KC HILITES BLOG
LED Light Bars: More Than Just a Trend?
Unless you’ve been living in the middle of a cornfield for the last decade, it is likely that you’ve seen an LED light bar on a vehicle driving around town or on the trails. Perhaps you even own one on your own set of wheels. As the LED and LED light bar category continues to grow in popularity, the proportion of users who truly understand all the important features of LED light bars shrink. Knowing these features allows you to be an informed consumer on how to spend your hard-earned money and have the ability to speak intelligently and sound like you know your stuff at the monthly 4×4 meetups. As an authority with over 48 years of experience in lighting, we provide a unique manual to all things light bar related. Browse the subtitles below and click one that peaks your interest, or start from the top.
(i) What are the important features of LEDs?
(ii) Why does light bar placement matter?
(iii) What does KC have to offer for light bars?
(iv) What are the common light bar accessories?
(v) Are LED light bars worth the price?
(I) Important Features of LED lights
There are some important features of LED lights that are often overlooked or misunderstood but are important to understand. Most of you won’t be shocked to know that LED = Light Emitting Diodes, but what does that mean exactly? To answer this, we must go back to that dreaded introductory physics class. LEDs work by electrons passing onto lower energy levels resulting in the release of photons which are little particles of light. Basically, it uses a semiconductor to convert electricity into light.
The main benefit of this is that an incredible amount of light can be produced from a diode only millimeters in size. Compared to traditional halogen style lights, or even HIDs (high-intensity discharge), LEDs are compact. This is why all light bars on the market utilize LEDs and not another source of light.
Having a small light producing semiconductor is only half of the solution. LEDs produce directional light, which is the ability to point in one general direction. This means that smaller reflectors can be used for light control, resulting in a package that is very compact such as a typical light bar or LED pod light. Along with a directional light, LEDs can be produced in a spectrum of colors. This means that your amber fog lights can be a truly amber-colored light, rather than relying on an amber cover that the white light passes through.
Another core benefit is that LEDs are much more energy efficient than other common types of lighting such as halogen or HID. The U.S. Department of Energy states that LEDs are typically 70-80% more efficient than halogen lighting. While being more efficient, they also produce less heat. One common misconception is that LEDs don’t release heat. While it is true that the energy released from the semiconductor is in the form of light rather than heat, the semiconductor itself gets hot. Therefore, a good thermal management system is needed in automotive applications.
Longevity of a product is something we all look for in any piece of technology. Nobody wants to buy technology that will only last them a couple years ago and die due to planned obsolescence. Luckily, a good, high-quality LED has a lifetime of about 25,000-50,000 hours, which is about 3 years if left on 24/7 (This is one of those you can, but you shouldn’t try it sorts of things).
What good is longevity if a light can’t stand up to the abuse of off roading? Luckily, LEDs are a form of solid-state lighting technology and thus very rugged. That semiconductor releasing energy in the form of light is encapsulated in epoxy, and there is no fragile glass or filament inside making LEDs perfect for offroad use as they can withstand heat or cold, shock, and the extreme vibrations of the trail. The physical resilience and the power efficiency of LEDs result in a virtually maintenance-free light for ease of ownership.
(II) Why are lights bars only LED?
(1) They take up less space due to small diodes
(2) Directional light from LEDs allows for smaller reflectors
(3) Energy consumption is much less than other common types of lighting
(4) Minimal amounts of heat are produced from LEDs compared to other lighting
Can you imagine a light bar with 20+ halogen bulbs in it? It wouldn’t be practical at all, it would produce a lot of heat, and it would consume an insane amount of energy to produce enough light. That’s why light bars are LED and not another source of lighting.
Now you know the most important features of LEDs and why they’re used in light bars for off-road applications. But, where do you put the light? To first address this, you must first have a lighting need. Are you looking for long-distance light to see far off obstacles? Do you want short- to mid-range lighting for a good all-around lighting system? How about lighting up the sides of the road so that you can see oncoming wildlife or other unexpected obstacles? Your light placement will depend highly on the area that you want illuminated.
For long-distance lighting (greater distances than 3300 feet or 1000 meters), you will almost exclusively want your light to be places as high as possible on the vehicle while still maintaining functionality. Often coupled with long distance lighting is use in high-speed applications such as desert prerunning. There’s a reason why you see most of the race trucks and buggies with lighting above the windshield. This is because these light bars or pods are general patterned in a spot or driving beam to get the most distance as possible out of the light.
There are two extra considerations for lights located above the windshield on the roof or on a rack: wind noise and light glare. A good light will be designed with these in mind, such as the KC PRO6 LED light bar. The Pro6 is designed with larger performance-engineered reflectors coupled with rear facing diodes that direct light into the reflectors for ultimate light control resulting in minimal light glare off the hood. Aerodynamics and wind noise were also in mind with the development of the Pro6 to ensure that any noise at high speeds is highly reduced through their unique shape and rear heat fin design.
