From Auto Adviser
It’s possible to “outdrive” your car’s headlights out in the country on a dark winter’s night. Even at reasonable speeds, there can be a fine line between having enough vision ahead and not having enough time to react if a hazard appears.
“The average factory headlamp only provides enough range to warn the driver of an object on the road a few seconds before it’s actually encountered,” says lighting manufacturer IPF.
An effective way to widely improve the visual safety margin is fitting driving lights or spotlights that pick out details far beyond what even good high beams can manage. Driving lights are designed to provide a long-range, reasonably wide beam, probably “spilling” some light to the side to help illuminate the edge of the road. A spotlight is just that – a narrow cylinder of light that cuts into the night like a mini military searchlight.
Although spots might seem like the ideal long-range night driving assist, Auto Adviser reckons a pair of spotlights isn’t as useful as a pair of driving lights, or one driving light paired with a spot. Spotlights and driving lights must be wired so that they can only be used with the vehicle’s high beams, otherwise the WoF inspector will turn you away and police cruisers may take a sudden interest. The rule exits so oncoming drivers aren’t blinded by your zillion-candlepower light show. However, going from high beams plus driving lights to dimmed lights only in the time it takes to flick a switch can be disorienting; always be prepared to adjust to this sudden change.
Foglights are also popular add-ons. Their job is to cut through fog, not provide long-distance illumination. Before you buy a set, take a moment to analyse how often you actually encounter fog. They’re not much of a cost-effective investment for use two or three times a year.
Add-on lights are usually round or rectangular. The shape generally makes little difference to the characteristics of the beam (although bare in mind top-model lights are both large and round and there must be a reason for this); the alternative styles are mainly for reasons of styling and fitment.
Very small projector-beam lights using compound elliptical reflectors are also popular. Their advantage is small size – great for placement and not restricting airflow to the radiator; but the cheaper ones may not offer very good beam penetration or spread.
There’s a huge price range in aftermarket lights. When buying cheap, you may be getting only what you pay for. Apart from such important considerations as the quality of beam spread and other issues to do with the actual lighting, cheap units may not be particularly well constructed and not last. Corrosion and condensation are two of an auxiliary light’s greatest enemies. However, even modestly priced lighting from well-known companies should be of adequate quality.
What’s not so certain is the quality of cheap “generic” lights that might carry a brand name you’ve never heard of, or carry a house brand name. I’m not saying they’re no good; rather, you need to check them more carefully.
Plastic doesn’t necessarily mean bad, by the way. Some high-quality lights are of rugged polycarbonate or polycarbonate and metal, but you don’t have to be a genius to tell them from the rubbish. Look at the finish and the quality of the mounting attachment. Can the mounting bolt fall off into the body cavity of the light? There’s no point buying a good auxiliary lamp and hooking it up with inadequate wiring. Because good wiring has such an effect on a light’s performance, many top brands include a full loom and a decent switch, all designed to let the volts get to the filament. Even then, some cautious light-fitters will throw the factory stuff away and go to even heavier wiring and switchgear. The relay, too, needs to be a quality unit, and a good one may be included in some of the better auxiliary lighting kits.
Watch the voltage
Because of used Japanese imports, many SUVs in New Zealand have 24-volt electrical systems. You can gather what’s going to happen if you start plugging 12-volt lights into a 24-volt system! Fortunately, most lighting manufacturers offer 24-volt options.
Some owners of 24-volt vehicles have fitted step-down transformers so that they can use 12-volt accessories of all kinds.