If you do much night driving out of the city aftermarket driving lights are a pretty worth while accessory. The factory lighting on most 4WD’s is not nearly bright enough to give you time to safely stop if wildlife decides to cross in front of you, or to even make well timed decisions on a 4WD track.
Today, there are lots of different products on the market to make driving at night safer and more comfortable.
Some people do long distance night driving on straight, bitumen roads full of roaming cattle and need to see up to a kilometre in front, while others need lots of light around their vehicle for slower off road work.
What ever your requirements, you’ll find lights to fulfil them; there’s more on the market today than you can poke a stick at.
The most common option is to fit Spot lights or LED light bars. These both have their own pro’s and cons and that’s a post for another day, but today we are looking into mounting positions, and where you can physically install them.
No matter where you install driving lights there will be a compromise one way or another. You’ve got to decide what you prefer to live with based on your individual circumstances.
Please know however, that there are a number of locations where you are not allowed to mount LED light bars and spotlights (and this may vary from state to state!). If you ignore this you risk getting pulled over and defected (and that can be a major hassle as everything gets checked!).
You can get light bar brackets, and spot light brackets for a whole range of different positions. Pick wisely, as this is one of 32 ways to make your 4WD illegal.
So, where can you mount LED Light bars and Spot Lights, and what are the pros and cons of each?
In the bull bar
When I say in the bull bar, I mean under the main hoop, in front of your radiator. This is by far the most common place to mount spotlights and light bars, but its not the perfect position. Generally bull bars come with light bar mounts/spotlight mounts as a standard fitment.
If you are in the market for a Bull Bar, have a read of this as it covers everything you need to think about before laying your cash down; What to look for in a 4WD Bull Bar.
It hinders your cooling ability
By putting anything in front of your radiator, you are going to make your vehicle work harder to keep the engine cool. If you have an automatic transmission, it will most likely make the transmission cooler work harder too.
The engineers who build 4WD’s design the air flow to work in a certain way, and if you block it then you can have significant issues.
One of the first things you do to a vehicle that is overheating is remove anything in front of the radiator as it blocks air flow. Small, slim line LED light bars are best in this position, as they restrict as little as possible air flow.
A big set of 9 inch spotlights inside your bull bar is going to kill the air flow making its way through your air conditioner condenser, radiator, intercooler and automatic transmission cooler.
Not all lights fit
Most Bull bars will not take LED light bars wider than about 700mm. Beyond that, a lot of the full size spotlights also won’t fit under the main hoop, either because they are too tall, or because they are too deep and the bolt holes won’t work.
Also, the law says you can’t have anything protruding further forward than your bull bar, so if your big spotlights do fit, but hang out in front of the bar, they aren’t legal. Not my idea of sense, but that’s how it is.
On top of the bull bar
The next obvious choice to mount your light bar on top of the bull bar. The problem is, at least in WA, you aren’t allowed LED light bars in this position. Spotlights, well, that’s a no too, according to the latest PDF released by the department of transport.
The technical wording is above your bonnet height, so you may find some bull bars that comply, but its pretty rare.
You aren’t allowed to affect your field of view from the drivers seat, which a big set of spot lights on top of your bull bar is going to do. Even if you were allowed to mount them there, its not going to help with aerodynamics, and its probably the easiest position to steal them from.
A light bar on top of the Bull Bar is classed as being dangerous to pedestrians in the same way that you’ll cop a yellow sticker for running a set of fishing rod holders there.
In the bumper
If you aren’t running a bull bar, you can actually mount some slim LED bars inside the bumper – even up to around 800mm long. This is fantastic use of space, its down low enough not to affect the cooling and its hidden out of the way.
The problem of course, is most people remove the bumper and fit a bull bar if going off road and finding brackets to attach them to can be a bit of a mission.
Under the bull bar
I have seen a few people mount LED Light bars under their bull bar. It’s not a bad position, except for it being extremely vulnerable to animals going under the car if you hit something, and more importantly rocks and sticks when you are 4WDing.
I’d rather know that the most likely point at the front of the car to hit something is a piece of steel than a nice LED Light bar! Also, the lower the light bar, the less spread you get. The difference between a roof mounted LED light bar and one down low is quite astounding.
On the roof
Moving on, you can now mount LED light bars and spotlights on your roof in WA. This refers to your roof racks, Ute canopy, roll bars and even the roof itself.
This is a great place to mount them, providing they don’t shine onto your bonnet, and you accept that it is probably going to cost you a bit more in fuel due to reduced aerodynamics (unless they fill the gaps). We run a 42 inch Stedi Light Bar on the roof racks of our canopy.
Having a light bar on the roof rack meant for a quick installation, easy cable management (through the canopy) and its positioned well to light the front of the vehicle up.
You can get light bar mounts that attach directly to the roof of your vehicle (like the Bullseye ones), or you can mount them to existing roof racks.
In order to ensure they don’t shine on your bonnet, you need to mount the light low enough, or far enough back that the roof of your car physically stops any light from going down onto the bonnet or bull bar. This is imperative; its dangerous (and illegal) having light reflecting off your vehicle.
The alternative is to mount some aluminium flat bar under the light bar, to stop the light going downwards.
If you don’t have roof racks, you can get roof mount light bar brackets that attach directly to the roof. Of course, mounting lights on the roof isn’t a perfect solution either. Ours sticks up a lot, which makes clearance an issue, decreases my fuel consumption and requires a bit more work to adjust where it points.
EDIT – I’ve actually flipped ours around now so it sits under the canopy, and asides from the occasional whistling it seems to work just as well.
In WA, your lights must be installed symmetrically. This means if you mount one light, it must be in the middle of the vehicle. If you mount two, they need to be opposite each other, and symmetrical.
If you go with 3, they need to be evenly spread across the width of your vehicle.
Maximum of 4 lights
You are not allowed to install more than 4 light bars, or 4 spot lights in combination. That means vehicles you see with 4 spotlights on the roof racks and a light bar (or more) are not legal.
Does not cause discomfort or likelihood of injury
This is a bit of a general statement, but it says you are not allowed to cause discomfort to the driver or likelihood of injury. For example, if your LED light bar shines on the bonnet and has a significant reflection, this is discomfort.
If your light bar so happens to reflect off your side mirrors and into your face, its discomfort. For a long time light bars were illegal on the roof for this very reason.
In terms of likelihood of injury, this refers to driving light brackets being rounded, out of the way and as safe as possible if you were to collide with a pedestrian.
Must be linked to high beam switch
This is old news, and well known. When you turn your high beams off, it must kill all driving lights too. You are not allowed to be able to turn your driving lights on without having high beam on.
Pretty simple; the lights these days are strong enough to blind oncoming traffic from over a kilometre away, so the faster you can turn them off the better.
Where’s the best mounting position?
No matter where you mount your lights, there is going to be some sort of downsides. I chose to accept the fuel economy loss by mounting the LED light bar on the roof, in order to do it legally, to get a great big light and to not sacrifice any cooling ability by blocking access to the radiator.
With all the mods done to the Dmax the motor works harder, and I wouldn’t want to hurt the cooling system any more. I also like having the bar back a bit because it allows more light to shine on the sides of the car, where the kangaroos love to wait and ambush you!
So far I’ve not hit anything, but driving lights aren’t a guarantee of this, they just give you more time to react in most situations.
Where you mount your lights is entirely up to you, but I hope after reading this, you’ll have a better idea of the pros and cons of each mounting position, and be able to make an educated decision.
If you want to read the formal link from the department of transport check this out: Fitment and use of additional and optional vehicle lights.
Where have you mounted your spotlights and LED Light bars? What do you prefer, and why?