What are roof/overhead light bars for off-road vehicles, and why are they useful?

For a really great explanation of roof mounted light bars 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 roof LED light bars, continue reading the rest of the article.

Roof / Overhead Light Bars Defined

Throughout this article, we’ll be referring to the exact same mounting location for a light bar, so it’ll help to first cover where that is. We refer to LED light bars in these location as “roof” light bars simply because they get mounted onto the roof of your vehicle, just above the windshield. Typically, the intent behind using these roof light bars is to enhance your long distance vision so that it is easier to identify upcoming obstacles that are far off in the distance or simply ones that are approaching quickly if you’re traveling at a high rate of speed. “Roof light bars” is the most commonly used term for lights that get mounted here, but we often also refer to them of “overhead light bars”. This is because they most often get mounted in the area on the vehicle directly over your head and above the windshield vs being mounted up top but at the back of the cab.

Light bar with KC covers

Mounting Locations for Roof Light Bars

These light bars often require some special, vehicle-specific brackets that place the lights in a precise location above the windshield of the vehicle that account for width, height, and distance from the hood/dash. The vehicle that they are going on will determine the mount itself, but in general, trucks like Tacomas, Raptors, etc will often have mounting brackets that gets mounted into the rain gutter/sill of the vehicle, whereas Jeeps will often mount down below the windshield and then rise up along the outer a-pillar for the proper height of the overhead light bar. Another albeit less common option is for mounts to wrap around the truck body and then drill into and mount directly inside of the door frame of the vehicle.

Adjusting lights on KC light bar

Aiming your Roof Light Bar

When it comes to aiming your roof mounted lightbar, it’s actually surprisingly simple:

  1. Turn your headlights and any other lower mounted, forward-facing lights on.
  2. Turn your roof mounted light bar on
  3. Aim it intentionally too high and pointed at the sky/trees
  4. Slowly aim it lower and lower until it overlaps the beams from your other lights by about 15-30%

Now, there is only one exception to this aiming guidelines, and that’s if you are driving a UTV/Prerunner/something else that has a lot of suspension travel and power. In these types of vehicles, they tend to “squat” when accelerating (the rear end lowers and the front end raises). If you’re driving a vehicle that does this, you’d then want to lower the aim of the light bar a little bit lower to ensure you have the light exactly where you need it when you’re accelerating or traveling at your typical speed.

Light bar on white car

Best Beam Patterns for Roof Light Bars

In the majority of cases, a light bar mounted overhead will be a combo beam pattern. In the center of the bar will be spot beam optics which are used to achieve the ultimate beam distance. Then, the ends of the light bar will be a wider, more spread optic which is used to still provide distance while also balancing out the overall beam to provide a bit more horizontal width than something with only spot beams. Trophy trucks and other vehicles that are off-roading at incredibly high speeds may occasionally opt for custom products that contain all spot beam optics for overhead lights, but this is a very niche use case and often times doesn’t result in the best and most balanced beam pattern overall for most of us more general off-roaders.

Light bar with bright lights in forest

Limitations of Overhead/Roof Light Bars

In order to provide a truly balanced article on Overhead Light Bars 101, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the limitations and the cons of a roof mounted light bar. As you have seen above, there are some incredible pros to them such as performance and aesthetics, but there are two cons in particular to be aware of.

The first downside of a roof light bar is that no matter how refined and precise the beam pattern is, there is still going to be some spill light that illuminates the hood of the vehicle. In some cases, depending on the mounting position (if it’s too far back) the light bar may even light up the dash/interior of the vehicle as well. However, with proper placement of the bar and with a refined beam pattern, this can be minimized so that it isn’t horrific. That said - this downside very much depends on the type and placement of the light bar itself.

The next downside of light bars mounted overhead is simply the wind noise that comes with mounting something this high up on your vehicle. Depending on the type and the design, some of the light bars with lesser thought put into the design will even howl or whistle at highway speeds.

Man holding KC light bar


Jeep owners: Don't miss our comprehensive Light Bars for Jeep Guide with even more useful information.