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Buyer beware (July 01, 2008)

TORONTO, Ont. - Want to save a few bucks on LEDs? It may be tempting, but when it comes to lighting, purchasing non-brand name parts may not be a bright idea. As is the case with many components, glob...


TORONTO, Ont. –Want to save a few bucks on LEDs? It may be tempting, but when it comes to lighting, purchasing non-brand name parts may not be a bright idea. As is the case with many components, globalization has opened the floodgates to a tsunami of sub-par lighting products. Brad Van Riper, senior vice-president and chief technical officer with Truck-Lite, said non-compliant LEDs are “still the proverbial thorn in the industry’s side.”

He has seen some offshore products that have met as little as 30% of the minimum requirements that govern the industry.

The catalyst for non-compliant lighting products has been the increasing popularity of LED lights.

“With LEDs, the light output is very directional, so it takes a manufacturer that knows what they’re doing to put the optics in the lens so the light is diffused properly and it meets the requirements,” says Mark Assenmacher of Peterson Manufacturing. He has seen noncompliant LEDs that have “hot spots,” where the light is very brightin places, however these same products may not produce enough light when viewed at a 45-degree angle.

The risks of purchasing these usually less expensive products is enormous, stresses Van Riper.

Unscrupulous offshore manufacturers often slash their manufacturing costs by using inferior diodes, he says, which means the light may not be adequate in poor weather.

“You can save a lot of costs as a manufacturer by using inferior diodes that don’t produce anywhere near the output required, so your vehicle is not as conspicuous as it should be,” he explains. “Sometimes you need a signal that will override the sun or work in the fog or at night or when you get into a rainy environment. There’s a lot of engineering and technology that goes into selecting the proper output and viewing angles in relation to the vehicle.”

Safety is the biggest risk of purchasing non-compliant lighting. However, there are also major legal ramifications.

If your truck is involved in an accident, you can bet that a determined lawyer will be checking to make sure all the components, including lights, met industry requirements.

“The laws were created for a reason,”says Assenmacher. “They were designed for the protection of the motoring public.”

Van Riper says there have been cases where accidents have been attributed to non-compliant lights.

In order to protect against such a situation, he suggests looking for products from recognizable manufacturers, which have performance specifications engraved or moulded into the lamp.

“We encourage the end-user to look beyond the fancy packaging that some of the lights are packaged in and to look for the engraving of the information into the lens,”Van Riper suggests.

Membership in industry group, the Transportation Safety Equipment Institute (TSEI), is also a good sign, since the organization holds its members to a code of ethics.

The TSEI’s persistent lobbying efforts have paid off, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US has added two more enforcement engineers over the past couple years to focus on identifying and eliminating non-compliant lighting products.

But while NHTSA has taken action against several importers, there are always others that seem everready to fill the void.

“Make sure you look for products that are available from familiar sources and are marked with the logos. Those are the keys towards getting a reliable product,” Van Riper concludes.


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