Project F150: Part Two – Lighting Things Up with LEDs!

Project F150: Part Two – Lighting Things Up with LEDs! 

by S. Tate


In Part One, we started our journey for more power.  We saw significant gains with our MagnaFlow exhaust system, and plan to do a lot more soon.  Right now, we are going to take a bit of a diversion to do something about our feeble orange headlights — enter “”.

Adam is the enthusiast owner of “”.  While there are plenty of lighting options in the aftermarket, the use of generic LEDs can pose some complications.  The same can be said about previous generation HID headlights.  We've all seen strange hues of purple and deep blue, glaring their way through the night with poorly aimed setups.  Adam ensures the kits he sells are customized to work perfectly with each truck application.  Newer trucks with CANBUS, like our own F150, are especially sensitive to such changes.  Without the type of tweaks used by Adam, your lights will suffer from flickering or simply not work at all.

A variety of palatable, socially-acceptable color temperatures are available too.  Adam actually owns an F150, so you can bet it's done right.  There are applications for other makes too.  Check them out here

So, what's the deal with ordinary halogens on our new truck?  Isn't this 2017?!  Right.  We tried our best to equip our custom-ordered rig with new LED units like the kind often found in higher trim-level Ford trucks — and that is our problem.  We wanted to get the goods necessary to have a competent all-weather-fighter, but without incurring the costs associated with something like a King Ranch (or a shiny “Platinum” tailgate!).  Try as we might, we could not equip an XLT with LED headlights.  No, not even the Special Edition Sport.  If you must have them from the factory, you'll simply have to start with a higher-end trim level.  So why not just buy those factory units later?  Price them, and you'll get the same sticker shock we received.  They're fantastic, but at around $1000 for each side (housing plus wiring kit), we thought we could use that money better somewhere else.  The good news is that the rest of us now have an easy and affordable upgrade option.

We had quite a conversation with Adam!  If you're wondering about issues like legality (varies by state!), durability, light output, heat issues, and selecting the right color temperature, read on.  Here are some excerpts from our interview:


MotoIQ: Tell us how you got started in LEDs for vehicle lighting.


Adam:  I’ve always been into lighting [Adam started at StreetGlow back in 2000.  StreetGlow made neon lights for cars].  Fast forward to a year ago when I bought a 2015 Ford F-150 [bought it in January of 2016],  I had limited options but knew I wanted LED lights.  Since the truck didn’t come with them, I bought some from a popular online store.  However the lights were anything but great, and I ended up getting water in my housing with the poor design.  Later, I was sent a pair of lights from an old colleague in the lighting industry and they were great.  I still had the issue of water possibly getting into my headlights, so I ended up putting together a kit for the 2015+ Fords [trucks] to allow the installation of the bulbs while keeping a water tight seal.  It worked and gave outstanding light coverage, so it became an instant hit.  Today we can barely keep the kits on the shelf.  They are so popular, but we always have stock on hand.


MotoIQ: What makes an LED more or less suitable for use in a vehicle as forward lighting?  


Adam: LEDs are great, but they are not perfect. The same way LEDs in your home are great, but not perfect. You have to find that right mixture.  LEDs, like HIDs, produce different [color] temperatures. Warmer lights actually go further, but most folks don’t like the look of the yellowish lights. So, they opt for whiter lights or even bluer lights. The problem with white light is it does not do well in poor weather, but with LED kits you can throw a lot more light with less power, compared to halogen.  So the color itself is not as great, but you are throwing a lot more light down the road to make up for it.  LEDs last a really long time and are more durable than halogen lights. It's worth pointing out that you don't have to worry about touching the bulbs with your bare fingers, unlike halogen and HID bulbs. Also unlike HID lights, LED’s don’t lose their color over time. Eventually they’ll stop working as every light source has a shelf life, but the shelf life is much longer then halogen and HID combined.  HIDs are still a very popular option, but they typically cost more because of what it takes to design and produce the bulb. They also lose their color over time, and again, you cannot touch the bulb. The oils from your skin will cause the bulb to fail sooner then later. HIDs also take a bit to warm up, so when you first turn them on, they are not as bright. HIDs do produce a bit more light, however they use a lot more power than LED or halogen. This is why they usually require direct-wiring to a battery for best results. The newer LED kits on the market use better designs and they are starting to produce more light then the HID kits. This is why most of the auto manufacturers are starting to switch over to LED. LEDs are cheaper to make, last longer, and draw far less power.  Finally, LEDs are instant-on with a wide variety of color options.


