Light Up The Night
If you haven't tried wheeling at night you are missing out
on a whole new experience. Old trails feel completely different at night
not to mention the temperatures are much more bearable for us desert dwellers.
Here's a run down on buggy lighting.
In my experience nearly any auxiliary driving light with at
least a 100 watt bulb will work fine for headlights on your rock buggy.
Most lights come with 55 watt bulbs as they are designed to be auxiliary lights
on street driven cars. Sometimes you can swap out the bulbs for higher
wattage units but keep in mind the higher wattage bulbs will generate a lot more
heat and the light housing may not be able to handle the temperatures.
I used to run a pair of Hella 500 lights which come stock
with 55 watt bulbs. I found these insufficient for driving fast at night
until I swapped the bulbs out for 100 watt units. A couple years back I
switched to the light pictured above, a Eurolite TF2000. This light came
with 100 watt bulbs from the factory and they put out a lot of light. I
also felt the beam pattern was broader than the Hella 500's which made driving
around on twisty roads much easier. These lights are getting harder to find now,
the last set I bought was from a liquidator on E-bay.
The goal of rock lights is to provide enough illumination
around the tires so you can see the obstacles as if it were daylight. The rock
lights need to be mounted so they are up an out of harms way but at the same
time they put the light where you need it. There are several types of lights
that can be used for rock lights, the most common being fluorescent,
incandescent and LED's. Fluorescent lights are very delicate so I have
never tried using them in a rock crawling environment.
Incandescent lights were used in all the pictures above.
They throw off a lot of light, come in all shapes and sizes and best of all are
fairly inexpensive. In my experience 2-3 of these lights should provide
plenty of light for a typical rock buggy. I usually like to have one on
each side of the rig, behind the driver and firing forward towards the front
tire and one centered up by the rear bumper pointing straight down.
The downsides to incandescent lights is their power
consumption, delicate bulbs and heat generation. Most of these lights draw
somewhere from 35-50 watts of power each so you can easily exceed the output of
your alternator if you run too many lights at once. You must also be
careful about leaving the lights on with the vehicle off as they can quickly
drag down a battery. I have found the bulbs in these to be very sensitive
to hard hits to the chassis and the glass on the housing does not hold up well
if you attempt a water crossing usually cracking as soon as the hot glass hits
the water. Ironically it is usually cheaper to just buy a new set of lights than
a new bulb, especially if you get the lights at a sale price (Harbor Freight
drops them to $6 from time to time).
The new kid on the block is the LED. These have
actually been around for a long time but it wasn't till the last few years that
they started coming in various form factors useable in an automotive
environment. LED's have a number of advantages over incandescent lights with the
biggest being a very low current draw and near 0 heat generation. The above
picture shows a 6 LED module from
www.superbrightleds.com, this unit is marketed as an accent module.
This module draws so little current you could hook 10 of them up and still draw
less power than a single 55watt incandescent driving light. Many of these
modules come with their electronics potted so they are nearly impervious to
water or can easily be sealed up. Also, since they don't have a filament
they are virtually indestructible when it comes to shock and vibration with no
heat generated they will not crack when immersed in water.
The above mentioned site also carries single LED accent
modules like the ones shown above.
There are also LED units in a driving light form factor available like these 12
LED units I found on E-bay. This style throws off more light than the
accent types but they also cost more.
The downsides to LED's is they throw off a much softer
light than an incandescent bulb. In the picture above there is an LED rock
light illuminating the area behind the front tire and an incandescent rock light
lighting up the area behind the buggy. For this reason you will find you
have to get the LED style lights closer to your target area for best
Here is one way I found to accomplish the task of getting
the LED module close t the area of illumination while still protecting it from
direct contact with the rocks. The module will be captured by a small
keeper on top of the boatsides and the LED's poke thru the boatsides via a set
of drilled holes.
All LED's are not created equal. You
would think more LED's would equal more light but I have found this
not to be the case. All of the above LED's are available from
www.superbrightleds.com and after seeing them all in action I think the
Luxart single bulb modules are the brightest (and also the most
expensive). The 6 LED ALM-C-X6 modules shown in the
middle are a close second and the 6 LED MCM modules coming in at a