by Chris Ripper
Fog lights, driving lights or long range lights...what's the best for me? That’s always a tricky decision to make. The sensible way of going about it is to buy what suits your driving pattern. There really is not a one-size-fits-all kind of answer. If you do mostly highway driving, for example, your requirements will be different than someone who drives mostly on rural roads. A long distance highway driver might require and use all three kinds of lights. On highways obviously long range or driving lights would be the answer, but what happens in fog or bad weather when it’s difficult to see the road? To make the right decision a driver really must have a clear understanding of what these different types of lights are designed for and meant to do.
Fog lights are designed to illuminate a wide path of road with a relatively short distance. These are great for people worried about deer jumping in front of you on the road. The proper mounting of fog lights are at a height of between 18” and 20” above the road. Fog forms about 20-24” above the road and stretches upward farther than we can see. When fog lights are mounted properly, they project their light under the fog and forward down the road. This helps you “see through” the fog, but of course there are limits. If fog lights are mounted too high, the light reflects off the moisture in the fog and creates a blinding effect on the driver. You’ve probably experienced this by hitting your high beams during foggy road conditions and discovered it’s like someone threw a sheet up in front of you. Fog lights must be mounted properly or their effectiveness is diminished.
Most fog lights are yellow in color though they can be white as well. There is no specific reason why fog lights are yellow. No, it is not the maker’s favorite color. This appears to follow an old convention which is not based on any scientific reasoning because yellow light does not offer any more penetration than white light. One theory that does sound plausible is that fog lights are yellow to indicate to other drivers that driving conditions are poor, and they should slow down and exercise an increased level of caution. Another is that a yellow filter (your fog light lens) sharpens your vision. You may have seen yellow tinted safety glasses that some guys wear when shooting guns to make things look more distinct. Same principle.
Fog lights are intended to be used when visibility is poor and obstructed by fog, rain, or snow. They are intended to illuminate the road surface and the curb, shoulder, and edges of the road. Fog lights have a limited range and are most effective at low speeds. In poor visibility fog lights do the job of dipped beam headlights. Because of their design, fog lights reduce the glareback from fog or falling snow which makes them a better choice in such conditions. But only if mounted properly 18-20” off the road as discussed above.
Fog lights are often fitted on cars in many countries where weather conditions do not justify the need for them. In such cases they are largely cosmetic and are available as optional extras. Studies in North America have shown that more drivers use fog lights incorrectly in good weather rather than use them correctly when they are most needed. However, where they are extensively used and quite rightly, is to light up the side of the road and watch for deer in deer-prone territory. Hitting a deer, fog or no fog, is no fun at all. But at least if you are in Arkansas that dead animal will not go to waste. Too bad California did not have such sensible laws.
Driving lights are particularly bright lights which improve the range of light beyond what your high beam headlights offer. They help identify obstacles and signs well before they become visible than with normal high beams. They have a rectangular beam which produces a beam of powerful intensity with a longer, wider reach. Driving lights illuminate the side of the road making them more visible. In general, driving lights are designed to provide better visibility than high beam headlights and by extension, a safer driving environment. Driving lights are the ideal choice when driving on highways at high speeds. Like a high beam, they have to be dimmed in the face of oncoming traffic.
The latest technology in driving lights is High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights which provide 40% better road visibility and 50% brighter light. They are more expensive than the old yellow halogen lights and have surpassed them. HID gives you more than just brighter light – it has a longer lifespan and consumes less electrical energy. With dual, high-temperature filaments, HID lights produce the brightest, whitest light possible. Wow, you may even wake up the neighbors with light that bright.
Xenon HID headlights produce a blue hued, whiter light with a wider coverage of about 70% more of the road. With their superior light intensity they produce well-defined images with a reduced power consumption of just 25 percent. Xenon lights are extremely durable and because they have no filaments are able to withstand shocks and resist vibrations. While they are a more expensive option, they are eco-friendly, consume less energy, and last longer so they are a terrific purchase choice that make up for the higher cost.
As the name suggests, long range lights provide a narrow, longer range beam unlike a standard headlight high beams, which projects a wide, short-range beam. A long range light adds greatly to distance visibility and is the ideal option when driving at high speeds. Long range lights are perfect for true off-roaders such as hunters and off-road aficionados. They are also great for driving in rural areas with limited street lights or where illumination is generally poor (like at night, when the sun goes down!). Long range lights enable you to spot signs and hazards at a greater distance so you are prepared and ready to take the necessary action. Long range lights can be blinding though. They are generally not street legal so use common sense when purchasing these.
Which is the right choice for you?
You would now have a clear picture of the benefits and applications of different types of lights. Fog lights are perfect if you need a wide beam to illuminate the road immediately ahead of you. They are the perfect choice if you live or drive in areas with considerable fog, rain, or snow where your visibility is impaired and you are forced to drive at slow speeds.
Driving lights are for you if you drive at high speeds and on highways. They light up the road well ahead of you giving you fair warning of hazards, obstacles, and signs. Driving lights are used along with your high beams to improve your overall visibility and provide a better, safer driving experience.
Long range lights should be your selection if you engage off-road driving or drive through poorly lit areas. Like driving lights they give you warning in advance, but with a more focused, longer reaching beam.
While fog lights might not be necessary for you if you live in an area that rarely experiences fog, there’s no reason why you should not have the advantage of both driving and long-reach, off-road lights. We can always fit your vehicle out with custom brackets to mount your lights, giving you the best of all worlds.
Do not spurn fog lights too much either. You may always move and perhaps you want to take your car to the coast or in the mountains where fog is common?
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By: Chris Ripper