Fog Light Buyer’s Guide 2013
When fog, snow, rain or dust causes visibility problems behind the wheel, turn on those fog lights to ease the drive
by Peter D. DuPre & Bruce W. Smith
One truth about both the landscaping and contracting businesses is owners are firing up their pickups in the pre-dawn hours to go to work and often arriving back home well after sunset.
We accept the long hours as the nature of the business. But unfortunately those pre-dawn and late-evening commutes often mean dealing with hazards such as rain, snow, dust or fog.
Dealing with adverse driving conditions like these at any time is a hassle, but light levels at their worst add an element of danger most of us could do without.
So what do you do when Mother Nature is trying her hardest to make driving miserable?
The typical driver switches on the factory fog lights – if their pickup is so equipped – thinking they will provide proper illumination for safe driving.
But as anyone who has flipped on those fog lights knows, most simply aren’t up to the job; they are more ornamental than functional. (Apparently pickup designers often think more about style and cost cutting than they do about safety and practicality.)
Aftermarket fog lights are a different story.
FOG LIGHT TYPES
Aftermarket (AM) fog lights are available in a variety of sizes, with different lens designs, bulb types and housings. One typically gets what they pay for when it comes to functionality and durability.
The cheapest of these are often packaged in thin metal buckets or plastic housings and use a sealed-beam filament headlamp bulb for illumination. They’ll last about 200 hours, or so, of continuous use.
Further up the fog-light performance (and cost) ladder are those with quartz-halogen bulbs, which are usually packaged in ABS plastic or Lexan-type housings.
Halogen lights deliver a quality beam pattern with sufficient brightness for fog-light use.
While these deliver a much hotter and brighter light than that of a standard filament bulb and last up to 400 hours or so of continuous use, they are prone to filament breakage from vibration.
Continued use in rough terrain or over rock and gravel roads can shorten that bulb life considerably.
Near the top of fog-light performance for both longevity and light output are the high-intensity-discharge (HID) lights.
Unlike filament bulbs, HID lights do not have a filament.
Instead, an internal or external ballast builds up the power to create light when an arc jumps between two electrodes, stimulating a special mixture of Xenon gases to produce a brilliant, almost blue-white light that’s about three times brighter than a halogen bulb emits.
Because there is no filament, HID lights are less prone to vibration damage and last much longer (about 4,000 hours of continuous use) than standard or halogen bulbs. One pays 2 to 3 times more for these bulbs.
LED FOG LIGHTS
The most recent technology, though, revolves around LED fog lights.
Although the LED (light emitting diode) was invented in 1927 and first used commercially in 1969 (mostly for calculators and wrist watches), it has only been over the past few years that they have finally come into their own for use in automotive lighting.
The key to the brightness and light output is the size and number of crystals used, the makeup of the crystals, the design of the epoxy surrounding the crystal and the lens used to direct the light.
LEDs are also a lot more reliable than traditional automotive lighting options.
According to the folks at Vision-X, expected life cycle of an LED automotive light is about 50,000 hours versus the approximately 400 hours of other comparable lights.
This means, effectively, in most cases a LED automotive light is a lifetime purchase.
For commercial use, this is a double bonus since the LED also uses only about 85-percent of the energy required to operate quartz halogen or HID systems, saving wear and tear on batteries and alternators.
FOG LIGHT DESIGN
Really good lights of any type have to have lenses designed to focus the light into a flood, spot or, in this case, fog-pattern beam.
A properly-designed fog-light delivers a wide and relatively short (not more than 150 feet or so) beam pattern that is aimed low to increase road visibility near the vehicle during slow speed inclement weather driving.
It should also have a lens design that cuts off light above the vertical mid-way point so there’s no light reflecting back into the driver’s eyes.
This effect, called backscatter, is caused when up-angled light beams reflect off the moisture droplets in the fog (or from the snow, misty rain or dust), which is why a vehicle’s high-beams are totally useless under such conditions.
The low-angled fog light beams avoid this problem by aiming light downwards and improving near-vehicle visibility, but with enough light output to light the road 100 to 150 feet ahead.
Fog light lens color also adds to that performance difference.
White (clear) is the more common lens, although amber and yellow lenses work better in rain, snow, dust and fog.
As for aiming, fog lights work best mounted anywhere below the center of the headlights, where their beam can cut just under that of the low-beam headlights.
MULTIPLE USES OF FOG LIGHTS
Fog lights have other practical uses other than just mounted in the front of your truck.
They make great backup lights a when mounted on the rear bumper or when installed higher up on a rack. The wide beam pattern makes for an excellent flood/work light.
Another use: Connect 20 feet of double-strand or twisted 14-gauge wire to a fog light with an auxiliary-type plug on the other end.
Then the light can be used under the hood or truck or positioned as a light source for other work.
One last though: Be courteous when using fog lights.
Drivers often use the lamps to supplement head light brightness at night and to add a “cool” factor to their vehicles during daylight hours. According to Rob Camp – a Portland, Oregon, area automotive insurance agent – drivers using fog lights improperly can be a danger to others.
“Fog lights are designed to help drivers see and be seen when weather conditions severely reduce visibility,” says Camp.
“Running with lamps on when weather conditions are clear can have the effect of dazzling or temporarily blinding other drivers, which can lead to accidents. It is also a good idea to make sure that they are properly aligned.”
This is particularly true of work trucks, which often have a significantly higher ride height than automobiles, meaning that fog lights on those trucks could be shining directly into other driver’s eyes or their rear view mirrors. – Pro