When I bought my first vehicle, there weren’t as many 4WDs running around as there are now. These days, it seems that every second vehicle is an SUV.
The only 4WD I fondly remember from the 70s and 80s is the Toyota FJ40 in rustic green with the odd spot of rust. As soon as I saw that FJ with white Sunraysia rims, I knew I wanted to own a 4WD. But being fresh out of school and with little money to my name, I had to wait.
My parents suggested a used Holden sedan would be the ‘safer’ choice. Purchasing one of these did little to squash the 4WD bug within me, but after the purchase, other aspects of the automotive world also started to pique my interest.
At the time, rally driving was the big thing and many corporations jumped onto the bandwagon of producing outlandish vehicles covered in advertising.
They looked very cool with their out-there designs of exaggerated body flares, coloured alloy wheels and knobby tyres.
But the biggest thing that has stuck in my mind is the lighting. You’d see multiple lights taking up plenty of real estate at the front of the bonnet and along the roof line. At the time, halogen driving lights were the latest technology and were quickly becoming a must-have accessory for even suburban vehicles. Manufacturers like Hella, with their white and black plastic covers, and KC, with their soft yellow and black covers, really struck a chord for me.
Like many others, I got my first pair of driving lights, which cost me about a month’s pay, so I too could look like a rally driver. As if! I can’t remember what brand they were but I do recall that they offered much improved lighting over the Holden’s fitted candles that lit no further than the end of my parent’s driveway.
WHAT’S HOT IN LIGHTING?
Fast forward a few decades and 4WDs and associated aftermarket businesses have bloomed into a multi-million dollar industry. Nowadays they’re selling all manner of things, ranging from seat covers to engine swaps, with plenty else in between.
Improved 4WD lighting would be up there at the top of everyone’s must-have modifications list. You only have to visit your local 4WD shop to see an array of lighting options displayed on their walls to confirm lighting is big business.
These days most 4WDs come fitted with headlights that offer reasonable lighting for built-up areas, but these factory lights are a poor substitute for long range lighting when on the open road or bush tracks. They simply don’t offer adequate illumination for those long stretches of road when you’re travelling at speed.
Many owners opt for globe replacements to enhance their stock headlights or even complete new headlight assemblies which improve general lighting for differing surroundings, but nothing will give you bang for your buck like adding extra driving lights to the front of your 4WD.
It’s also worth noting that replacing headlight assemblies can be fraught with legal issues, especially if choosing LED-featured assemblies, so in my opinion it’s best to avoid this option and opt for adding separate driving lights. It’s easier and safer.
In case you missed it, the Australian government has also announced a ban on halogen bulbs which will come into effect from September 2020.
MY CURRENT LIGHTING
Luckily for me, when my new Jeep Wrangler recently arrived (yep, I ordered a new one), I was delighted that like many of the newer 4WDs, it came with LED headlights as standard. This was a welcome addition that was much better than my previous Wrangler’s joke of lighting that harked back to the time of the Toyota FJ40.
While I was glad of this, and the everyday lighting was much improved, it still did not suffice for driving out on the open road, especially on those long stretches of outback tracks.
Recently there’s been a flood of ancillary lights on the market, with LED now being the prominent leader for improving lighting for 4WDs.
LED driving lights offer many benefits over halogen alternatives. In brief, they offer a brighter, sharper, whiter light, are more robust, offer a longer life span and draw much less current than halogen. These benefits were exactly what I was after when I decided to brighten up my Wrangler.
As with any accessory, price plays an important role for many people and I’m no exception. The outlay required for LED lights is an obvious hurdle. Pricing can range from a few hundred dollars right up to $1,200 or more for a single unit from some brands!
To be honest I’m not sure paying $2,400 for lights is worth it. Perhaps something that expensive offers the ultimate lighting experience but I doubt I’ll ever know.
In saying that, as with many add-ons to a 4WD, I encourage others to primarily seek Australian manufacturers. One only has to Google to see there are dozens of well-known 4WD lighting brands and some less reputed ones.
One of the most respected companies is the South Australia-based Lightforce (www.lightforce.com). Lightforce have been around for about 35 years and offer a wide variety of lighting options, which they export to about 50 countries. So they struck me as a great starting point. Their three year warranty is appealing too.
