15 Jan 2015

Let There Be Light! Fitting Aftermarket LED Lights To Your Car

Phil Millar has a Jeep Cherokee 4L Limited. Phil likes lights - lots of lights! But they've got to be LEDs.

New year, new start and all that type of new year nonsense. On the subject of new, why not embrace some 'new' technology ? In the big picture, this is new technology, although in some circles it's been around, known about, and used for some years now. Seat, and now Ford have production models with full LED headlights.

Let's talk LEDs. I first saw LED light bars on US Jeeps, they just looked the dogs bollox! My interest was piqued, and a few months was spent prodding, poking and researching. After that, more time was spent searching on eBay for best prices/bargains. Then some spending began, MUCH spending actually, to the stage that 'enough' has long since passed, and I'm now at the 'bloody ridiculous' level !

To be specific, 1x 20" bar, 1x 30" bar, 1x 40" bar and full LED headlights. The numbers. 20" = 120w, 30" = 150w, 40" = 180w, headlights =12.5/30w. Total of 510w giving 55,500 lumens @6500K. The 450w of bars are on a single switch through a 30A fuse.

So, after all those numbers, why go LED?

A few reasons, A) LEDs have a much lower amp draw per watt than halogen lights, B) more light output per watt, C) LED lightbars are built to withstand more physical punishment than 'standard' lights, D) lifespan of anything between 30-50,000 hours continuous use, and lastly, LEDs are waterproofed to a much higher level than anything else currently on the market.

There are several types of LED emitters, but lightbars use two different types, Epistar and Cree.

Cree are THE world market leaders in LEDs, with THE most efficient chip available at present, so, more lumens per watt than Epistar chips. This doesn't mean Epistar are pants, they still have retina melting light output, but Cree will burn your eyes out faster! You will pay a few more pounds per inch for Cree, and in reality seeing either coming towards you, you'll struggle to see the difference (you'll struggle to see ANYTHING TBH). I've rapidly become very anal about LEDs, so I'm willing to pay the extra for Cree.

LEDs can, at first, seem expensive. Try looking at prices in the USA, I've seen 4" Rugged Industries LEDs on sale on eBay at $ 245!! They are built to the same standards as the bars I have fitted. 50" bars in the States can retail at around the $1,000+ mark, and the Americans WILL pay this without a second thought because they will buy US goods to support their economy and US manufacturers.

This is what you can expect your bar to stand up to.

There are two layout types, single row and double row, double row will have a higher watt per inch rating than single, and slightly more ££ per inch over single row, there's not a huge difference so which you go for is personal choice.

The numbers.

Watts, colour temp and IP rating.

Watts, don't think we need to cover that, suffice to say, more is better.

Colour temperature is the 'colour' of the light output, what you want is a figure of 6-6,500 Kelvin, that's not gonna give much trouble, as any bars I've seen are at that level. What do those numbers mean in the real world ? The 'colour' of daylight is classed as 6,500K. You can actually see the road and hedges light up as soon as you flick THE switch, WAY before you would even think about daylight starting to fade. On a personal note, I've noticed less strain on my eyes with LEDs.

IP rating. Again, no biggy getting it right, IP67 is where most bars are at. What does it mean? Easy, anything with an IP67 rating can safely be fully submerged in water, there are some Cree bars that now have an IP68 rating, so can stay fully submerged for longer with no adverse effect.

One thing to be aware of with LED headlights - the latest lighting regs state an 1800Lm Max output. I discovered this just after buying my Cree headlights (with 2K Lm output per side.) Like everything else in the UK rules are set, and the police have to try to play catch up. At this time, I'm unaware of just how your local plod can actually check these output limits, and in all honesty, they're probably much too busy to be arsed with small potatoes like this. If your headlights are correctly aligned, there shouldn't be an issue.

So, they say a picture can paint a thousand words, so, some pictures.

This was taken around mid day

A before/after of headlights.

Headlights & 60" of bars. (Another 30" has been added since)

A short word of warning, lumens become VERY addictive ! I have new Cree headlight units on order, purely due to having an extra 2000Lm over the current units fitted.

You have been warned !

By Phil Millar (@PhilXJ4L)