Lighting the way

Jan. 1, 2020
A child darts out from between two cars just up the road. Did you see him? The vehicle you're following suddenly slows. How quickly will you see the brake lights illuminate?

New technologies create a bright path for industry players to sell lighting as preventive maintenance.

A child darts out from between two cars just up the road. Did you see him? The vehicle you're following suddenly slows. How quickly will you see the brake lights illuminate?

Motorists depend on their lights to keep them safe, and they depend on the aftermarket to provide them with good, quality replacement units when their lights burn out. As new technology becomes available, the industry can educate consumers on its benefits.

Headlights, taillights and brake lights gradually dim and become less effective over time — a fact not many drivers realize. But products designed to provide better illumination and longer life, like High Intensity Discharge (HID), also sometimes referred to as Xenon lighting, and Light Emitting Diodes (LED), are offered. Both are growing in popularity, but price is a barrier.

"I think HID lighting is going to continue to grow. I think it's going to be a while just because it is such an expensive option," says Michael Scheiven, director, Aftermarket Channel at Philips Automotive Lighting North America. He adds that this type of lighting won't be commonplace on basic economy vehicles, but will continue to grow in share in the marketplace.

While HIDs are used in headlights, LED lighting now is being used for brake and taillights, as well as turn signals. Mark Assenmacher, director of marketing at Peterson Manufacturing Co., says LEDs have many benefits, including using about one-tenth the ampage of incandescent lights, lasting longer and illuminating faster.

"I see LEDs gaining a bigger piece of the pie," he says. "Incandescents, as a percentage of lighting's overall sales in dollars, will continue to slide, and LEDs will continue to grow."

Pushing the upgrade

There are a number of ways to incorporate new lighting options as a preventive maintenance item or as an upgrade. The Wagner Lighting Product Team at Federal-Mogul Corporation says its TruView headlamps are now packaged as pairs because consumers tend to replace only one worn headlight at a time.

Scheiven says Philips suggests drivers change their headlights every two years, "because at that point, it seems to be a more rapidly diminished output in terms of light and lumens."

As reported in the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) 2006/2007 Aftermarket Factbook, 9.8 percent of all vehicles in operation had headlight bulbs replaced in 2005. Replacement was more common in older vehicles: 12 percent of vehicles 8 to 11 years old had bulbs replaced, while just 6 percent of vehicles less than 3 years old had bulbs replaced.

In marketing to its customers, Assenmacher says Peterson offers planograms for stores to sell LED lighting.

"We have an upfront self-service program where we have our popular assortment of incandescents, and next to that we can put in our popular assortment of LEDs and promotional materials," he offers. "Let's say the guy wasn't even thinking about buying lighting that day. He was in there for something else but thinks, 'Oh yeah, I've heard about LEDs,' and starts reading about it...Maybe it's an add-on sale that he wasn't in the store for."

Like Peterson, Philips and Hella both work with the distribution channel to educate sales staffs. Both companies say they make sure their channel partners know the benefits of upgrading, the safety features and how they comply with federal regulations.

"A lot of what we've seen in the marketplace doesn't meet (federal regulations)," Scheiven says. "That is dangerous because you are selling your customer a product that is ultimately illegal, but more important is the danger that that product represents."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), lighting must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards Section 108, which details the gamut of automotive lighting specifications. Some manufacturers worry that interpretations can be made that HID lighting cannot be used to replace a halogen bulb.

"To stay within the legal ramifications within the (federal) regulations, you cannot take the halogen bulb out and (put in an HID light)," Scheiven says. Rather, you have to take out the whole headlight assembly and replace it. "The only way you can make it legal in the U.S. is to change the whole assembly, and that's a $1,500/ $2,000 investment."

However, Patricia Oladeinde with NHTSA says it is not illegal to do the switch as long as the replacement light still meets Section 108. "As cars change and vehicles and technology are updated, so are the standards, if it's applicable," she says. "(Standard 108) hasn't changed...The manufacturers of vehicles with these features, they certify that they have met those standards."

This is why manufacturers work to make halogen lamps as close to HID quality as possible. But, the debate over replacing lights will continue, so Assenmacher says it is important to make sure lighting meets regulations when it's sold.

"That's a pertinent issue that aftermarket guys working at a jobber store or calling on installation shops should be aware of," he says. "Just because the lens is stamped DOT doesn't mean it necessarily complies...If they're not passing (regulations), it could be a dangerous situation."

By checking with federal regulators and manufacturers, keeping up with compliance can be easy. Some regulations, for example, are based on eliminating glare, which causes problems with oncoming traffic.

According to the Motor Vehicle Lighting Council (MVLC), which is administered by the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), there are two types of glare: discomfort glare, which can cause discomfort, annoyance, fatigue and pain; and disability glare, which can produce a reduction in the visibility distance of low-contrast objects. Misaimed headlights, headlights mounted too high, out-of-spec or high wattage bulbs and other violations of federal lighting regulations can cause glare.

