What’s The Best Aftermarket Lighting Technology for Your Bronco? Let's Take a Look at the Options
Several automotive lighting technologies have ebbed and flowed in popularity over the years. There was a time when halogen lighting was pretty much the only game in town. Halogen off-road lighting could pretty much be had without shelling out too much cash and it always seemed to get the job done, although it did have its drawbacks.
Then HID (high-intensity discharge) lighting entered the market, first showing up on BMW 7-series sedans in the early ’90s. Onlookers couldn’t help but be impressed when they saw those crystal clear beams emanating from the front of an Ultimate Driving Machine, as they were noticeably whiter in color than halogen — you could say that they were as intense as their technological name suggested.
Some 15 years later, LED lighting would prove itself a newcomer to be reckoned with — Lexus first featured it on their LS600h low beams and Audi would go all in on the technology a year later, outfitting its V10-powered R8 from front to back with LED lighting.
Ultimately, all of these technologies would prove themselves not only on production cars, but in the aftermarket sphere for off-roading SUVs as well. And since all three are still out there, perched on vehicles to light the proverbial path ahead, let’s take a look at the pluses and minuses of halogen, HID and LED lighting for your Bronco.
As we’ve noted, halogen lighting is the veritable O.G. of automotive illumination. It was first introduced on cars in the early 1960’s and, while it shares a lot of its technology with the purely incandescent headlights it rendered obsolete, halogen lighting offered a much brighter glow, due to the inclusion of bromide inside the bulb. As a side note, believe it or not, if you go back far enough in automotive history, you’ll find that the earliest cars were outfitted with kerosene lamps, which no doubt had their issues in inclement weather. To this day, halogen generally remains the least expensive aftermarket lighting option for your Ford Bronco, or any other vehicle.
Halogen headlights and auxiliary lighting work pretty much like the incandescent bulb you’d find helping to light your house, although the prevalence of LED bulbs is certainly changing the game. Electricity passes through the bulb’s filament to create light. Simple as that. And, like household bulbs, they’re available in a variety of wattages, although the more wattage a halogen driving light carries, the brighter its going to be.
It’s this quest for maximum brightness that will underscore some of halogen aftermarket lighting’s shortcomings. As far as the power required for it to perform properly, halogen lighting is the least efficient option out there. It draws quite a bit of juice and, as you’d expect, that draw increases in lockstep with the intensity of the bulbs, as well as the number of halogen lights that are added. So, while an individual 100-watt halogen light’s draw of around 8amps really isn’t much in the scheme of things, when you mount four or so of them on your front bumper, their collective demand starts to add up. In addition, halogen tends to put out a yellowish tint at lower wattages that stresses the eyes in challenging situations more than the other technologies would.
Obviously, the use of relays and high-gauge wiring will mitigate any safety concerns, but no matter how you look at it, halogen lighting, whether it be in the form of pod lights or a light bar, will always pull the most electricity of the three off-road lighting technologies we’re exploring.
HID (high intensity discharge) Lighting
While plenty of us may still be under the impression that the “Xenon” in Xenon lighting constitutes a brand name, it doesn’t. It’s actually a form of gas that HID lighting features inside the bulb to amplify an arc between two electrodes that are packed in a tube and also housed inside the bulb. It’s this arc that provides enhanced illumination, as the gas and metal salts combine to form plasma.
HID lighting leverages a more complicated process than does halogen, but yields some decided benefits.
Since conventional DC current isn’t strong enough on its own to facilitate this process, HID lights require an ignitor and ballast to amplify their voltage and give the lighting its intensity. In high end passenger cars like the BMW 7-series that was the original flagship for the technology, both the ignitor and ballast are built right into the light housing, which makes installation no more difficult than other technologies.
For off-roaders, there are still HID rigs that feature externally mounted ignitors and ballasts, which does add a step to the installation process.
Prices for HID lighting have gradually come down over the years since those BMW sedans first turned heads, but they’re still on the higher end of this trio. Where this technology really does excel, though, comes in the area of sheer power. HID lights have a much longer throw than their halogen counterparts when you compare similar wattage — like pitting a 35 watt halogen bulb against a 35 watt HID, for example — and this can really yield a tangible benefit when you’re navigating a challenging road in less than optimal lighting conditions. Better still, all this intensity comes with a relatively modest power draw that will lessen the risk of anything going south with your Bronco’s electrical system.
Without a doubt, LED (light emitting diode) technology has proliferated far more than the other options listed here in recent years. There was a time when the mere mention of LEDs sounded absolutely cutting edge and futuristic, whereas now this form of lighting is considered commonplace and seems to become more so with every passing year.
There are plenty of reasons why LED lighting has become so popular for off-road vehicles. LEDs are now manufactured in staggering amounts, so their price has come down markedly from when the technology first got a foothold. More importantly, the technology itself offers some decided benefits over the other options we’ve already looked at. The service lifespan of LEDs is literally about 10x that of halogen — if you’ve already installed LED bulbs in your house, you probably already have an idea of how much greater their longevity is over traditional household lighting. The same holds true when they’re tasked with lighting the way forward for your Bronco.
Also, the amperage draw of LED lighting is very low, requiring about 75% less power than halogen to achieve the same level of brightness. And because LEDs are so space efficient, lighting manufacturers can pack a lot of them in a relatively small space, such as in the case of an off-road lighting bar. Just as important, when properly manufactured, LED off-road lighting is generally a very durable technology.
In spite of the inherent superiority that LED offers in a number of areas, it’s still important to pay close attention to the actual specifications of the lighting rig you’re considering. Wattage is wattage, and the more of it that you have at your disposal, the brighter you can expect your lighting to be. So if you see an inexpensive unit being advertised that looks great aesthetically but features only modest wattage, be prepared to be disappointed when you finally get the chance to fire up that lighting rig in real world conditions. Quality always matters.