MotoIQ: Does the brand of LED matter to you? Are there real differences between them? What do you do differently?


Adam: Cree and Philips are the top brands for LED components. They produce LED diodes for automotive, home, commercial, industrial, etc. We are partial to Cree because they seem to be the leader in the market now. I work with Cree products in my other line of work, and I can tell you they are on the cutting edge of technology. The things they are doing with LEDs blow everybody else away. So, we prefer Cree. Philips makes a great diode as well, but Cree diodes are our favorite. Our bulbs utilize the XHP50 and XHP70 Cree bulbs. These are great LED diodes that are very small, making them perfect for automotive packaging applications. The “LumiLeds” from Philips are another popular brand— in fact our fog light conversion kits utilize the Philips LumiLeds. LumiLeds are sometimes also called “Z ES” bulbs or “Luxeon”, but are all the same LED. What makes the various LED kits different is how the kit is designed. We’re talking about the material of the bulb housing, how the bulbs are cooled, and how power is driven to the LEDs. Our kits utilize aluminum housings for effective radiant cooling and have integrated fans– our fans can take abuse and typically outlast the LED itself!


MotoIQ:  What is an ideal color temperature? We're starting to see applications that are far warmer than old school, blue-light-special systems.  


Adam: The ideal temperature is in the 3000K range, which is what your standard halogen headlight is near. However, this is not a very popular color range in the industry. If you’ve ever watched a Baja race, you’ll find a lot of amber and yellow lights. This is because they cut through the sand/dirt clouds a lot better than a white light. Again, this is not very appealing to the vast majority of the public. Most folks prefer a pure white look [near the 5000K range] or a slightly blue look [when near the 6500K range]. Our kits utilize a 6500K temperature which appears completely white when paired with Cree XHP50 bulbs, and white with a slightly blue cast when using Cree XHP70 bulbs [XHP70 are for projector housings which cast light differently, bringing out that blue color]. Gone are the days of the pure blue and purple HID lights. Those actually became so problematic when HIDs first hit the market that some states outlawed the use of blue or purple lights [to this day a lot of states have laws that prohibit blue and purple lights, only allowing white and amber forward facing lights].


MotoIQ: Are there pointers about avoiding too much diffraction and glaring light scatter as it applies to being a “good citizen” for oncoming traffic?


Adam: Absolutely. LEDs [and HIDs] are not meant for every vehicle, as much as we wish they were. Every manufacturer makes a different housing. Some do it better than others. On some vehicles, you can install HID or LED kits and have no glare problems. With others, you may have real issues with glare. Our kits use the latest and greatest methods, so we feel the light is handled better than other kits before them. It’s why this style kit is being used by a lot of popular brands [Putco for example utilizes this style LED bulb along with XHP50 and XHP70 LEDs].  We’re finding our kits work better in housings compared to kits from years ago. We do see some issues from time to time, mainly with the dual high/low style bulbs. Take the H13 variety for example. With halogen bulbs, the low beam is at a lower wattage than the high beam. When your highs go on, you are throwing more light out. With LEDs, the technique is a bit different.  Our LED kits have the same output for high and low. What we’re doing is changing the diodes.  On the H13, there are four LEDs compared to two on say an H11 bulb. So the way we mimic that high beam mode is by switching two different LEDs on, resulting in a new beam pattern. The lows are already bright enough but you still need those high beams to be street legal, so that’s the way we achieve it.  When you look at HID kits that are dual mode, some kits effectively move the bulb to change the pattern. Ford, for example [and many others], who use an HID bulb in their single projector output actually move a shield out of the way to mimic that high/low. They block half the light for low and drop the shield to allow 100% of the light output.  So, you can see there are things to look out for in every application. Sometimes it’s better to just replace a badly designed housing with a projector housing and install the LED bulbs in that projector.  Projector housings create the best light the output, but that does not mean you can’t use LED in halogen housings, you just have to be mindful and pay attention to the beam patterns.


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