Why a set of cheap driving lights will let you down… time after time.
I’m sometimes as guilty as the next bloke when it comes to trying to nab a bargain, and I’m not afraid to admit I’ve bought some “cheaper” 4×4 accessories over the years, but while you might get away with a set of cheap drawers or some budget-priced floor mats from time to time, there are some items you should never skimp on, such as cheap driving lights.
Even back when we all ran halogen driving lights (yes, I really am that old), you were far better off spending big on good quality lights than cheap driving lights. Why? Because the manufacturers of good quality lights (think Cibie, Hella and KC, for example) spent big bucks on design and manufacture to ensure their lights performed as well as possible, for as long as possible, in the harshest of environments.
Those big bucks were invested in things like reflector and lens technology that would not only maximise light output but also focus the light where it would be of most use.
They would also invest heavily in making the housings tough, using top-quality materials, and working hard on design so the lights wouldn’t rattle apart after the first five kays of corrugations. And they would ensure that the driving-light mounts were sturdy enough to survive off-road knocks, water crossings and corrugations, so the lights would stay pointed where they were meant to be pointed.
Cheap driving lights, on the other hand, generally had poor reflector coatings that would peel off the inside of the light housing, poor lenses that allowed the light to stray, brittle plastic housings that wouldn’t last a full summer, and flimsy mounts that would see the lights point skywards after you’d bounced out of your driveway.
As technology has moved on – first with the introduction of HID driving lights and most recently with LED driving lights – one thing has remained constant: good-quality driving lights are good and poor-quality driving lights are not.
As testament to this, companies like Cibie, Hella and KC are still producing driving lights decades after they began, and they have since been joined by other quality driving light manufacturers such as Aussie companies Lightforce, Narva and Ultra Vision. And the big 4×4 accessory companies also have their own branded driving lights, some produced by very respected light manufacturers.
Of course, even with the advent of LED technology there are still plenty of cheap driving lights on the market and, just like the old days, the same problems persist, such as inferior reflector technology, inferior lens technology, weak housings and poor mounting systems.
Now, I’m not having a go specifically at the lights in the video below, and I’m not saying they are poor quality, but have a look at the way the light beams appear to shake.
This visible shaking of the light beams in the video is likely a result of the vehicle’s bullbar shaking as it drives over a bumpy road, as most do, but it looks to be amplified by the lens technology described as “a revolutionary central laser module”. It seems as though, in a quest for bragging rights about how far the lights will shine (a claimed 1 Lux at 1618m), the idea of having a ‘useable’ light has been forgotten. Imagine how hard it might be to focus on where you’re driving, let alone spot potential hazards, with those “laser” lights bouncing around in front of your eyes? (If you have a set of these driving lights, and you reckon they’re grouse and I’m talking out of my arse, then feel free to comment below.)
There are plenty of other spot beam driving lights on the market that are far better left in their packaging than fitted to the front of your vehicle (just take a look on eBay, or at some of the big camping and fishing retailers). Unless you live in a barren outback environment, with dead-straight roads and minimal vegetation, there’s really no need to be able to see a mile up the road; you’re far better off with a wider spread beam or even a combination spread/spot beam… or even a couple of spots with a decent light bar providing the spread.
No matter which light combination you opt for, when it comes to driving lights I reckon you’re better off saving up for a decent set rather than buying the cheap stuff out of China.
Quality doesn’t come cheap… but there’s a reason for that.