Driving lights for 4x4s – you don’t need to spend a fortune

A high-speed collision with a kangaroo may cause the loss of control of your vehicle, major vehicle damage, serious injury or even death. Photo Thomas Cook

Brad Allen

I have had driving lights (spotlights) on my 4×4 vehicles for many years, as the standard headlights can only be described as barely adequate at best. Anyone who has done much night driving outside of our major cities and towns will attest to the ever-present threat of ‘kangaroo strikes’.

Where I live on the Western Darling Downs of Queensland, kangaroo numbers have increased dramatically over the past 30-odd years. Back then it was rare to see a kangaroo on the Warrego Highway, but now we regularly see roos feeding in paddocks and many dead ones on the roads as a result of vehicle hits.

There are two important items that can assist the travelling motorist in this regard. They are the implementation of a good bull bar, aka roo bar, on the vehicle to avoid excessive damage should we hit a Skippy. The other is the installation of good driving lights (spotlights) on the vehicle so we can hopefully see any roos first and ultimately avoid the collision all together.

My current 4×4 is a Toyota Landcruiser Prado, which is an excellent choice for my purposes and it’s a pleasure to drive, both on and off road. The addition of a pair of older technology HID spotlights (the kind that appear to throw a blueish coloured light) greatly assisted my night driving. However with the evolution of LED light technology, I decided to retire the HIDs and replace them with an LED light bar. The old lights didn’t go to waste and are mounted on our paddock-bashing Suzuki Sierra.

LED lights are produced by many companies and come in two forms ‑ light bars of numerous lengths and the regular round spotlight variety of varying sizes. Both throw excellent light, but I particularly like the slim and tidy appearance of the light bar as they take up less room on the roo bar, so opted for one of those.

Driving lights range in price from extremely cheap, for under $60 for a ‘Kings’ light bar, to more than $600 ‘each’ for the high-quality brands such as the excellent Lightforce or Great Whites spotties. I opted to experiment with one of the better-quality cheaper options, from Kings ‑ the Domin8r 22″ LED light bar, which throws 5254 lumens of light for just under $60. A bonus of the cheaper unit is that if it is taken out by a kangaroo I won’t cry when I have to replace it.

The HIDs had worked well, but after using the new LED light bar, I can say I’m a convert. It throws a brilliant clear white light that easily picks up recalcitrant macropods along the sides of the highways and back roads at night. And the LEDs draw very little power in the process.

Spotlights are legal in all states and territories, but regulations governing their number and placement on vehicles does vary. One of the great things about the internet is that all state and territory police services have websites where we can go for the information we need.

Another excellent source of information on the subject is from your local auto electrician. These guys fit spotlights to vehicles every day. They know what can and can’t be done with the fitting of them, both legally and practically.

I have heard some horror stories about spotlights, mostly those that have been fitted to the vehicle by a ‘good mate’ for free. In some instances, it’s only the fact that a ‘fuse’ did its job that stopped the vehicle from catching fire from sub-standard wiring attempts. The moral of the story is to have an experienced auto electrician to fit your spotlights. A lot of modern vehicles don’t lend themselves to tinkering with the electrics. I’m sure the vehicle manufacturer and your insurance company would not be impressed if a botched amateur effort fails and burns out your new 4×4.

I recently had a conversation with a Traffic Police Officer who smiled as he recounted an incident involving someone’s mate fitting spotlights. He had stopped a 4×4 on the highway that had its spotlight bar on in the middle of the day. The vehicle owner was blissfully unaware that the light was on, but was unable to turn it off. His mate had fitted the light a few days prior, directly to the battery in such a way that it came on when the vehicle was operating, but couldn’t be switched off. No ‘off’ switch. This incident cost more in fines than it would have done to have the job done properly in the first place.

For safety and longevity of the installation, the correct wiring harness, circuit protection, relays, connectors and switches need to be installed and integrated with the vehicle’s electrics. Failure to do so can often result in electrical problems and failure of the driving lights, or worse.

Kangaroo and feral animal strikes are unfortunately a common occurrence all over Australia, and often cause varying amounts of damage to vehicles.

At best, this may end with a damaged or disabled vehicle, and at worst, injury or death to the motorist. Properly fitted driving lights can be a great asset, especially when travelling outside major metropolitan areas. It gives drivers the advantage of being able to see kangaroos or other animals on the road at a much greater distance. This in turn offers a far better opportunity to avoid the collision altogether, and the resulting damage and vehicle disablement.

Over the years, I have hit my fair share of kangaroos while driving at night in the Outback, with and without the protection of a roo bar and driving lights. Two roos through the radiator of a Commodore with no driving lights or roo bar, saw me spend two days in Tambo, Central Queensland, waiting for parts and repairs. If I’d had the assistance of driving lights on that trip, I’m sure the outcome would have been far different, as it’s virtually impossible to avoid what you can’t see.

There are an extensive choice of driving lights on the market, from the cheapies right through to the more expensive brand names offered by most major 4×4 accessory outlets.

Check the internet and have a look at the prices. Just beware of ultra-cheap lights sold online as they often offer little in the way of quality. But the lights that you select, whether LED light bar or conventional round lights, LED or HID, large or small, are totally up to you, and of course the depth of your pockets.

In keeping with the LED light bar theme, I’m thinking that my next project will be one of the longer light bars, mounted above the cab, to the roof rack of the Prado. Light shining down from that height greatly eliminates the effect of shadows that happen with lower mounted lights, ultimately giving a clearer and broader span of light into the roadsides.

At the time of writing, the cost of having a professional auto electrician to wire your vehicle and fit your new spotlights was under $250, plus the amount for whatever lights you select. This is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes from a professionally done job.

I believe that my experiment with driving lights from the ‘cheaper end of town’ demonstrates that you don’t have to spend a fortune to have the safety advantage that driving lights provide. So, fit some spotlights or a light bar to your touring vehicle and hit the road into the great outdoors.

Brad Allen’s previous Nissan Patrol with a pair of conventional round spotlights.
The new Kings 22" light bar fitted to the roo bar of Brad’s Prado. Powerful, slim and neat.
Brad’s nephew Frank, an auto electrician, completes the job.
Fitting relays into the wiring harness is a necessary step to protect the vehicle’s electrics.
Knowing which wires to use is only a job for professionals.
In the great Aussie Outback, few 4x4s don’t have spotlights to assist with safe driving after dark.
On a buffalo hunting trip to Arnhem Land, spotlights were invaluable when driving after dark.
On the highway with only the high beam on. Barely adequate.
On the dirt with only the high beam.
On the highway with the spotlight turned on dramatically increases vision distance.
On the dirt with the light bar on. Again, much better distance and side vision. Now we might see the roos and avoid any collisions.


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