LET THERE BE LIGHT
PIAA MAKE LED LIGHTBARS LEGAL WITH RF-SERIES LIGHTS
The LED light has revolutionized the off-road industry when it comes to lighting ones way through the darkness. Great racks of massive round lenses, making use of electricity-sucking halogen incandescent bulbs, have now been replaced with a couple thin rows of
Light Emitting Diodes that barely register any complaints from the alternator.
LEDs do come with a couple of drawbacks, however. Forward-facing LED bulbs are masterful at flooding a great expanse of real estate in front of a vehicle with a brilliant clear light, but they really don’t reach any great distance down range. Their incredible brightness also means they are on the naughty list with the boys in blue, and more than a few angry policeman have started issuing tickets for illegal lights being used on public streets.
PIAA know a little something about
lighting and have a couple answers for the downfalls of LED light bars.
Enter the RF-Series LED auxiliary lights. Yeah, these have been out for over a year now, but they are so different from other LED lights we’ve played with that we wanted to get a little more in depth information on how they work, what type of light they throw and how are they street legal?
The vast majority of LED lights on the market use what is termed as forward-facing bulbs. This means that the LED bulb faces forward in the centre of a reflector dish that helps disperse and intensify the light being emitted. The result is a brilliant flood of light, but also full exposure of the painfully bright bulbs that will annoy your friends on the trail and blind oncoming traffic on the road.
PIAA’s RF-Series lights use a rearward-facing reflector (RF) that moves the LED bulb up into the top of the housing and directs its light rearwards towards a reflector lens, then dispersing light out the front of the lamp. This does two things.
First, the reflector has the ability to concentrate the light from the LEDs, allowing the lamp to harness the entire output of each bulb. Getting the most out of each LED bulb means you get more light output with fewer LEDs, resulting in a lower power draw to your vehicle’s charging system. The RF 3-in Cube light only makes use of two 8W LED bulbs, while the 10-in RF Lightbar only requires four LED bulbs to equal the output of 18 LEDs on similar products.
The second advantage the RF technology offers is the ability to shape the beam pattern through the design of the reflector lens. PIAA have been able to produce very disciplined light patterns that have precise borders where the light can be distinguished. Most importantly, the upper beam has a very sharp and flat border. This ability to control the beam is what makes these driving lights SAE compliant and prevents wasted stray light from blinding oncoming drivers. So, as long as the lamps are pointed low to match your headlights, they are deemed legal. Want to light up the trail, simply raise them up and stretch the beam out down the trail for a higher performance vision when oncoming traffic is not a factor.
While we like the technology behind PIAA’s RF-Series lights, what really impressed us was the build quality. These things are built to go through a war. Solid aluminum construction is used on all items and the lenses are polycarbonate. The overbuilt construction is a bit heavy, but as long as you’re not counting grams on a serious race rig, it shouldn’t be a problem. The wiring is held firmly in place with a silicone port although we’d like to see a slightly beefier plug.
The 3-in cubes use a standard steel “U” shaped bar that can swivel to mount from the bottom or rear, but the mounting system on the RF 6-in, 10-in and 18-in Lightbars are likely the best in the business. Solid forged aluminum mounts are bolted to a mounting tunnel behind the light, offering a multitude of adjustment angles. The mounts can sit below the lights for a horizontal surface or swiveled back to mount to a vertical surface.
Mounting options are further varied by the ability to link up multiple lights, thanks to perfect-fit linkage pieces that hold as many lamps you want in a single row with amazing strength. We’ve mounted a lot of auxiliary lights in our day, and by far the most solidly mounted lights we’ve seen are the RF Lightbars.
An idiot-proof wiring harness is
included in the kit, with an illuminated rocker switch. Installation is a little more finicky than most lights with the unique mounting system, but once you lock these bad boys down, they aren’t going anywhere.
Both the RF 3-in Cube and 10-in Lightbar throw an incredible amount of light down range considering the lack of bulbs doing the work. The road is painted with light out to 300 m even in a low mounting angle, and stretch out even further when angled up. The RFs don’t provide the crazy flooding capabilities of a forward-facing LED, but the beam pattern is incredibly condensed and constrained to an orderly beam. The light is a typical white LED with a slight bluish tint. However, if you deal with foggy or dusty conditions on a regular basis, PIAA offers a version of the RF Lightbars with amber lenses.
The PIAA RF-Series was one of those products that lured us in with some very interesting designs and technology, and we are happy to say once we got them mounted in the real world, the RFs surpassed our expectations. That being said, the constraints that make these road legal do inhibit the flooding light offered by other LEDs. Our simple answer is throwing a set of RF 10-in lightbars on the front of the Samurai for daily duty, while having a set of forward-facing LED hidden behind covers, laying in wait for the ever desirable night run. Regardless, the PIAA RFs are a brilliant bit of kit to have on the front of our rig.
Check in with us in a few issues time when we put the PIAA up against two other high-tech LED lightbars to see just who produces the best LEDs of them all. Part Number: 7610 (RF 10-in Lightbar), 7603 (RF 3-in Cube), Multiple other options Price: Starting at $199.00 www.piaa.com