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Truck Topics

Upgrading Your Lighting: LED

By Sandy Long
Posted May 13th 2013 3:30AM
LED Turn Signal Whether you want to be up with the latest thing, get a better return on investment for your maintenance money, or make your older equipment safer or more attractive, LED lights are the new kid on the block and look like they will be around a long time.

LED stands for light-emitting diode and the lights first were introduced in 1962.  At that time, they were low light emitting, only came in white; nothing like the eye catching bright lights of today that come in all colors of the rainbow.  Since their invention, the green movement has been touting the advantages of using LEDs due to their using less amps to light (LED lamps typically use one fifth to one tenth of the power of incandescent lamps) and last longer; furthermore, they do not have mercury in them. 

The DOT has approved LED lights for use by commercial vehicles, but until recently, they were not available for all applications.  Today, new cars, trucks and trailers are very apt to have LED lighting as a standard feature; what if your vehicle is older though, why would you want to upgrade?   LED lights are said to:

Provide up to 100,000 hours of maintenance free life Have a very low amperage draw Light up faster Be seen from farther distances Minimizes downtime
There are three drawbacks to LED lighting, price, they do not heat to clear ice and/or snow and, according to many, are stolen often from vehicles parked overnight.

Prices on LED lights are high, depending on size.  For instance, a 4” round incandescent tail light sells for about $5.50 while a LED 4” round tail light will cost approximately $30.00.  However, with LED lights being more durable and able to handle the vibration of the road better than incandescent and lasting much longer, savings will occur in not having to replace the LEDs as often.  100,000 hours of continuous use would be roughly 11 years of life; however, from experience it is somewhat less. It is said that the best places to find LED lights at better prices is online.  There are many sites offering clearance deals on some types of LED lights.

One of the nice things about LED lights is the versatility of uses for them. Headlights are now available ( EmpireChromeShop.com has square LED headlights starting at $195.00, round LED headlights starting at $349.00). Flexible LED lights , used for decorative or interior lighting purposes, come in a variety of colors from white to purple to green and cost starting at $19.95 for a 24 light strip.   Single LED interior lights can provide pinpoint lighting to exactly where you need it.

Everyone has noticed that many stoplights are now LED.  These LED stoplights can mess up one’s night vision if one is not careful and make seeing street signs difficult.  The brightness is the most valuable asset to LED lights though, the safety feature in being able to be seen from farther distances than incandescent lights.  School buses and over dimensional loads with LED flashing lights can be seen easier and running in fog, snow or heavy rain benefits from the further being seen distance of LED lights. LED hazard lights may appear small when flashing from a distance, but they can be seen where many times incandescent lights cannot.

While stoplights and taillights are seen to be much brighter than incandescent, LED headlights are thought to provide a softer light than halogen or incandescent. However, the LED lights provide a broader light, making a driver’s nighttime seeing distance better, enhancing the safety of driving at night.

Some research is being done to address the lack of heat put out by LED lighting allowing ice and snow to build up.  As of yet, nothing can be found that has hit the mass market, but as research continues, with the demand of the auto/trucking industry along with the airport  LED usage, this issue will likely be solved in the near future.

Making the change to LED lights usually does not require any special brackets or pigtails; both configurations are found to fit most usual applications.  Make sure you know what type of pigtail connection you already have so you can match it. 

Paul, contracted trailer mechanic for Weston Transportation found a way to keep the LED lights coming in on Weston’s new trailers safe from thievery.  He drills out the rivets holding the brackets on the lights and puts putty behind the bracket, replaces the rivets with heavier bolts and nuts then strips the threading on the bolt end beyond the nut.  This makes the bracket virtually impossible to remove quickly or quietly.  This is a doable technique due to the long lasting life of the LEDs.

Another area of concern is the connections in the wiring; consistent energy has to continue to the LED light for it to work properly.  With the contamination from road conditions and chemicals used in winter causing corrosion and wire fraying if not breaking, connections need to be tight and secure. Some sort of covering substance should be used at connection points and wire joins to keep moisture and contaminants out.

With current trends in energy savings and safety, LED lights will surely become the norm in regulations concerning both cars and trucks.  Moreover, with the return on investment based on longevity and less downtime costs, it makes sense to replace those incandescent lights with LED lights when the incandescent burns out.  Just think, to boot, you will not have to worry so much if your old style incandescent light has burnt out after your pre-trip  causing you to get pulled over, that alone makes upgrading to LED lights the sensible thing to do.

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