New Lights, Modern Technology
Automotive lighting for both street and trail use has improved significantly since incandescent lamps and surplus landing lights were used to repel trail darkness, which wasn't that long ago. Today's lighting is far more efficient and produces an amazing amount of useful photons while often using much less energy than used by the comparatively dim lights of just a decade ago. Even regular halogen lights are outdated, with the new and far brighter HID (High-Intensity Discharge) lights taking over. Taillights are being replaced by LED (Light Emitting Diode) versions-seen mostly on safety-conscious tanker trucks a couple of years ago-and are now relatively common on the trails.
New isn't necessarily better, but when comparing the efficiency of HID and LED lighting to the older lights, new wins-hands down. That you can put this new stuff on your old vehicle is really good, since most of us like to improve the performance of our 4x4s no matter what their age. These new goodies cost more than the old-tech lights, but if they last longer and work better, it could actually mean money saved in the long run, especially if the improved lighting prevents you from being rear-ended on the highway or driving off a cliff on the trail.
Following is a sampling of new lighting products that we found interesting. We hope you will too.
Retrofit Hid Headlights
Last month we showed you Sylvania's very good wanna-be-HID SilverStar halogen lamps, but here's the real thing. These Xenarc HIDs are available either as auxiliary low beams or retrofit sealed-beam upgrade headlights for 531/44-inch or 7-inch round, as well as small and large rectangular headlights. Sylvania also has direct replacements for the '97-and-newer F-150 and Explorer, '99-and-newer Silverado and 2000-and-newer Tahoe/Suburban. Xenarc HIDs are DOT-approved, and are said to be three times brighter than standard halogen lights, plus designed to last nearly 10 times longer.
We tried the H 6024 (7-inch round) version and liked the simple hook-up procedure and explicit instructions. There was more wiring than we expected since the high beam is a separate H1 bulb (not HID) and the low beam is wired to stay on all the time. We prefer that the low beam remains on, and the well-marked connections on the included harness made it real easy to plug everything in. What we didn't care for was that the instructions say to cut the original headlight connector off and replace it with supplied crimp connectors. That would prevent an easy swap back to regular headlights, so we used male crimp connectors going into the stocker instead. The high-voltage cable between the headlight and ballast is 32 inches long between its weatherproof connectors, which should be plenty long for the ballast to be placed in a safe spot.
We thought the light pattern on low beam was a bit odd-more of a foglight, really-and when compared to the bright HID low beam, the halogen high beam (not exactly helped by its small reflector) seemed pretty dim. Well, that's what auxiliary driving lights are for, and other Xenarc models spread the light quite well, we've heard.
Price? You don't want to know. OK, if you insist, they're $750 for the pair-more for the OEM replacements, and $500 for the auxiliary low beams. But they are real and street-legal HIDs that could be mounted on your vehicle.
An Effective And Simple Upgrade
For some reason, not many seem to know about the performance upgrade that Hella Vision Plus conversion headlights have to offer. At least if you have either 7-inch-round or large rectangular headlights, which are the only two models available of this great headlight. Thanks to a highly efficient reflector, a very well-designed glass lens and a bright, replaceable HB2 halogen bulb, the Hella Vision Plus delivers a lot of light right where you need it, and it is DOT-approved and is affordable. They're perfect for those on a budget but in need of really good lighting, and at just $80 for a pair it's almost worth buying a vehicle they'll fit. For those who have a vehicle that accepts the Vision Plus lights, it is only a matter of yanking whatever is there out and installing the Hellas-they are a direct plug-in replacement.
Using an HB2 bulb and what is basically a DOT-approved version of Hella's great H-4 headlights, the Vision Plus conversion lights are supposedly 50 percent better on low and 25 percent on high beam than regular halogen sealed beams. We'd say they're at least that much better, providing an excellent light pattern on the road. Also, at only $40 apiece, they offer a whole lot of lumens for the buck.
So what's the big deal with LEDs, anyway? Well, for one, they come on so much quicker than an incandescent light that LED taillights could literally save your butt. At 55 mph they light so quickly that they give the guy behind you an extra 16 feet of braking distance. Also, the light they emit is easier for the eye to see, plus the good ones are waterproof, very vibration resistant, and last about 100,000 hours. That's more than 11 years of continuous use. In the process, they use only a fraction of the power a regular bulb consumes (an LED taillight uses about 0.05 Amp) and aren't particularly picky about the voltage they're fed. Some work fine on anything between nine and 33 volts.
LEDs are available as tail/brake/blinker lights, marker lights, and several small versions for interior or exterior use. New stuff seems to always cost more, and the oval lights are pricier (about $45) than round ones ($30), and amber costs more ($50) than the red oval ($40) does, but prices are still dropping. We just saw a brand-new taillight with just one diode, and fewer components mean lower prices.
Are LEDs really worth it? It depends. Can you put a price on a taillight or directional signal that is pretty much guaranteed to work?
Hid For The Highway
If you like LED lights, you'll love HID lighting, and they have several things in common. Using an arc instead of a glowing filament, HID lighting is virtually vibration-proof, uses much less power, produces a far brighter light and lasts a whole lot longer than even good halogen lights. Unfortunately, another thing they share with LEDs is a higher price, and that's why only some high-end cars come with HID lights. Still, HID is superior, and that explains how dinky driving lights like the Hella DE Xenon can produce very useful lighting while being small enough to fit just about any vehicle and yet be barely visible when not lit. In other words, it's a very good light for everybody but poseurs. If you have room for bigger lights, fine, since with all other things being equal, a larger reflector will produce even more light. Either way, please don't confuse the DE Xenon lights with small cheapy lights. There's a reason the very efficient set costs $750.
Hella's new DE Xenon is proof that good things can come in small packages. With a lens just 1 5/8 inches in diameter, these minuscule HID driving lights create an exceptionally bright and well-spread light pattern from their magnesium reflectors. The 4-inch-long housings are also magnesium, so the DE Xenon lights are both very bright and light. Basically, they're an HID driving-light version of the very impressive Hella Micro DE projector foglights.