The Ultimate Guide to Rock Lights
The Ultimate Guide to Rock Lights
What are the best rock lights for off-road vehicles, and how are they useful?
Ever been curious what rock lights are good for, but not quite sure if they’d be useful for you? Rock lights, despite their colloquial name, have many uses beyond rock crawling and are mounted in a place that makes them versatile for different applications. You can use these for anything from hardcore wheeling at night to unloading groceries after late night runs to the store. This article is a one-stop-shop for anyone who is interested in “rock” lights. It contains everything you need to know about how and where to mount them, what they’re good for, and more!
Table of Contents
- What are rock lights?
- What are rock lights used for?
- Pros and cons of rock lights
- How to mount rock lights
- Where to place rock lights on a Jeep or off-road vehicle
- RGB vs Single Color Rock Comparison
- Rock Lights Questions and Answers
For a really great explanation of rock lights paired with real-world examples of how they’re useful, check out the KC Academy video below that we did to cover this topic. For more detail and expansion on lights that are mounted underneath your rig, continue reading the rest of the article.
What are rock lights and what else are they called?
Rock lights are the lights that are mounted underneath the vehicle and illuminate the area directly underneath it. As the most common name might suggest, these have taken the off-road world by storm by those that use them for navigating rock gardens and other nasty terrain when the sun goes down. However, these lights also have many more uses that we’ll dig into beyond just rock crawling.
“Rock lights” is the most common way that people refer to lights mounted to the bottom side of their Jeep, UTV, truck, or SUV but there are also many more names for them you’ll hear at the trailhead. Some of these include courtesy lights, underglow lights (shoutout to the gearheads that came from the street scene), and puddle lights.
Rock lights almost always use a flood beam pattern that is intended to illuminate a wide area and not necessarily to throw light out at distance (more on beam patterns in a future article!).
All the ways that rock lights are useful
Of course rock lights are great for wheeling in a Jeep at night, but many people only look at them from their own perspective as the driver. When you’re slow-moving, crawling over technical terrain where tire placement is pivotal, these lights are irreplaceable. Hang your arm out of the window, stick your head out and look down with rock lights turned on to see exactly what you need to see.
With the proper mounting location of rock lights (keep reading!), they can also be used to light up other areas underneath your vehicle to help your spotter see better to give you the information you need to get through the trail without any unnecessary carnage. Forward facing lights can be blinding for the person standing in front of your rig trying to tell you where to go, so by turning those off and your rock lights on, it can be a much better experience for all involved.
Ambient/Camp Scene Lights
But rock crawling isn’t the only scenario that these lights are useful. In fact, I (Taylor - author here) use these lights in other ways beyond just wheeling tougher trails at night. Because of the way these lights illuminate a contained area surrounding the vehicle by 10 or so feet, rock lights are also great for camping and setting up your gear when you arrive at your campsite in the dark.
The ambient light cast off by these underglow/rock lights makes them useful even in the most random of scenarios. From unloading the groceries in your driveway late at night to wiring them into your interior cab lights for puddle lights that turn on when your doors open, these things are as versatile as your imagination can make them.
Rock Lights Advantages and Disadvantages
When we talk about rock lights that are mounted on off-road rigs, there are some major advantages as to why they’re useful to have but there are also a couple of downsides.
The benefits of bumper mounted lights
There are few major advantages of mounting rock lights onto a Jeep, UTV, or truck. Perhaps the biggest one is what we described above - the massive amount of scenarios where you will find them to be useful. They are a major element of safety, helping you navigate through tougher trails to make sure you don’t end up off-line or in the wrong spot while wheeling. They also add a major element of aesthetics to your vehicle as you can get them in various colors to compliment your existing color scheme.
Pros of rock lights at a glance:
- Obstacle navigation when off-roading at night
- Highly durable to withstand the toughest trails
- Can be wired as courtesy lights for when the doors open
- Versatile uses from camping lights to rock lights to area lights
- Minimal power consumption (~5W per light)
- And honestly…? They just look cool as well.
The limitations of rock lights
We’ll keep this section a bit shorter than others that we’ve written about, because the limitations and the cons of rock lights are actually pretty minimal! The biggest downside of rock lights is that they can often take longer to wire. When wiring them, you’re often working underneath the vehicle in already confined spaces. Plus you want the wires all run cleanly and out of the way so that there’s no possibility that they get snagged on anything when off-roading. And finally, you have to run a lot of wires for rock lights…. so time adds up quickly. The solution? Find someone with a lift and that will speed up your wiring time immensely (I know, easier said than done).
Depending on what you’re mounting rock lights onto, it can also be a pain to find a good solution for mounting the actual lights themselves. This isn’t too much of a hassle on Jeeps and trucks, but when you mount lights onto a UTV it can be harder. Flush mounts, surface mounts, and magnetic mounts can all make life a lot easier when mounting though! In addition to this, sometimes you may not necessarily have mounting places that’ll give you the angle that you want.
Various methods to mount rock lights
Perhaps the most basic of all ways to mount rock lights is by simply bolting them or screwing them onto whatever surface you want them on. Whether you use bolts or screws depends on what type of rock lights you purchase. Our Cyclone LED Rock Lights use a center bolt design so that they can be bolted right into any existing hole or location on your Jeep or Truck with standard hardware found at your local homegoods store. Use these with some L- or Z-brackets so they stand off the surface or the angle is changed and you have a very solid mount.
