Half-measures simply will not do when in need of announcing your presence on the road. No matter if you work in law enforcement, you regularly drive off-road or you’re simply interested in additional safety measures for your truck driving, investing in a full-size light bar is a wise choice.
An LED Light Bar uses electroluminescence emitted from a semiconductor diode that projects light outward with radiant power. It is a common form of LED lighting, except much more robust and convenient for driving applications. An LED light bar can certainly mean the difference between safety or unnecessary risk on the road, and is used by law enforcement every single day to help divert traffic and announce traffic stops. However, you should remember that D.O.T approval is necessary for a light bar’s use on conventional roads, as using the light indiscriminately could cause irritation and distraction to other drivers - not good.
But what exactly comprises an LED Light Bar? After all, in order to correctly utilize and maintain this advanced tool, ensuring a foundation of knowledge is always wise. If you’re going to use something as powerfully attention-grabbing as this, it’s worth knowing how said equipment operates. This goes for personal users, commercial users, or even those within emergency service departments hoping to give their prized staff further confidence in the tools they utilize. More than anything, an understanding of your various options can help you know how to purchase quality from a respectable supplier, rather than being wooed with overblown and untrue specifications elsewhere.
Housing and Construction
It’s important for an LED Light Bar to have its constituent components shielded within robust housing. This must also be impervious to light debris (such as snow or hale) as well as weatherproof. It must also be totally transparent in order to ensure maximum brightness is achieved.
There are two materials commonly used for LED Light Bar housing, and those are Aluminum and Polycarbonate.
Heavy-gauge aluminium is a fantastic material to use for LED housing, because it’s incredibly lightweight, can provide a cohesive visual and paintable housing to theme a light bar chassis with your vehicle aesthetic, and can be protected via an epoxy-based coating. This can prevent rust and marking from occurring - perfect for intensive weather situations. Aluminum is also an incredible heatsink, which at first glance may not seem that important when thinking of LED lighting, but on hot days this means an enhanced protective capacity. Aluminum is also odorless and non-toxic, meaning that it is a safe and reliable housing solution wlth plenty of folded tensile strength to keep your LED light bar as secure as can be.
Polycarbonate is a thoroughly unique kind of plastic. Utilizing transparent resins it boasts an extremely clear and up to 90% transparent housing. Not only this, but because of its tensile strength, it can withstand hard knocks, intense weather conditions, and is also tremendously easy to clean. This means that even with the brightest lenses behind the housing, polycarbonate will be able to transmit that with little to no impedance.
Compared to aluminum housing, it’s also much lighter, which can make the difference when considering the handling of a particular vehicle. For some that may not make much of a difference, but it’s easy to imagine how this could be essential for emergency service departments across the board. Not only this, but strength-to-weight and strength-to-stiffness measurements are practically the same in most applications.
Polycarbonate is, as evidenced below, also an amazing resinous plastic to use for LED light housing. This means that on a macro scale, when combined with that, you will have twice the protection of this strong and dependable coating. If you can trust a material to defend your most sensitive of LED sources, you can be sure that it will retain its utility for a lengthened, aerodynamic and streamlined LED light bar housing.
LED Light Housings
Polycarbonate LED light housings allow for a crystal clear transmission of the light therein, and permits each individual LED to boast its own housing and protective shell. The thin diffusion lenses again allow for 90% clarity and purity provided you purchase brand new. Polycarbonate is also easily shaped and undergoes that adaptive process while losing little of its overall strength, meaning that it can be utilized for a wide and complex array of potential lighting solutions.
The final stop to prevent impact damage is felt in the LED light housings, and that is if all else fails. This means that a material like this is substantiative and worthwhile enough to serve as the last-ditch attempt (even in a road traffic collision) to prevent your LED Light Bar from being damaged. In possible emergency service situations where police road maneuvres may be required or when police departments need to equip their vehicles with the strongest and most reliable equipment, polycarbonate plastics are the unsung heroes of light bar reliability.
There are two different types of LED light lens housings in emergency vehicle lights:
The TIR lens is known for shining all of the LED light in a direct beam, which can be perfect for spotlighting uses. This fantastic invention sprouted in the mid-90s when LED glow was usually felt at an output of 120 degrees, not suitable more dedicated and focused lighting needs. The TIR (total internal reflector) lens replicates torchlight beams, providing a greater beam of light focused in one immediate concentrated orientation, permitting greater distance and lighting strength to be reached.
TIR lenses are often welcomed by police departments, as police vehicles need to immediately shine vehicle lights to help temporarily light crime scenes at night, to allow for a singular focus on one vehicle or suspect, or direct traffic. Of course, this is not the only form of LED light lens that should be in use, as a wide variety of lighting needs are in play during the course of their duty. However, it’s important that officers are equipped with TIR lenses they can use confidently to announce and hold their presence on the road.
