Aux Lights – Why Placement and Color Can Matter When It Comes to Off-Roading
When owners look at buying their first auxiliary light, they always go straight for the brightest, whitest light bar they can buy and mount it on their roof. That might not be the best solution for everyone and even the color might not be right for its intended use. Let’s talk about auxiliary light placement and color and why they matter.
Let’s define what auxiliary lights are first as some readers might not know there is such a thing. These lights are pretty much anything that aren’t the headlights but aren’t marker, brake, or turn signal lights either. So, fog lights, spot lights, flood lights, daytime running lights and any combination of these would be considered auxiliary lights as they aren’t required to burn while the headlights are on.
Though, in a few countries outside of the United States and Australia, daytime running lights are mandatory and makes them debatable as to them being auxiliary. For this article, we will consider them as auxiliary lights since we’re based in the USA.
Why They Exist at All
If they aren’t mandatory and you don’t really need them while driving normally, why is there a need for them? For most people, these lights aren’t necessary and are, essentially, another way to customize their vehicles. For the rest of us, though, these lights create critical lighting while we’re driving fast in the desert or spotting where to put our tires on a rock feature.
For truck owners who want to customize their vehicle, they look to the guys racing in the open deserts like the Best in the Desert Trick Trucks and SCORE Trophy Trucks and want to replicate that look. Some remember the big, round HID Lights running on the roof of those trucks or newer builds with one or more LED light bars and try to replicate that. Same idea for Jeep owners, but they look at those guys running in Ultra4.
Race Lights in the Beginning
”Why did those race trucks run lights like that?” You’re probably asking. The need comes from throwing as much light down the course as possible. As you drive faster and faster, approaching the 90-MPH mark or more, you begin to drive “faster” than your headlights shine.
While you aren’t physically outrunning your headlight’s beam – since it travels at the speed of light – you need to look further down the road and towards the horizon as you gain speed in your vehicle. This means you need to have light beams that go beyond your headlights and towards the horizon line. You also begin to need a beam that is wider than what your headlights produce because you need to also see more to your sides at those speeds.
So, the faster you go the wider and longer your beam pattern needs to be. Problem was those early lights could only do one light beam pattern or another and you only had so much real estate on the front of the truck.
HIDs Made Desert Racing Fast…
Before LEDs became commonplace, HIDs were used to create these longer and wider beams with specialized spot light and flood light housings. The spot lights were typically mounted to the front end and the center of the roof bar of the truck. Flood beam lights were mounted on the outer ends of the roof bar and angled out from the center by 10- to 20-degrees away from the body.
Though, this did vary from driver to driver and for many, those roof lights were aimable from inside to increase the distance they shined down by tilting them up. Just like the suspension, it was all about making the driver and co-driver comfortable at those speeds.
LEDs Made It Faster
LED lights soon took over those HID lights and drivers used them on the roof as well. There was a glaring problem with a roof light in the desert: the light reflects off the dust. This was a problem even with HID, but as LEDs increased their brightness over HIDs, the problem was made worse. It was to the point that a driver was practically blind while driving through sand kicked up by the driver several miles ahead of them and even the dust kicked up by their own tires.
The Dust Line
This area at the front of the truck is known as the “dust line.” The “dust line” is the point where the dust off your own truck rises above the fenders and hood. This dust floats in front of the driver and navigator, reflects the light from the light bars, and blinds them just like what happens to you in heavy rain, fog and snow does with high-beam lights at night.
Why Amber Light?
Soon the teams and drivers were experimenting with amber colored lights, usually between 3000-Kelvin and 1500-Kelvin on the color temperature scale for light. It supplies the best brightness without the whiteout because amber light has a longer frequency (shorter wavelength).
Being closer to infrared light, the energy in amber light is much lower. This means it reflects off the dust less because more of the photons of amber light are absorbed. White light has high-energy and reflects more. Even then, anything above the dust line is useless as light is still reflected and made worse higher up.
Race Lights Now
What many pro drivers are finding is that roof-mounted lights were creating a disadvantage in the dusty environments they race in. They then started to mount their lights lower, putting more LEDs on the nose of their trucks. This was made far easier as companies like Baja Designs, Vision X, Rigid Industries, and KC HiLites continued to shrink the size of their LED offerings, making it easier to install them because of the need for less real estate per light.
What those pro drivers and teams found is that they could put more light down range but out of the dust line thanks to those smaller LED lights being mounted to the bumper and grille areas of the truck. Moreover, they could also double their side vision by mounting smaller, but more powerful LED flood and spot pods on the A-pillars of their trucks.
Those companies were also offering cube-style lights that offered a spot/flood combo just like their light bars. These focused lighting at the sides for better vision of the ruts and boulders that would otherwise be missed by a lack of light to the left and right of the truck.
Are Roof Mounted Lights Useless?
However, there are those who still use a roof-mounted bar setup. While they have a distinct disadvantage because of the dust line, they do still have an advantage of shining light further down range for simply being higher off the ground. When the dust becomes too much, they turn it off and utilize the full lighting at the front of the truck.
Light Options for the Crawlers
When it comes to taking advantage of roof-mounted lighting, rock crawling takes advantage of the ability to point a driver aimable, roof-mounted light setup to create distinct shadows on rocks. Being able to see how a rock or feature is shaped allows a driver to make the right line choice before becoming stuck, puncturing a tire, or come tumbling down.
There are also other places to mount lights that work to a huge advantage for the rock crawler. Mounting lights in the wheel wells allows the driver and spotter to see where the wheel is pointing and if there is a rock about to contact the suspension or chassis.
Flood lights on the sides of the rig can also help a spotter make sure they aren’t about to step into a hole or trip over a rock. Lights at the back of the truck can allow a driver and spotter make sure they aren’t about to crash into a rock as they change lines by going in reverse.
Law Abiding, Courteous Citizens
So, there is some method to the placement of lights on race trucks and you can recreate most of that on your vehicle. A highspeed spotlight might be overkill, but it’s not a terrible thing, either. However, you also must abide by the laws in your state. Typically, any lights above the headlights must be blocked by an opaque cover while driving on state roadways and highways.
While these lights supply great visibility at speed and in the darkest night, they also blind your fellow drivers in both the same flow of traffic and oncoming. By using that cover, you reduce the chances of accidental blinding by turning them on after hitting the wrong switch. You’ll also avoid a ticket by your local police or highway patrol.
Once you’re on the dirt, remove the covers and burn those lights as you need them. Just be courteous to your fellow off-roader going the opposite way by turning off those lights until you pass each other by.
Another thing to consider is a high-mounted, rear amber running light while out in the desert. It should also be mounted no lower than the bottom of your rear window. Again, this color light cuts through the dust and will allow people behind you to see you better. Even at slow speeds, this is important for your safety as your OEM running lights might not be seen as they might be positioned too low. Depending on your local laws, this might need to be covered when you’re on the highway.
I Just Want My Truck or Jeep to Look Cool
Yeah, we get that and is why we do offer distinct types of LED and HID lighting products for your vehicle. While the purists will argue with you and call your truck or Jeep a “mall crawler” or “bro truck,” it’s still yours at the end of the day and you can do what you like. It’s the beauty of vehicle ownership, no matter what type of vehicle you drive or where.
However, if you’re looking to get better night vision in dusty environments or while crawling, then we suggest you mimic your off-road racing heroes and concentrate your light choices to what can be mounted to the bumper and grille.
Despite that, though, we’re always going to recommend that you follow those local laws. Which would you rather spend money on? A fine from a ticket or a new part for your vehicle?