Short- to Mid-Range
For lighting within a short to mid-range zone (0-3300 feet, or 0-1000 meters), your light placement options are greatly increased. You can mount a more typical LED light bar on the roof to cover this zone, but they can also be mounted below the hood in the grille or on a bumper, which will help eliminate wind noise and light glare. Mounting in these locations also allows for some stealthier looks, such as our behind the grille package for the Toyota 4 Runner, lower bumper valence mount for Toyota Tacomas and Dodge Rams, and many more for other vehicles specific applications. Light bars mount in these areas will still throw light plenty far, while also illuminating the area near the front of the vehicle.
LED lights other than bars such as pods or single lights can also be mounted in these locations. Single lights are standalone and have the extreme advantage of the ability to be aimed in any desired direction.
Before you begin to look for a light bar, determining your lighting needs will help you pick out the perfect product to light up the night. Once you have an idea of your need for short to mid range lighting, or if you want to add in long range lighting, then it’s time to look at specific products and lineups.
(IV) Light Bars from KC HiLiTES
The C-Series light bar is the right choice for you if you want a high quality LED light that performs well, puts out tons of lumens, and won’t break the bank. While remaining affordable, these light bars feature extruded aluminum housings, aluminum core PCBs with proper thermal management, and tough lexan lenses. What you get with the C-Series is a perfect balance of affordable performance with maximum efficiency, stability and reliability. It is a solid all-around light bar for lighting up your path from cruising down back roads to crawling up tough terrain.
For the ultimate in mid-range LED lighting, look no further than the FLEX Series light bar. This series features race-level performance light output and optical clarity combined with personalized options including unique colored bezel options and clear and amber covers.This is KC HiLiTES take on the typical light bar with added features such as EMI and RMI interference blocking technology and race-level performance through precision injected reflector optics. The FLEX Series also has an industry first pass-through power bus which allows you to easily add on additional lights left, right, up, or down to build an LED light bar exactly to the size and shape you need.
Gravity LED Pro6
The KC Pro6 LED light bar offers the best in long distance lighting and is unlike any light bar you’ve seen. The Gravity Reflective Diode systems that directs light from LEDs backwards into large 6” reflectors, resulting in much greater light control and further light throw compared to an LED light bar with smaller reflectors. The Pro6 is engineered to take lighting visibility to new heights while also being configurable and modular. It’s Patent-pending Infinity Ring™ housing allows this light bar to be configured in straight, curved, or hybrid positions whenever you want. G6 LED optics are available in Spot, Driving, Wide-40 beam patterns which can be quickly swapped out to suit your needs. One extra piece of Signature KC modular design is that the Pro6 is also expandable to different widths easily. This LED light bar is available in universal configurations, or in vehicle specific applications covering Jeep, Toyota, Ford, Polaris, Can-Am, Yamaha, and Arctic Cat.
Common Accessories for Light Bars
KC light bars come ready to install right out of the box with the wiring harness and all. It’s no secret that we all like to accessorize our vehicles, so why shouldn’t we accessorize our accessories?
One of the main accessories that is too-often overlooked for light bars is for security. The incredible upside to the ease of installation of lightbars can also become a real downside. It often can come off even quicker when some jackass is trying to be stealthy in your driveway (or at the parking lot of the bar) in the middle of the night, and then you wake up to find your light bar is gone. Even though some think it is enough, sometimes having your bolts extra tight just won’t cut it for a determined thief. Some companies (such as ICI Light Locks have recognized this and sell hardware (nuts or bolts) that are particularly hard to remove and often have to be cut off if you don’t have the key to remove them. This extra step of difficulty is often enough to dissuade even the most determined jackass. To protect your investment, tamper-proof hardware is certainly worth considering.
In keeping with the protection theme, shields that protect light bars are also a good measure. These help to protect the lens of your lights from rocks thrown up by other drivers or other flying objects. Some of the shields are offered in clear or amber so that they don’t need to be removed during use of the light, and others are non-transparent for that ultimate instantly recognizable look. Another benefit of these shield, especially for the FLEX or C-Series light bars, is that they can simply and quickly turn a normal white LED light bar into a multifunctional light with the addition of an amber shield. Some states even require that off-road only light be covered while traveling on the road, so we offer blackout covers for that as well.
(V) Are LED light bars worth their price?
Spending money on a light bar comes easy for some, but not so, for others. We all find us asking ourselves – “Is it worth it buy from a name brand company with a good reputation for a solid product and excellent customer service, or should I save money by trying out this cheaper Amazon or eBay special?” We can’t answer that question for you, but we know you’ll be happy with your choice from the moment the KC box arrives at your doorstep. From our affordable C-Series to the top of the line Pro6, our light bars come with the best in light control, thermal management, uniqueness, ruggedness, customization, and of course our 23 year warranty.
When buying KC, you end up with much more than just a light. You join a community and unique culture within off-roading that has been around for 48 years and counting. You get the rich history, quality and innovation that is apart of the DNA of every one of its products. You have access to what we hope is the best customer service in the game. You have an instantly recognizable and trusted brand on your rig, one that causes people to sneak pictures of your vehicle to send to their buddies. You get a purpose-built, best-of-breed and race-tested product that will light all of your adventures for years to come.