Well there’s a lot to this question and not all of it is based on facts and figures. If you owned a two door buzz box and someone said 9” spotties was the way forward, you’d probably get a second opinion. Likewise if you have a new-series Land Cruiser and someone recommended a 6” light bar you probably wouldn’t think much of their advice. Horses for courses is really how it works out and there’s a reason why both are currently in the market, although the differences are reducing by the month.
The traditional view is that driving lights are for distance and light bars are for width. While this was true 5 years ago, it’s not quite so relevant now. When HID was a big thing (remember that?) everyone believed they needed to see 5km down the road. With the invention of the light bar, people started to realise that the kangaroo they hit is actually right next to them, not 5km down the road. So started a battle of which was best, often resolved by having both. In fact this combination does actually work very well as long as you don’t mind the issues that come with HID.
Anyway, fast forward to today and we have Light Bars capable of 1 lux at 1km, LED driving lights giving 1 lux at 1.2km and we find that HID is not as important as it was. The battle field has changed but there is still a battle on. Driving Lights vs Light Bars, Light Bars vs Driving Lights.
So, there’s a good few aspects we can look at to try and get closer to a decision and narrow the options down. The three main points we believe are important are:
- Driving conditions and terrain
- What you think looks best
Where are you driving most? Is it high country, flat plains or a combination? Do you have a lot of feral animals and what is the verge condition like?
As we mentioned earlier the rule of thumb is driving lights for distance and light bars for width. While this still holds true it’s mainly because we buy one light bar and always buy two driving lights. The most common light bar fitted is 120W, typically around 20” (or 550mm for the younger lot). The most common driving lights fitted would be a pair of 9” 120W’s. Not surprising you get twice the distance then. The other reason for this logic is that when LED bars were introduced LED themselves were very new into the high-powered market. The LED’s were not very high performing and the optics were, frankly, worse. HID was still in vogue and so made the poor newcomers look very silly for distance. As they have evolved over the past decade both have improved massively but the original thought concept has stuck.
Following this train of thought then, flat country wants distance (with some width) and high country with lots of bends, twists and turns would benefit from a light bar. Study the manufacturers beam patterns, or better still, get in a vehicle with the lights you’re checking out and find out for yourself.
Even if we ignore the opening comments, there is some sense in fitting out a vehicle appropriately. As bull bars are not available for smaller SUV’s and passenger cars then a light bar on a nudge bar or number plate bar makes sense. On most full-size SUV’s and UTE’s there are umpteen bar options, all having the facility to fit driving lights or a light bar. For vehicles where the owner feels a nudge bar light is too red-neckish, then integrating a light bar in the front grill is now possible on most vehicles.
If you have enough width available for a 600-700mm light bar then this last point is really the decider no matter what your terrain is unless you desperately want 1 lux over 1km. If that’s the case then you’re best off with a pair of driving lights.
With so many vehicles having lights nowadays it’s very easy for you to get an idea of what you like the look of. Again, once you’ve decided on what sort of light to go for, research the options thoroughly. There is heaps of options at all ends of the price spectrum and unfortunately the retail price doesn’t guarantee you anything. Beam patterns are useful to give an idea but by far the best is to get your fitter or supplier to do a money-back option to ensure you’re comfortable with what you buy.