A light bar is an option you may consider buying when shopping for accessories for your 4WD. Whenever you think about this sort of unit, you might have visions of a menacing Peterbilt with bright headlights (Steven Spielberg’s Duel, anyone?) and an even brighter bar of light on top of the windshield, and you aren’t wrong for thinking that. LED light bars have been used by large, diesel-engine truck drivers for visibility since the late ‘90s-early 2000’s.
So now you’re interested in the idea of getting one for yourself, but you may have some apprehensions and questions; what are good brands? Is it better to buy a light bar or spotlights? Is LED or halogen a better choice? Read on and educate yourself.
Light bar vs no light bar
There are more possibilities that present themselves to you when you install a light bar.
You may ask yourself, “well, what’s the point of a light bar if I already have headlights?” After all, it’s no secret that LED lights are a more than adequate replacement for standard halogen headlights. The point of headlights really makes the idea of getting a light bar kind of redundant, but there are several advantages to having a light bar, namely;
Greater peripheral vision:
With headlights, you’re only getting illumination in a very limited cone of vision; literally what’s right in front of you. However, with an added light bar, you’re getting a much broader sight radius. Remember that road hazards aren’t always the things you see ahead, and added visibility (at least at night) is always a good thing.
Increase in visibility:
The underlying idea with this point is that people can see you even more so with an active light bar. This feature is particularly useful for individuals who use their 4WD in foggy or inclement weather or situations where additional visibility (for yourself and other drivers!) is paramount. It pays to be the most visible thing on the road.
Additional overall utility:
With better visibility comes a wider practical application of your 4WD. If you go on a lot of off-road adventures, chances are that you winch, tow and generally support your other off-roading comrades towards victory. Why not have an edge doing all of those things at night?
Light bars may also come in handy when maneuvering other vehicles out of tricky situations or looking for decent places to camp at night during a long trek. When it comes right down to utility, light bars have you see what’s going on and what’s happening a lot better without a lot of extra gear.
HID, halogen or LED?
LED light bars have the most benefits, while halogen lights are the cheapest. HID lights are a mix of both worlds.
When shopping for light bars, you will have to decide what kind of illumination you will want to put onto your vehicle. The top three choices are HID (also known as High-Intensity Discharge) lights, standard halogen bulbs or LED (Light Emitting Diode)’s. So which one do I get?
High-Intensity Discharge lights (also called xenon, sodium-vapor, or metal-halide lights) have been around the market for a while and are usually considered an upgrade over standard halogen bulbs. They last longer, have brighter luminescence and have uses in a wide variety of applications outside of driving lights.
- Brighter than halogen lamps
- Last longer than halogen lamps
- Have a larger variety of colors in the spectrum compared to LED’s
- Can hold very well against cold damage and snow potentially obscuring the light bar
- More cost-efficient than LED’s
- Does not beat the longevity of LED’s
- Requires a short “warm-up” time before it reaches its highest level of brightness
- More expensive than halogen lamps
Standard halogen lamps are known for their cost-efficiency and acceptance as the basic level version of illumination in any kind of situation. They’re everywhere! This means that they will typically by the cheapest option to consider when buying a light bar. However, depending on your needs and 4WD habits, you may spend more money replacing your halogen lamps than what you initially paid for buying your light bar.
- The cheapest option
- High availability
- Usually the standard option; no need to retrofit or replace anything
- The least bright of all the options
- The most susceptible to damage in off-road terrain
- Can get very hot
- The most common purchasable form are just emergency flashers and do not provide a sustained, reliable form of illumination
Illumination from Light-Emitting Diodes (LED’s) are the newest technology on the market and have equaled and surpassed the popularity of HID’s very quickly. Instead of the typical filament or gas-tube sort of lamp construction, LED’s use the properties of electrons to generate light, ultimately making them brighter and more efficient than its counterparts. They’re a bit pricey, but well worth the investment in the long run.
- Brighter than HID’s
- Lasts almost twice as long as HID’s
- Most rugged option; no filaments to worry about when traversing rough terrain
- Most power efficient option
- Most expensive option
- Does not have the color range of HID’s (usually does not have warm colors)
- May be too bright for certain road applications (check with your local law enforcement about driving light restrictions)
How to go about installing a light bar
Here are a few things to take into account before you go drilling holes into your 4WD for your light bar.
Check your local driving laws before attaching auxiliary lights to your 4WD.
Safety is always a top priority, so make sure you check in with your jurisdiction on what sort of restrictions local law enforcement has placed with regards to external lights.
Western Australia and Queensland, for example, have laws that have capped the placement of light bars to a maximum of 4 per 4WD, require a separate switch to operate said lights, and can only emit white light.
Whether or not this has any effect on your light bar purposes will depend on what your goals are, but it’s good to familiarize yourself with the law before you get pulled over from your own ignorance.
Bullbars are helpful
Because of the stringent light bar laws on Australia, the most useful piece of kit you can invest in is a front bullbar. Most bullbars come in a variety of different materials and typically have pre-drilled mounting holes already installed.
This simplifies most of what you have to do; the best option for light bars are the curved-type as they conform to the shape of the bullbar. Also, if you’re worried about any stray wires, you can always be discreet and hide them behind the grille.
Make sure your 4WD has sufficient power reserves for a light bar
To give you an idea of how much power a light bar may consume, you can expect voltage numbers between 60W and 600W depending on the kind of product you purchase. Bear in mind that your vehicle also has to power its headlights and any other modifications that you attach.
Check your 4WD’s factory specifications on current draw (and not voltage or wattage) to see whether or not it can support extra illumination. The main point is that you may wear down your power supply a lot quicker and impact vehicle performance negatively if you attach a few too many mods, so keep your power supply in mind.
LED lights are typically the way to go
Though the other two options are also viable, it should be noted that the popularity of LED light bars have created an entire market of accessories and add-ons specific to them. This is good for individuals who take to modifying their 4WD seriously.
To reiterate the positive points about LED light bars; they are the most cost-effective type of illumination to purchase in the long run, the brightest option and the newest type of technology on the market.
Investing in a light bar is a serious consideration for serious 4WD enthusiasts.
They offer a lot of benefits such as better visibility, more utility and give your 4WD a lean-and-mean aesthetic when installed. It’s one of the many things to engage in a meaningful conversation about when you find yourself halfway done with a mug of lager and good company in a pub.
When people think about a 4WD off-roader, a sense of power and ruggedness come to mind. If you’re serious about this kind of culture and way of life, then there should be no shame in showing it. In fact, don’t be discreet and humble. When owning a powerful hunk of machinery, there is nothing that gives respect and veneration to your lifestyle more unashamedly than showing it off with pride. So after you check your vehicle specifications and clear up the regulations regarding the legality of your light bar, be happy to know that you’ve invested in a (quite literally) crowning achievement for your 4WD and be ready to take on the responsibility that comes with it.
More towing, more winching, more adventures and more fun. Huzzah!