A Linear lens allows for the lighting source to remove potential ‘hot spots’ and so can provide a more even glow, best utilized for floodlight and combo light purposes. To use the prior police example, this can allow officers to park their vehicle in a dark environment and ensure other road users see it from a range of oncoming viewpoints and angles.
Of course, due to its spread this means that a linear lens, while very useful, will miss out on the concentrated power and thus directed brightness of a similarly powerful LED. For the best results, a cohesive set of purchasing decisions are needed, based on your most frequent utilities, the vehicle real estate you are working with for arranged installation, and the brands you select.
Circuit Board Wiring
In many full size 12v light bars, the circuit is linear with end-to-end connections allowing for cathodes and anodes to take a fairly chronological and easily-followed length along the bar. This can be a convenience for many hoping to repair or perhaps consider the maintenance of their own light bars.
Of course, this usually means that depending on the voltage of the LED bars, the amount of voltage supply needed to keep the entire length of the LED strips powered will be a simple formula to follow. For the most part, and despite rarely being labelled, the cathode points vertically into bulb and the anode will point horizontally.
Most circuit boards are connected to the LED light bar and qualitative testing will ensure that all circuits are primed and ready to work, but if not then it’s important to submit your warranty options and see what can be done. Issues could signify loose connectors, burned out diodes or incorrect voltages. In some cheaper aftermarket models it may even be that incorrect or lacking fitting of the resistor could lead to power insufficiencies.
In most practical applications, minor knowledge of LED wiring could allow for a personal ability to repair and replace shoddy LEDs, further increasing the utility of a purchased light bar. Of course, remember to read the terms of your warranty thoroughly, however, as it could be that this may void your agreement. Not only this, but confirming safety standards for commercial or domestic use are not guaranteed if conducting your own repairs here, and so it’s important to plan appropriately.
Mounts For Your Lightbar
Hard mounts are protected bracket clamps, surface mount brackets and internal mounts that are clamped, screwed or hooked into a certain platform, allowing for a fixed degree of control. This can take a little time to adjust or replace or remove, but hard mounts can often be a great means of guaranteeing further stability.
To best demonstrate this, we should use another example. An emergency service vehicle such as a police car or fire car may need immediate lighting in a certain direction while also parking in a predicament environment, and to that extent, their car could experience a few knocks. Even a few slight degrees of shift or an unstable platform could cause the light bars utility from being fully expressed, and to that degree may impede the job of the authorities.
Another benefit that hard mounts have is the ability to absorb shock from bumps, such as in off-roading applications. This can prevent the shocking force from being absorbed in the lighting LEDS, allowing for them to stay illuminating your path even in the most dangerous of off-roading situations. It’s for this reason that rally drivers, ice road truckers and many other off-road specialists utilize hard mounts in their off road light bars
One further benefit is that when hard mounted, it can be very hard for someone to remove said light bar from your vehicle. Light bars are valuable items with a wide array of practical uses, and so they can, unfortunately, be targeted by thieves and those with negative intentions. This means that with a secure installation on your vehicle, those hoping to remove your item will struggle to do so.
Of course, it also means that a vehicle is equipped with said light bar until otherwise removed, which can take time and effort to hook up once more, repeated endlessly depending on your needs. But for the protection and peace of mind of a managed light bar experience, this is a great selection, and often the most default option available throughout most product ranges.
Mini light bars or light bars that have a range of practical versatile uses may enjoy convenient installation via magnetic mounts. Magnetic mounts, you guessed it, allow for the magnetized connection of a light bar to your vehicle. It’s important to note that, as explored above, you pay for this flexibility with a lack of security, and some larger lights may not sustain their weight without being thoroughly and fully installed.
That being said, for minor portable lights, in arranged situations such as night time fishing where lighting needs can differ or even as a spare mounting option should your prior lighting solution break, this can be a wise choice. You may also not wish to impede the visual standing of your car by installing large mounts for light bars if only using them once in a while, and so for many this can provide a neat, alternative option. It’s best to weigh up your possible uses of your light bar, your installation requirements and what your vehicle’s practical allowances are before you move forward with a decision. You may always contact us for a curated and expert assessment.
The components of an LED light bar are fairly simple, yet contribute to a robust and integrated whole that allows for a reliable lighting experience. When considering your daily practical needs and the vehicle that provides the grounding for said installation, you can filter your purchasing options appropriately. When keeping these components in mind you may also individually inspect each feature to ensure the item is of trustworthy quality. For specialist equipment such as this, only the best will do.