It’s dark. It’s dark when you leave in the morning and it’s dark when you drive home. You know what makes darkness better? Rain and snow. Wait. No, that makes it worse. Yet winter often serves them to us in an ensemble platter with a side of bad drivers. I mean, don’t these people remember last year? When it also snowed? Anyway, we can’t fix the bad driving of others, but we can help equip you for the cold, snowy, dark gauntlet that is your daily commute in the winter. There are many ways to do this: better tires, cable chains, winter wipers, and a good dose of courage. But none will do you any good unless you can see, which is why we’re talking about winter lighting. A good set of auxiliary lights in the winter can make your drive safer and reduce your stress level.
There are many ways to mount your auxiliary lights to your vehicle. Some mount to a roof rack or an A-pillar, but the best lights for winter driving will be mounted low. We’re talking about fog lights, driving lights, and grille or bumper mounted light bars. The lower, the better. Fog lights are actually distinguished by their position on the vehicle. If they’re mounted low, they’re fog lights. Higher up, they’re considered driving lights. You’ve probably tried turning your brights on in a snow storm, only to find the light reflected back in your face, until all you can see is some kind of hyperspace wormhole in the snow until you’re hypnotized into a crash. Fog works the same way. Fog lights are mounted low to improve that angle and prevent that light from reflecting off the snow right in front of you. They shine “under” the snow or fog, allowing you to see further out, where a driver with inferior equipment might have already had an accident. LED light bars, mounted at a similar height, can work well for this, too.
There are several factors to consider when shopping for your winter lighting kit, but perhaps the most important is weatherproofing. Winter is a wet time of year, no matter where you live. If the seals around your cheap lights fail and water gets in, things could go very dark very fast. The other reason this problem can show up in the winter is that air, when heated, expands. This includes the air in your light housings. Because the air starts out colder, but still gets plenty hot when the light is on, there’s a greater difference in the air temperature during the winter. Air pushing out of and pulling into seals can wreck those seals in no time. That means more moisture can get in. So it’s important that a light bar has a waterproof thermal expansion valve. This will allow air in and out while the light is heating and cooling, respectively, without letting water in. For smaller lights, which generate less heat, this valve isn’t always needed, but a large heat sink, which draws heat away, can do the trick instead.
Next, consider which bulb type would work best for you: LED, HID, or Halogen. LEDs are best for short range lighting. They use very little power and can be extremely bright. They also have a gigantic lifespan that will probably outlast a couple of vehicles at least. They tend to struggle with range. For long range, you may be better off with some HID lights. HIDs, while durable, do not share the lifespan of LEDs. Finally, if you’re on a strict budget, you can go with a set of Halogen lights, which are not quite as durable or bright, but can still provide you with an excellent upgrade.
Color temperature is another factor to consider. This is measured on the Kelvin scale. The higher the Kelvin rating, the colder the color temperature. HIDs, which have a colder, bluish color, are generally rated around 6,000K. LEDs, which are often white in color, have a more neutral temperature of 5,000K. And Halogens have a much warmer, golden temperature of around 3,000K. Daylight is commonly rated at 5,500 to 6,000K. Why is this important to know for winter? Some drivers have found the colder light temperatures, reflected off white snow, to weary their eyes over time, preferring instead a warmer temperature, which creates a more neutral tone against the snow. This does not necessarily mean switching to Halogens. Many manufacturers of LED and HID systems offer colored lenses that fit temporarily over their lights, tinting them to a lower, warmer Kelvin rating. This is an option to consider if your LED or HID systems become too stressful for your eyes. Learn more about lighting temperature, ingress protection, bulb type, and more here.
What About Tail Lights?
We’ve talked about winter lighting that can help you see other cars more clearly and from further out, but what about other cars seeing you? The cars behind you are driving through the same blizzard you are. Upgrading your tail lights to brighter, clearer LEDs can drastically improve your car’s visibility profile in bad weather. Because LED tail lights work in an array, rather than through a single bulb setup, the entire housing is replaced. This somewhat limits selection, but housings for many popular models are available. Check out some of our bestselling LED tail lights.
Many people hate driving in the snow, especially when it’s dark. It can be stressful and scary. But If you have the proper lighting equipment for the winter, you’re one step closer to driving safely and confidently through the worst storms to get home in one piece and right on time.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.