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Brighter, lighter, cheaper


Truck lighting systems keep getting better: brighter, lighter, cheaper and more durable. The latest generation of LED lighting is going to have great longevity. Burned out headlamps should become a thing of the past.

GE’s LED Nighthawk is designed to last 15,000 hours and replaces the seven-inch round and 5”x7” rectangular lamps. It draws less power than standard halogen lights while providing better road visibility (a 30% improvement, according to GE). No special adaptors required, the sealed beams plug into any existing 12- or 24-volt system. The Nighthawks come with a three-year warranty and offer a spectrum of white light close to that of daylight, accomplished by way of a non-yellowing poly-carbonate lens.

The manufacturer claims its units are particularly durable – and made in the US. Diodes are better at withstanding shocks and bumps than filaments, anyway, and Nighthawk headlamps feature a diecast aluminum housing and epoxy-sealed electronics. They’re rated for temperatures between -40 C and 50 C, so extremes of weather shouldn’t be an issue. Nighthawks are designed to last for years, but if you’re really interested in lamp longevity, GE’s 2-6X Longer Life brand might be for you.

GE also offers an array of turn, signal and stop lights, that are available in standard, 2-6X Longer Life, and Nighthawk varieties, as well as a line of fog lights for on or off-road applications. Brand new to their catalogue is the 4.5-inch round utility light, which is maintenance-free (“except for cleaning the lens”), though I suppose any trailer hook-up light is maintenance-free until it stops working. This one shouldn’t though, as it’s backed by a two-year warranty. 

Reliability and robustness are the watchwords when it comes to stop, tail and turn lights – or any trailer light for that matter. Getting a mechanic to climb a ladder and replace a clearance light is going to mean downtime any way you look at it.

Extreme conditions wreak havoc on electrical connectors, plug-ins and pigtails. So Peterson Manufacturing, with its subsidiary company Maxi-Seal, has developed the Defender System which offers a 10-year warranty against corrosion and defects. The package includes Piranha LED lights along with its modular harness wiring system which they claim to be totally sealed against moisture and corrosion. This would be particularly of interest to fleets running Canadian provinces like Ontario where brine usage is particularly heavy. Peterson has been testing this “integrated moisture barrier” on 20 trucks running with a large US fleet (they won’t say which one). So far, they tell me the parts and assemblies are coming up clean.

At its campus in Grandview, Mo. (close to Kansas City), Peterson has also developed the LumenX series of truck and trailer lights which is touted as being at the forefront of LED technology. Using the standard format of seven diodes per light, they are getting reds 25% brighter than regular LEDs and ambers 100% brighter. Their engineers opted for “white diodes over coloured diodes for their superior thermal management – they don’t lose intensity,” according to chief project engineer, Jim Hansen. The white diodes provide a consistent look from reds to ambers to back-ups, he says, without dead zones or hot spots.

The new amber lights are a big deal because up until now LEDs haven’t been bright enough to be legally used on front turn signals – there wasn’t not enough contrast between the turn signals and headlights. But the LumenX LED amber turn signals are twice as bright and compliant with all safety standards.

Peterson has more products up its sleeve. One of them is dubbed “the Cyclops,” because of its one separated white lens and beam. This is an integrated stop/tail/turn signal with a self-contained back-up light.

“The idea of integrating a white back-up light into a red lamp was a feasible extension of the LumenX architecture,” says Hanson. Like their other start/stop/tail lamps, the LumenX two-in-one lights are available in four-inch round and six-inch oval configurations. When used in pairs, the two-in-one lights meet DOT standards.

Peterson’s 359 series cove lighting system is unique method for lighting the interior of reefer units, dry vans or small box trucks. These are 1”x18” tubes of LEDs that fit snugly in the corner of a trailer or the box of a straight truck. The lights can be connected in series for exemplary illumination and replace the overhead sunken pod lights that are the norm inside trailers and reefers. Refrigerated trailers no longer require sunken light fixtures that detract from a trailer’s R-value. No holes required and the cove lights can be retro-fitted to any unit. All Peterson lights mentioned above are US-made and competitive with foreign manufacturers.

Lighting component manufacturer Truck-Lite also has some new products. Soon to be released is the 4”x6” rectangular LED headlight aimed at the heavy-duty market. Marketing communications specialist Mitchell Wilston says, “they will be the industry’s lightest 4×6 headlight.”

Even more interesting is the debut of a seven-inch round “heated” headlight, which will no doubt please some drivers. I’ve heard several complaints about ice build-up on LED headlights and this should take care of that problem. According to Wilston, this lamp contains a micro-array of heating coils that switch on when the temperature drops below 50 F.

“Our research and customer feedback indicates that snow and ice build-up on headlight lenses affects a very small amount of users, in very specific and extreme climates,” says Wilston. “But that particular product speaks to how willing Truck-Lite is to create targeted solutions.”

Wilston suggests that customization is important to fleets and owner/operators alike. “Different trucking applications require different builds, and lighting is a key component to these builds,”

To wit Truck-Lite has just released two new lines of products under their Signal Stat brand: one batch of low-diode lamps and another featuring an integral flange.

Diodes have gotten brighter and often fewer are required these days. But the choice is really an individual one. For instance Signal-Stat has stop/turn/tail lights available with a 10- or a 24-diode pattern. “It’s a different look, really,” says Wilston.     

The light emitting diode (LED) created a revolution of sorts and has all but replaced the incandescent bulb invented by Thomas Edison some 135 years ago. There are still some heavy truck systems using incandescent  filaments, but the LED is going to win this war.

“Every OEM project that Truck-Lite is working on – for truck or trailer – is utilizing LED technology,” says Wilston.  “There are so many benefits (longer life, lower current draw, brighter and whiter light, impact resistance, less maintenance etc.) that the transition to LED won’t slow down anytime soon.”


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