As LED light bars have grown in popularity, so too has their market. Once a specialty product, there are now numerous models of LED light bars from which to choose, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. If this is your first time shopping for a mounted light for your truck or off-road vehicle, you may be unclear as to the differences between these models and how you can be certain that the product you choose best suits your needs. Thankfully, you can use a few distinguishing factors to separate unreliable models from those that are worth your money to ensure that the LED light bar you choose will provide unmatched illumination when you need it the most.
Why LED Light Bars?
First, it should be mentioned that not all light bars make use of LED bulbs. There are also a fair number of models out there that utilize halogen or high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting, and you may be curious as to why an LED light bar is the superior choice. The difference is five-fold:
- Efficiency - LED bulbs are among the most efficient on the market, using up to half as much wattage as their HID counterparts and as much as a tenth as halogen models.
- Size - LED bulbs are tiny despite their power, meaning that the mount you choose will take up very little space and add very little weight to your vehicle.
- Length - With an average lifespan of up to 40,000 hours, there’s a good chance that the bulbs in your mount will outlive your vehicle.
- Durability - LED circuit boards are not susceptible to damage caused by vibrations or impact, making them an excellent choice for the bumpiness and unpredictability of off-roading.
- Style - LED lights can be created in various colors, shapes, sizes, and styles. If customizability is your thing, you’ll be certain to find a model that perfectly suits the look of your vehicle.
All these benefits admittedly make LED light bars more expensive than halogen or HID models. For that extra cost, though, you’re getting a superior product and one whose durability and long life will save you money in the long run. And while environmental heat can play a larger role in the performance of LED lights than it does for other bulbs, that problem can be remedied by purchasing a quality model with a dedicated heat sink. The question, then, is what makes for a quality LED light bar.
LED Light Bar Brands
As the LED market has grown, certain manufacturers have distanced themselves from the pack by consistently producing bulbs that surpass the competition regarding both performance and reliability. One such manufacturer is CREE, which has spent over twenty years developing and honing its LED technology. Their bulbs are used by many companies as the lighting component of their mounts and have earned their place as the industry standard. What’s more, the previously mentioned issue with environmental heat is much less pronounced for models that make use of CREE bulbs, as their protective heatsinks are typically much more effective than those offered by cheaper and less reliable models.
LED Light Bar Features
Now that you know the benefit of LED lighting and going with a trusted manufacturer, the only question that remains is what exactly you plan on using your LED light bar for. As mentioned, LED light bars now come in a wide range of features and capabilities, which means that there’s almost certainly a model out there that fits your exact needs.
Obviously, the first concern is whether the bar you choose will fit on your vehicle. If you’re looking to mount it to the roof of a full-size truck, you’ll likely be looking for something along the lines of a 44" or 50" LED light bar. The 50" model offers both amber and white lighting within one bar; the amber provides mid-range floodlighting while the white offers a longer, narrower spot beam. Both can be used independently or at once, offering you a great deal of on-the-fly flexibility in your lighting. That is not to say, however, that those features are contained to longer models. A 22" light bar, for example, offers the same flexible lighting capabilities in a less powerful, more compact package perfect for mounting to your vehicle’s grille.
- Beam Angle
While those models offer both spot and floodlighting (as well as a combination of the two), not every LED light bar provides all three beam angles. Generally speaking, you’ll want the long, concentrated light of a spot beam for driving, as its powerful, narrow illumination will allow you to identify far-off hazards before they pose a threat. If you’re more interested in using your light bar to illuminate an area - say, a worksite - the width provided by a flood beam angle will likely be more of use to you.
Despite their advanced technology, LED lights are unfortunately still susceptible to defects caused by water and dust intrusion to their components. As with heat issues, though, that concern can almost entirely be addressed by purchasing a model that boasts high-rated protection against those dangers. The rating in question is known as ingress protection, or IP; the five scores common to LED light bars (which indicate the hazards they’re tested to protect against) are as follows.
IP65 – dust, nozzle-projected water
IP66 – dust, powerful jet-projected water
IP67 – dust, temporary immersion in up to one meter of water
IP68 – dust, constant immersion in one meter or more of water
IP69K – dust, high-pressure, and high-temperature water spray
Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is to consider the worst hazards that the vehicle to which your light bars will be attached will realistically encounter; then, if possible, buy one grade up to be safe.
Adding an LED light bar to your vehicle is one of the easiest ways to improve its capabilities, to add a new degree of safety and usefulness to your everyday truck or off-roader. We hope that this guide has given you the information you need to search for the perfect model. If you have any further questions about which LED light bar best suits your needs - or if you have any other questions about the remarkable power of LED lighting - please feel free to contact one of our friendly and knowledgeable customer service representatives.
Meet the Author: Extreme LED has been helping offroad enthusiasts with their LED lighting needs since 2011. We have built our company to provide you with the best experience from shopping to customer support and ultimately use and longevity of our products. Our high-performance LED Light Bars & Pods are covered by our Lifetime Warranty and with free shipping over $100, you can rest assured that you are getting a high-quality product that will provide long-lasting lighting for your vehicle.