The choices of lighting are vast, embracing Halogen, HID, LED and even hybrid style offerings. At first glance it was hard to pinpoint the right choice, so what better way of getting the info I needed than emailing them directly? I had in mind some basic criteria. The new aftermarket lights needed to be: suitable for touring (that’s what I mostly needed them for); simple and easy to install; and good value for money.
Soon after hitting send I received a phone call from Lightforce who were more than happy to help me out. I was pleasantly surprised by how passionate, knowledgeable and responsive to my questions they were.
They even asked what sort of vehicle I drove, as the right light choice can depend on the model of 4WD.
Lightforce recommended their rectangular Striker LED lights, as they suit vehicles that need a smaller profile, and are affordable without compromising quality. In fact, these lights retain certain features akin to those found on the more expensive options.
I also really appreciated Lightforce’s follow-up email offering links to various useful videos to help further expand my knowledge of lighting.
WHAT YOU GET
A few days later the Lightforce Striker light kit arrived in a well-packaged box. Included was a pair of Striker Lights, full wiring harness, HB3 and H4 headlight connectors, a user manual, and a nice Lightforce sticker.
I won’t go into all of the specifications as you’ll easily find them on the brand’s website. However, I’d like to highlight that they looked more stylish than I’d expected. It was also pleasing to find that the reflector assembly fits snugly in an aluminium cast housing and has a close-fitting protective interchangeable polycarbonate filter and is IP68 and IP69K rated against water and dust ingress. Surprisingly, the mounting bracket is made of tough polycarbonate rather than steel, though stainless steel is an option. Time over rough country will tell if they survive, but they do seem solid enough.
I like things simple so I was glad to find the six-page coloured user manual very easy to follow. It outlines a step-by-step guide and even outlines what tools you’ll need to complete the job; even a newbie could easily follow. The manual is also available online so you can prepare and psych yourself up before your order arrives.
When installing an electrical accessory, it’s so nice not to have to drill holes, cut wires or splice the vehicle’s wiring system, especially on new vehicles with their sensitive integrated systems. The kit is a simple plug ’n play loom that offers the ability to piggyback onto the headlight hi-beam, with either the HB3 or H4 connector, which are the most common style of connectors. However, Lightforce can and do supply alternative methods.
The first step is to identify which HB3 or H4 patch is compatible with your vehicle’s harness and headlight plug. The Jeep needed an old-style Molex six pin unit, so I had to make a quick call to Lightforce, who were happy to track it down for me so it would all work seamlessly. That’s why I like to deal with Lightforce.
After positioning the two Striker lights on their brackets (how you position them is something of a personal choice), the next step is to loosely route the wiring loom so it reaches the two Striker lights, battery, the rear of the headlight you’ll tap into, and the in-cab switch position. You shouldn’t have any issue as there’s heaps of cable to accommodate the largest of vehicles.
Once the route was confirmed, I secured the relay close to the battery. Next I connected the waterproof plugs to the rear of each driving light.
The next step, for most situations, is to unplug the connector at the chosen headlight (where the patch is going), which — depending on your vehicle — is either a one minute task or an epic knuckle-skinning mission. Once unplugged, insert either the supplied HB3 or H4 patch to the vehicle’s wiring and reconnect all.
In my case I removed the headlight assembly for ease of access and used a Molex connector. Using the generous supply of cable-ties, I secured the loom along its path, avoiding sharp or heat-prone areas, all the way to the in-cab switch.
In the cab, peel the double-sided tape to attach the switch in your preferred position. The final step is to connect the power and negative wire to their respective battery terminals. Use the remaining supplied cable ties to neaten up your wiring.
A BRIGHT FUTURE AHEAD
Finally, after installing, test the lights, as they should alight on hi-beam only when the in-cab switch is on. Then align the lights correctly by using a spirit level and adjust their beam elevation to suit. Tighten all bolts/nuts to 35Nm.
I have to say the whole experience, from making my choice to installation, was pleasantly smooth. The installation itself is an easy 90 minute job, achievable by any avid 4WDer. The only challenging part is routing the switch cable through the firewall.
The kit comes with a pair of Lightforce Strikers, wiring loom and all parts for around $599 (RRP).
Of course, after rigging them up, I made sure to test them out that first night. While they mightn’t give the distance offered by more up-market (read, expensive) examples on the market, they did provide a very bright and well-spread beam, which exceeded my expectations. They ought to make touring the bush with my new Wrangler after dark that bit safer and more enjoyable.