I have a theory. Everything looks better with off-road and auxiliary lights bolted onto the front. From your grandma’s beige Toyota Avalon to old Volvo station wagons, and of course things like Jeeps or a Ford F-150 Raptor. Oh, and beyond looks, they’re pretty handy to have out on the trail as well.
Affiliate disclosure: Automoblog and its partners may be compensated when you purchase the products below.
There are a lot of different directions you can go here depending on what you’re doing with your vehicle, what you need the extra lighting for, and how involved of an install you want to do. There are many great brands as well, depending on your budget. Let’s get into everything you need to know, so you have some portable daylight with you on the trail.
Do You Really Need Off-Road Lights?
They’ve become a bit of a trendy thing to have in recent years, but well placed off-road lights are legitimately an excellent tool to have when you need them. Obviously, if you find yourself on the trail at night, they can be handy for spotting obstacles. However, I find their best use is at dusk. That last hour of fading daylight can be tricky to spot rocks and dips in the road, and there’s just enough ambient light still to make even your brights just about useless.
Also, for heading down medium to higher-speed fire roads or sandy washes, a good lighting setup will allow you to spot rocks and dips before it’s too late That’s really where the use of off-road lights like KC Lights made their name, in desert racing coming out of the ’70s. You really don’t want to find yourself crashing nose-first into a ditch in the middle of the Baja 1000 with no one around for miles.
For the Jeep guys and the rock crawling crowd, rock lights all around will help you and your spotter over those tricky patches. These areas, as any off-road enthusiast can tell you, are challenging enough in the daylight, let alone past dark. Plus, if and when something breaks and you need to fix a buddy’s rig, some good lighting is worth its weight in gold.
Are Auxiliary Lights Street Legal?
First, they are legal in some states, not all. In many states, such as California, it’s illegal to run them on the street, but it’s actually against the law to run them on public roads without covering them. Enforcement has gotten a little more lax over the past few years, but it is still technically illegal, and I have indeed been pulled over for this before.
As far as safety, I beg you. Please, please do not be the type that runs these on the street with other people around. Save them for when you’re off-road or at least on some backwoods road; otherwise, you’re just blinding anyone unfortunate enough to be coming your way. No one is impressed by your ability to flip a toggle switch, I promise you.
It’s not a bad idea to research your local laws, as this can vary not only by state but by county as well in some cases. Better safe than sorry.
Are Off-Road Lights Expensive?
It depends. It’s like a choose your own adventure book with off-road and auxiliary lights! It really depends on your needs, your budget, and how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. Make sure whatever you do, you invest in lights that are of high quality.
Three Brands We Trust & Recommend
Here are three bands we have used in the past and would buy time and time again. We will organize them by price, so you can easily select which one fits according to your budget. You can purchase any of the three through the links provided.
Least Expensive: Will Get The Job Done
A simple Hella 500 fog light kit can be had for under $70. It comes with everything you need to install and wire them up.
Why we continue to buy them: Great for late-night driving in rural areas where there are gravel or unpaved roads. Hard to argue with the price. Established and trusted brand name.
Mid-Range: Good Value For The Money
In the mid-range, you can get a versatile lightbar like this 20” S8 LED Light Bar from Baja Designs for about $520. The S8 LED Light Bar is a good value for the money as it combines both wide driving and spot optics to help you see in a variety of different conditions. Baja Designs also offers a limited lifetime warranty.
Why we continue to buy them: Replaceable lens and optics, aircraft-grade aluminum housing, and waterproof. Designed with the Baja 1000 in mind, the S8 Light Bar can handle every obstacle one could possibly encounter off-road.
Top End: High Performance Option
Then on the high end of the spectrum, you have the Rigid Industries 50” Adapt E-Series Light Bar, which retails for right around $2,000. However, these lightbars are packed full of crazy technology that adjusts the light pattern from long-distance pencil beams to a wider scene spread. The 50” Adapt E-Series Light Bar comes with a harness, switch, and relay, and offers three optic zones: scene, driving, and spot.
Why we continue to buy them: Indestructible polycarbonate lens, active power management system, LED lifespan of 50,000 hours. Will light up even the darkest trails.
Are Auxiliary Lights Difficult To Install?
It depends. (Do you see a pattern here?).
A simple kit like those Hella lights can be wired up in an afternoon with a little elbow grease and a few choice expletives. Things get a little more involved depending on where you’re installing the lights, how many you have, how many other powered accessories you’re running, and how you want to handle the switching for them.
A simple toggle switch in the cabin is no big deal. Even tying into your factory wiring for them to come on with your brights is pretty easy in most vehicles. Where it starts getting complicated in terms of wiring is when it comes to handling the load of a lot of high wattage lights and how many other accessories you’re running.
Add in a fridge, a winch, and a bunch of navigation equipment on top of the lights? You’re going to have to start considering running an auxiliary battery. Also, while roof-mounted lightbars look awesome and can be extremely effective at lighting up long ranges, mounting them and running wiring inside the cabin without introducing leaks and keeping everything looking tidy can be a pain.
Best Off-Road Light Brands
So I’ve already mentioned a couple of the heavy hitters in KC, Hella, and Rigid. All make great stuff at a variety of price points and have their own specialties. Other good brands to keep an eye out for are Baja Designs, ARB, PIAA, Rugged Ridge, and Pro Comp.
LEDs are fast becoming the most popular choice for many reasons. They’re more power efficient, can be packaged in more space-efficient ways (ala light bars), and pack a lot of punch for their size in terms of brightness. That being said, there are some old school hold outs for the classic big round lights on the bumper. I count myself in that camp even though I do have an LED light bar and my old school Hellas. This is purely an aesthetic choice.
That should give you plenty to chew on while you’re searching around for your off-road lighting needs. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to spec’ing out your lighting setup, you can poke around this page to get a lay of the land. Otherwise, we recommend one of the three kits above.
See you on the trails! Get it? Because you’ll have your lights? OK, I’ll show myself out.