aluminum case and uses a rugged steel-mounting base. Contact: PIAA, Dept. FW, 15370 SW Millikan Way, Beaverton, OR 97006, 503/643-7422, www.piaa.com.
The 100-watt quartz halogen bulb of Cepek's C-808 driving and foglamps makes this one of the most powerful lamps in its size. The driving lamps are said to have a reflective range of up to five miles. The foglamp illuminates a wide beam for enhanced visibility in fog, rain, snow or dust. The stainless-steel version features corrosion-resistant, heavy-duty mounting hardware. C-808 driving and foglamps are available in black or chrome housings. Contact: Dick Cepek Dept FW, 3104 N. Hwy. 87, Big Spring, TX 79720, 915/263-0696, www.extremesuspensions.com.
KC HiLiTES offers four-wheelers the new SlimLite Series. SlimLites feature a 6-inch round housing with a flat profile. The optical-quality lens, 100- or 130-watt halogen bulb and precision-polished and focused reflector combine to generate a super-bright beam of light. A two-axis mount should provide easy and accurate aiming, and a specially designed, super-tough polycarbonate stone guard is included for added protection. KC SlimLites are available in chrome, titanium look and black powdercoated housings, in a choice of long-range, fog or driving models. Contact: KC HiLiTES, Dept. FW, 2843 W. Avenida de Luces, Williams, AZ 86046, 928/635-2607, www.kchilites.com.
This waterproof kit can run off-road lamps as strong as 350 watts or other high-current devices such as cooling fans or fuel pumps. Each kit consists of labeled, high-temperature wire and a completely sealed, replaceable 30-amp relay. All wire is printed along its length and, according to Centech, can withstand temperatures of up to 275 degrees. A small toggle switch or other control box, neither of which is supplied with the kit, controls the relay. Contact: Centech, Dept. FW, P.O. Box 493, Frederick, PA 19435-0493, 610/754-0720, www.centechwire.com.
Want a foglight and a driving light in one? Look no further than the IPF 868CS and 968CS driving lights. These models, called Multi Application Lights, use two separate reflectors, achieved by incorporating a sub-reflector into the lamp's primary reflector. The sub-reflector acts as the light's fog beam, while the main reflector offers a beam that illuminates the road. The complete kit comes with a snap-together wiring loom with relay and light covers. Contact: ARB, Dept. FW, 20 S. Spokane St., Seattle, WA 98134, 888/427-2872, www.arbusa.com.
These all-aluminum-billet HID lights can produce 50 watts of power per light. The lights are available with two different style housings, with either a flat or slanted front hood, each of which is interchangeable with the other. Also, the manufacturer offers plating or anodizing in several colors so you can custom-match these lights to whatever paint scheme you've got. Contact: Visual Fabrications, Dept. FW, 910 Armorlite Dr., San Marcos, CA 92069, www.visualfabrication.com.
According to MSD, these new connectors will lock together and seal out any elements, making them perfect for off-road lighting applications. The compact housing connectors are molded from a durable plastic material. The terminals grip to the wire with strong crimp tabs then lock into position inside the housing. These terminals can handle more current than conventional connectors and do not require special tools to disassemble. Kits are supplied with terminals, seals and housings in 2-, 4-, 6- and 8-pin housings. Contact: MSD Ignition, Dept. FW, 1490 Henry Brennan Dr., El Paso, TX 79936, 915/857-5200.
If you've broken down on the trail after the sun sets, you know how difficult things can be-even with a flashlight. The Craftsman 500-watt dual light was designed for maximum lighting, each of its two lamps produce 250 watts of light. It comes with a tripod that has dual support brackets for secure mounting. The unit will light up a wide area for any unplanned repairs and help get you back on the trail asap. Each light has a high/low/off switch, swivels 270 degrees and tilts 90 degrees. Contact: Sears, 800/349-4358, www.sears.com.
Combining a driving beam with a cornering beam, the DynaView cornering light from Hella might be just the ticket for night drivers. These beams automatically light up a corner as you turn into it, activated automatically using an electronic control unit called IntelliBeam, which measures, Hella tells us, the lateral acceleration of your vehicle. On straight road, the cornering light is automatically switched off. The DynaView is offered in 12- and 24-volt versions and is supplied with a custom wiring harness. Contact: Hella, Dept. FW, 201 Kelly Dr., Peachtree City, GA 30269, 770/631-7500, www.hellausa.com.
Pacific Micro Lite
PML offers HID off-highway lights that are available in sizes ranging from 5- to 9-inch models. All systems use the Philips D1 system with the HID bulb and starter integrated as one piece. This allows the ballast to be positioned as far as 10 feet from the light, with long ballast-to-bulb cable extensions. HID auxiliary lights are available as 3-inch round, 2x5-inch rectangular and 5-inch oval models. Pacific Micro-Lite also offers custom HID light conversions. Pacific Micro Lite, Dept. FW, 222 N. Sepulveda Blvd., El Segundo, CA 90245, 310/364-5219.
At the heart of the Stealth Light system is the company's interlocking structure, which allows one light to slide-lock into another. These lights employ serrated, tapered disks that allow the lights to be aligned in such a manner so that, according to Stealth, they cannot be knocked out of alignment. The interlocking design is also employed in the light-bar rack, which can be mounted to the roof or pushbar. This rack system interlocks with lights to provide a multitude of configurations. Contact: Stealth, Dept. FW, P.O. Box 144, 10705 Roberts Rd., Palos Hills, IL 60465, 708/598-1842, www.stealthlight.com.
'Wheelers who tow their rigs will find Custer's trailer lights especially useful. They feature heavy-duty magnets that are said to have 70 pounds of holding power per side. A non-scratch vinyl cover protects the lights, and a heavy-duty cord runs 30 feet from plug to lights with 7 feet between each light, just in case you're running a wide load. The trailer lights have a 4-round standard plug for easy hook-up, and the lenses are mounted in a rubber housing. Contact: Custer Products, Dept. FW, 4101 Shuffel Dr. NW, North Canton, OH 44720, 330/490-3158, www.custerproducts.com.
If you're looking for a bulletproof light that gives you maximum versatility, look no further than Extreme Outback's focusable driving lights. With functioning similar to a Maglite, these lights give users a beam pattern that can be adjusted from an intense long-range spotlight to a wide flat beam. The lights come with 1,800-hour long-life Xenon bulbs, and they're available in 5.5-, 6.8-, and 9.6-inch reflector diameters. Each lamp includes a clear cover with a fog beam. Amber, frosted and black covers are also available. Contact: Extreme Outback, Dept. FW, P.O. Box 3075, Vacaville, CA 95696, 866/447-7711, www.extremeoutback.com.