The majority of rock lights in the industry, with our Cyclone LEDs as the exception, use sheet metal screws which can often make it difficult to mount. These seem to never work quite perfectly in fenders or on the frame and can be a pain in both scenarios. Some companies out there, like Rago Fabrication, even make adapter brackets for these types of lights to make them more of a bolt-on design that uses high-quality hardware vs standard screws.
Without a doubt, the easiest way to mount rock lights is to use some magnetic mounts. Attaching the rock lights to a strong neodymium magnet will make them stick to anywhere that has a steel frame/cage or body. As a sturdy mount for, these magnets hold strong while being bashed in the whoops or hammered in the rocks. The ones that we offer include all of the necessary hardware and the magnet itself is coated in epoxy for even greater durability in the worst conditions you can throw at it.
Flush and Surface Mounts
In order to cleanly mount your rock lights onto a UTV, as interior lights in your Jeep, or in the bumper of a truck, our Flush and Surface mounts provide both a sleek and very well protected steel mount. The flush mounts are a great way to tuck the lights up and out of the way. The surface mounts protrude off of the surface while also providing a ramped lip to allow rocks to glide over them a bit smoother than being struck on a square edge, and they also provide a more finished look when mounting the rock lights in more visible locations.
Where do you mount rock lights on a Jeep/UTV/Truck?
Where to place and mount rock lights on an off-road rig is very similar regardless of if they’re going on a Jeep, a UTV, a truck, or anything else. The biggest difference is the length of the vehicle and if there may be more or less lights required for the effect you’re trying to achieve. That being said, here are the general guidelines for where to mount rock lights, and where you could add on more in the future.
Typically when you’re mounting a full rock light kit onto your Jeep or other type of off-road vehicle, you have six total lights to play with. Certain lights, like our Cyclone LEDs have add-on kits that allow you to easily add on more lights for more advanced set-ups requiring more coverage - but we’ll discuss where those will go below. For now, we’ll start with the front of the vehicle and work backwards. It’s best to place them symmetrically from drivers to passengers sides of the vehicles as well.
- From the front, place two lights in front of the front tires on each side of the vehicle. These could be on a front-most portion of the frame, underneath a front bumper, or similar.
- Next, place two more lights just behind the front tires.
- Finally, place the remaining two lights in front of the rear tires.
This setup serves as the most functional rock light mounting locations for off-roading at night for the full area of coverage. From the driver’s perspective, all you really need to see is the light from behind the front wheel and in front of the rear wheel. Your spotter will appreciate the two lights in the very front to help them keep you on the proper line.
For the serious wheelers:
If you're a serious off-roader, you might want to consider adding more than 6 rock lights. A great place to start would be by rounding out the overall coverage by adding two more lights behind the rear tires. Then, anything beyond that is going to be where you need additional fill or just for bonus points! Add a couple more in the dead-center of the vehicle for more coverage, or anywhere that you may find useful.
RGB Rock Lights vs Single Color White LEDs with Colored Lenses
One commonly asked question that we get here at KC is “what’s the difference between color changing RGB rock lights and ones that are just the one color?”. This is pretty simple, but it’s worth covering. In general, the single-colored LED lights (those that don’t have the ability to change colors with an app) are going to be brighter and provide more usable light. These can be purchased with colored lenses that control the color output, so the color often appears much more pure to the eye.
The LEDs used in RGB Lights essentially have 3 different colored dies in one package - Red, Green, and Blue. The individual dies themselves are smaller and are not designed to emit light at the intensity as larger, single-colored LEDs. Those are used in various brightnesses to create a full rainbow of color possibilities via an app or similar controller. Another tradeoff with these is that for any color that isn’t red, green, or blue, the color representation of the rock lights won’t quite be as crisp as a single color light that uses a colored lens to control the output color. Therefore, the “white” coming from an RGB may have hues of blue in it. However, the benefit of RGB Rock Lights is that you can adjust the color to whatever your personal style or scenario may call for. You may want to use white when setting up camp, then switch to red when finished and are using it for ambient lighting to attract fewer insects.
Rock Lights Questions and Answers
Q: What is the purpose of rock lights?
A: The purpose of rock lights is to illuminate the ground directly underneath the off-road vehicle to help provide light while rock crawling, setting up camp, etc. (Not to mention they can look cool)
Q: Do rock lights get hot?
A: RGB rock lights typically don't get hot, but our Cyclones can get hot to the touch due to the higher output. That being said, they still don’t get hot enough to the point of causing premature failure or melting of plastics/wiring/etc that they’re attached to or near.
Q: Are rock lights submersible?
A: Our Cyclone rock lights are submersible up to a maximum depth of 1.5m underwater for up to thirty minutes if they contain an IP 68 rating. Anything more than that, and you might not want to expose them to too long or too frequent submersion in water.
Q: Is there a difference between rock lights for Jeeps, UTVs, and trucks?
A: No, there is not a difference between rock lights for Jeeps, UTVs, trucks, or any other off-road vehicle for that matter.
Q: How many rock lights do I need on a truck or a UTV?
A: Six is the minimum amount of rock lights needed on a truck or UTV, and eight is for a very well-rounded light output.
Q: Will leaving rock lights on drain my battery?
A: While rock lights don’t consume much power, they will drain the vehicle’s battery if left on too long without the vehicle running. However, for a standard sized Toyota Tacoma battery that has a capacity of 100 AH, it would take more than 5 hours of being turned on with the battery off to have a significant drain on the battery. A UTV with a smaller battery capacity will take less time to drain, whereas a diesel truck with a larger battery will take more time to drain.