HID lighting often is related to the problem of glare, but manufacturers and the MVLC say that is not the case. Rather, they say the whiter light, which is closer to daylight, can make driving at night safer and more comfortable.

Preventing the price argument

When it comes to direct-to-consumer sales, most drivers will set the price of lighting aside and listen to the benefits of improved lighting, both front and rear, if it's presented in the right way, says Alfredo de la Vega, marketing manager for Hella Lighting.

"Depending on the customer, of course, the customer could be looking to just replace it and get back out on the road. But I think the drivers and also the customers are changing constantly," he says. "When you prove that LED (lighting) will last longer than incandescent and you prove the features and functions, then the customer will come in. Probably the initial investment will be larger, but in the long run you will save money."

Touting the safety aspects of lighting is a good way to encourage your professional customers and drivers to think of headlamp lighting as preventive maintenance items rather than replacement items. Offering upgrades to help start a preventive maintenance schedule for drivers can get customers into stores more regularly.

"Really, I see a change in us consumers being much more concerned with our safety," Scheiven says. "We all like antilock brakes, we all like airbags and seatbelt usage is up. But if you think about it, that is all reactive. They don't help you until there's an accident. Lighting, along with electronic stability control systems, are probably the two best (examples) of active safety."

Illuminating the path

HID lighting is used in headlights on a number of new vehicles, and manufacturers say it's a brighter, whiter light that reflects better off road signs and hazards.

Because of HID lighting's expense and the confusing federal language, companies are turning to their engineers to provide the aftermarket with the closest thing possible. For example, Philips offers CrystalVision and CrystalVision Ultra, while Sylvania offers SilverStar and SilverStar Ultra.

Philips also offers products called X-treme Power with extra light and NightGuide, which has three separate beams of light — a softer beam to the left, a brighter white light in the center and a white blue light to the right for more reflection.

"The center zone, which is where you as a driver focus most, that is the brighter, white light. But in the case of NightGuide, it extends the beam up to 50 feet longer," Scheiven says. "If you just think about the child running across the street at night...having that extra 50 feet can really make a difference in your reaction time."

Federal-Mogul's Wagner Lighting offers TruView replacement halogen headlamps that use Federal-Mogul's patented SpectraFilter technology to help eliminate yellow rays within the projected color spectrum. Wagner's marketing team notes this lighting can help eliminate glare, which it says government records show is spiking.

Looking to the rear

Safety at the front of the vehicle is important, but if drivers don't keep tabs on brake lights and turn signals, the scenario can be just as dangerous. Hella's de la Vega says some cases show reaction time to LED lights can be up to 100 times faster.

Cars using LED lighting instead of incandescent lighting in brake lights in the middle of rear windows can provide 30 feet or more of additional brake time for other drivers because the lights illuminate faster and are noticed quicker, he states.

But just because LEDs can be considered a benefit doesn't mean they have caught on. Price still is a factor for the technology that started gaining popularity in the late 1990s.

"With the price originally when LEDs came out, big fleets really understood that it's more money up front, but it's going to save them in downtime and maintenance down the road. They jumped on board probably more so than individual users," says Assenmacher with Peterson. However, he comments that the idea is catching on with more small-to medium-sized trailers.

This type of lighting will increase in the market as more LEDs are developed and made affordable and even safer, something Hella is taking into account.

"To support these concerns, what Hella has put in place is 2,300 engineers worldwide to create, develop and test the products we are creating to meet regulations and even exceed regulations," says de la Vega.

Peterson, Assenmacher says, is gearing its products toward fleet vehicles. One item he says distributors and jobbers can promote is the company's Piranha LED strobes, which are multifunctional lights.

For example, a garbage truck with an amber turn signal can have one of these lights added without cutting additional holes, he explains.

The light would be a strobe until the turn signal is activated. These lights can also be hooked up to the brake lights.

Hella is focusing its LED attention on daytime running lights and interior lighting for larger vehicles like buses.

The space between

Another component to lighting is keeping the plastic coverings clean and clear.

"What happens is these headlights, because they're plastic, they get yellowed, they get oxidized over time," explains Gary Hutchinson, VP sales and marketing for Symtech Corp., noting the process can happen in less than a year or up to four years. "This reduces your nighttime visibility, and with the older generation, that is a real issue. People are aware when they see this; they know their visibility has been reduced."

He offers Bright Solutions Plastic and Headlamp Resurfacer/Protector treatment, a shine restorer with a UV inhibitor designed to keep the headlight from reoxidizing for up to two years.

Keeping the plastic clean and the lights fresh will help drivers as they head down the road and may be an add-on sale for safety-conscious consumers.