Light Duty: Lighting the Way

The latest on new lightning technologies you need to be spec'ing.

And here’s something that could dull the shine of those HID headlights: “We typically see that HID bulbs are in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 times more expensive from a replacement standpoint than halogen bulbs,” says Ryan. “But, when you look at how long you can run an HID bulb on a vehicle, you have to take into account how often you would have to change a halogen bulb.”

Whether or not those are compelling issues for your fleet, there is another maintenance concern that affects any fleet technician working on newer light duty vehicles: how do you replace a light—either a lamp or an entire fixture—if you can’t get at it?

Tighter underhood areas can make it all but impossible to replace a headlight, daytime running light (DRL), foglamp or front turn signal, says Larsen. “In the past, you’d pop the hood and there’d be a mile between the headlamp and the radiator; I mean, you could stick your leg in there and it wouldn’t be a problem,” he says. “Well, today, it’s very difficult to see where to get access to the bulbs, and that’s the thing that the maintenance person is going to have to deal with when the bulbs burn out.”


Fortunately, relief from cramped engine compartments is coming from Europe. Larsen describes a new legal requirement in the EU says that any lighting unit on a vehicle that may need to be replaced by the consumer must be serviceable with the use of simple tools in a simple procedure that’s detailed in the owner’s manual.

“Because my company does global vehicles—the Malibu that sells here also sells in other countries—we have to meet that requirement,” he explains. “So, for our vehicles, you will be able to get at those replaceable bulbs without having to do a major tear-up on the vehicle. Maybe you need a screwdriver to pop it open, but that would be the extent of it. So, American and Canadian consumers are going to benefit from the European regulations, at least on these global vehicles, which is what most of ours are. So we, and our competitors, are really focusing on designing in this serviceability.”

Another maintenance improvement you can look forward to is PWM control, or pulse width modulation.

“Whereas on past vehicles, when the battery’s charging, the alternator really kicks up the voltage to the battery; well, that voltage goes throughout the vehicle,” Larsen says. “A bulb might see 14 volts, when it’s designed for 12.8. That greatly reduces the life of the bulb.

“With our new electrical architectures, with pulse width modulation, we can control that; we can cap the voltage,” he explains. “So a 12.8 volt bulb is only going to see 12.8 volts—no more than 12.8 volts—and that’s a big help in life. That’s available on future GM vehicles.”


For the last word in lighting maintenance and serviceability, we turn to the folks who design and engineer the lighting systems on your light-duty vehicles. What do they see as the most pressing issues in vehicle lighting today?

“A regular halogen bulb has between 600 and 1,000 hours of life; an HID bulb would be around 2,000 hours, or even more,” says Ingolf Sischka, product manager-aftermarket, Philips Automotive Lighting North America. “That already gives a very strong indication on how fleet managers could look into reduced costs for fleet maintenance.

“To get a taste of what these lifetimes really mean, an average consumer in North America drives his or her car about 200 to 250 hours a year with the lights on, or about 40 percent of the time,” he says. “For commercial applications, the number of hours with lights on in a year is on average about 50 to 70 percent higher, so you would be looking at lights on during a year of 350 to 400 hours. So, a halogen bulb would last one-and-a-half, two-and-a-half years, but with an HID bulb, that time doubles. And of course, if there is a FedEx truck that is running at night only, this is a significant difference.

“We do recommend looking for solutions that require less maintenance, and HID definitely could be one option,” Sischka says.

“If you’re in an area where you’re going to have a lot of obstacles to potentially knock off your lamps, if we can get a lower profile on a lamp that is also very rugged and dependable, then these products should last a lot longer,” says Mark Paul, business development and marketing manager for Grote Industries, LLC.

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