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1 Sep, 2020

LED spotlights: Which one is right for your 4x4?

According to Dewald Ranft, the Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), sub-par lighting is an all-too-common issue for modern vehicles. This is particularly dangerous in South Africa as we have plenty of unattended wildlife roaming along outer-city roads. These conditions have created a massive after-market LED lighting industry.

Choosing the right LED spotlights for your vehicle not only determines your late-night safety, but also the safety of your license disc. So, if taking your 4x4 off road with factory lights isn’t good enough, then what is?

You should use LED spotlights that are ECE and CISPR25 Class 3 certified and built with effective heat management in mind. Stainless-steel mounting brackets are the most reliable option and end up being more affordable in the long run. Add dust and water proofing and you’re all set for the great outdoors. The ideal kelvin rating for a spotlight is between 4,800K and 6,000K. Pencil beam spotlights are great for busy roads like national highways, while driving lights make off-road adventuring safer by providing more peripheral lighting to reveal wildlife or twists and turns.

Let’s expand on the paragraph above and run through the do’s and don’ts of choosing LED spotlights:

Why LED Spotlights?

LED spotlights are compact and durable, which makes them perfect for bumpy off-road adventures. An average LED spotlight lasts around 50,000 hours, which is 2,083 days or just short of 6 years. LEDs are known for being highly efficient and draw remarkably less power than halogens, making them an environmentally friendlier choice too.

LEDs come with a cheekier price tag than halogens, but when you consider the difference in power usage and longevity, they end up being the more affordable option in the long run for your 4x4.

Remember to use LED spotlights appropriately (or not at all) when you’re in normal traffic. Nobody wants to drive blind, and a lot of people already struggle to drive at night due to nyctalopia (night blindness).

LED Spotlights vs Driving Lights

The classifications of vehicular lights can be confusing. While spotlights and driving lights look similar and are usually found in the same product category, their beam patterns are slightly different. A spotlight has a long, thin “pencil” beam while a driving light spills into your peripherals more.

How do you know which beam pattern to use?

If you’re driving on paved roads and national highways, you’ll want a spot beam. If you’re using backroads and gravel tracks, use driving lights. If you’re a beast of the bush and the road – use both!

Driving lights help you keep track of wildlife around the road, while pencil beams maximise your forward vision.

Spotlight Mounting Brackets

LED spotlight mounting brackets are often the first point of failure, so choosing the right brackets for your off-road spotlights is important.

Stainless steel mounting brackets take the cake, and while they occasionally get a bad rap for having a higher initial cost, they usually ends up being the more affordable option over time.

Adding chromium to steel creates a tough, invisible, and corrosion-proof chromium oxide film on the surface of the steel. Whether you damage this film mechanically or chemically, it will self-heal if oxygen is present (even in small amounts).

The benefits of using stainless steel include:

  1. Heat and fire resistance
  2. Easy cleaning
  3. Durability and longevity
  4. 100% recyclable (over 50% of new stainless steel comes from recycled material)
  5. Maintenance-free

Kelvin Rating and Colour Temperature

A kelvin rating is used to describe the colour temperature of light on a scale of 1,000 – 10,000. The brighter the light is, the higher its kelvin rating will be. Daylight sits at around 5,500 Kelvin.

Overly bright lighting makes it difficult to define objects that would otherwise be clear, while lights that are too dim force you to squint and struggle to focus. Both ends of the spectrum will tire your eyes out quickly. Avoid eye strain and fatigue by using lights that resemble natural daylight. The ideal kelvin rating for 4x4 spotlights is between 4800K and 6000K.

Here are the colour temperatures of the various kelvin ratings:

KelvinsColour Description
1,000Ultra-Warm
2,400Very Warm
3,000Warm White
4,000Cool White
5,000Daylight
6,000Cool Daylight
10,000Sky Blue

Radio Interference

A bad LED spotlight can cause radio interference – a headache that’s really not worth having. To minimise radio interference, make sure that your LED spotlights are CISPR25 Class 3 certified. This means that they’re built using only quality automotive parts that won’t disrupt any electronics already present in your 4x4.

Weather-resistance

LED spotlights are expected to perform reliably in a wide variety of road conditions. Unfortunately, the after-market lighting industry has been flooded in recent years with subpar products. This isn’t to say that there aren’t good, cheap spotlights on the market, but you’re always taking a gamble.

We recommend using lights that are IP 6K7 and IP 6K9K certified. The “6” means that the spotlight is dustproof, the “7” provides protection against temporary water immersion, and “9K” means that the spotlight is fully waterproof and can be high-pressure cleaned.

Spot Light Regulations in South Africa

Make sure your LED spotlights are ECE complaint. This is the standard set by Europe that has been adopted internationally. Spotlights that are certified will feature an “E-mark” that signifies compliance. The approval process for E-certification is meticulous and means that a producer cannot self-certify these standards. The importance of 3rd party verification cannot be understated.

Dewald Ranft (MIWA Chairman) says that spotlights should always be wired in a way that allows them to be disabled entirely by their own switch, as well as by the vehicle’s high beam switch.

It’s unfortunate that road traffic regulations haven’t kept up with on-road lighting developments. All spotlights must comply with the Road Act:

  1. The front of a vehicle must have an even number of lights (2, 4, 6).
  2. A vehicle cannot have more than 6 headlights (including spotlights).
  3. No lights may be placed on the roof of a vehicle.
  4. No light may be placed higher than the leading edge of the bonnet.
  5. No light may be placed across the vertical median of a vehicle (the invisible line that cuts through the logo at the front of your car).

The lower you place your LED spotlights on your 4x4, the safer you’ll be, and choosing an LED spotlight over a light bar may prevent a headache or three in the long run.

LED Spotlight Casing and Overheating

Efficient heat distribution is a vital component of a good spotlight. You could be using the best LED technology in the market, but if the heat isn’t being handled appropriately, it’ll perform like a run-of-the-mill spotlight. When an LED spotlight overheats, it pulls back power output and leaves you scratching your head.

A good LED spotlight will have a strong case that has a black, fin-like structure on the back to distribute and dissipate heat efficiently. Driving quickly also helps keep spotlights cool, but that obviously isn’t an ideal solution. An LED spotlight from a trusted brand will have great heat management regardless of speed or wind.

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LED spotlights: Which one is right for your 4x4?

According to Dewald Ranft, the Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), sub-par lighting is an all-too-common issue for modern vehicles. This is particularly dangerous in South Africa as...

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