Customizing vehicles has been a popular endeavor ever since the first automobile rolled off the factory lot. We tend to view the vehicle we drive as an extension of ourselves – a moving piece of machinery that shows the world our personality. Of course, for the full gamut of who we are to show through in our vehicle, we need the ability to go past the standard features provided by manufacturers. This is where aftermarket customization comes in.
Aftermarket add-ons are any pieces of equipment or special features that owners can install, and one of the most popular types of add-ons is accent lighting. Today, your options for different lighting kits are extremely varied, but nearly 20 years ago you would have been pretty limited. To fully appreciate everything you can gain from aftermarket lighting kits, we first have to take a look at how these kits have evolved over the years.
A Little History
If you’ve ever seen any of the movies in the Fast and the Furious franchise, then you can completely understand the level of enthusiasm for customized lighting kits. When the first of the films came out a decade and a half ago, suddenly everyone wanted the cool underbody lightings and amazing neon glow seen in the street racers. Suddenly, the mainstream world was seeing an exciting way of customizing vehicles, and the lighting industry has just kept growing.
In the early days, lighting kits featured neon lighting, a form of lighting that used neon and other gases in order to emit glowing light. Today, lighting kits predominantly feature LED lights, with many major aftermarket retailers selling LED lights exclusively. Why the switch, though? What’s the big difference between neon and LED lighting?
The Science Behind Neon Lighting
What you might see in a neon sign and what you would see in neon lighting for vehicle underbodies is pretty much the same thing; it’s just the applications that differ. Neon lights obviously use neon, hence the name, but various other gases and chemicals are used in order to create various colors.
The need for using other gases and chemicals besides neon is that neon produces orange light – and nothing else. In order to have other colors, elements like mercury have to be used in conjunction with other chemicals that have been coated on the inside of the tubes which contain the various gases and chemicals.
The tubes used in neon lighting are very important. The tubes create a chamber in which chemical reactions can occur and produce the glowing light that we admire. For this reaction to occur, the tubes are connected to an electrical energy source that energizes the gases within the tube.
Once energized, the gases create a reaction that disperses light as they release their energy. While these reactions can produce some pretty cool colors, the whole system is pretty vulnerable. Even when using plastic tubing instead of glass, the tubes themselves can break fairly easily. The fact that the tubes contain gases also adds to the vulnerability of such lighting kits, as all it takes is a small crack or leak for the system to fail.
Early lighting kits that used neon technology also had each light tube tied into one another, as this was the only way to light the entire system. If one of the tubes malfunctioned, then the whole system would be interrupted, and all of the light tubes would stop working.
Finding a Better Alternative
Even with the flaws of neon lighting, adding colored accent lighting throughout vehicle exteriors and interiors kept growing in popularity. This popularity encouraged manufacturers to find better ways of creating lighting kits – particularly those that didn’t have the same flaws as the neon kits in use at the time.
All of this led companies to LED lighting. LED stands for light emitting diode, and you might say that these diodes are the key to this technology’s success. Unlike neon lighting – and halogen bulbs as well – LEDs aren’t as vulnerable, as their casing isn’t as likely to break as neon tubes, and they don’t have vulnerable filaments like halogens.
The diode itself is created by combining positive and negative materials that create a semi-conductor, which is then attached to an electrical source of energy. The positive side, known as P-type, features positive charged holes that are combined with the negative, or N-type, side in order to create a chemical reaction. The negative electrons and positive holes are forced toward one another when electricity is applied, and when they collide with one another they release energy in the form of light.
The color of the light depends on a couple of things. First, color can be determined by the wavelength created, with the wavelength being determined by how much energy is applied to the diode. If frequencies are changed, then the color will change as well.
Different elements are also added to the diodes in order to assist in creating different colors. Many LED lighting kits will feature only one color, but others will allow for the application of a large variety of colors. This is achieved through the use of RGB LEDs. These LEDs feature three different diodes: a red diode, a green diode, and a blue diode. When these different LEDs are combined in different combinations and frequencies, they’re able to produce a multitude of colored lights.
The Benefits of LEDs
As mentioned previously, LEDs aren’t as vulnerable as other light technologies, and this is one of their greatest benefits, especially for vehicle applications. When adding lighting to your vehicle, especially if you’re adding it to exterior locations such as the vehicle’s underbody, wheel wells, tailgate, etc., the ability to maintain stability is crucial in keeping your lighting kit operational.
LEDs resist shock and vibrations incredibly well, meaning that rough terrain or impact with debris on the road is far less likely to damage an LED system as opposed to other lighting technologies.
LEDs are also extremely efficient, drawing on much less energy than other lighting options. This smaller consumption of energy thus exposes the LEDs to less wear and, combined with their ability to withstand shock and vibrations, makes for an extremely durable piece of equipment.
This durability gives LEDs a much longer lifespan than either neon or halogen. Since LEDs are small and can be arranged in tubes or strips, they’re also easier to apply to a wide range of areas in and on your vehicle.
Lighting Kit Advancements
Early neon lighting kits were very manual in nature and didn’t come with as many features. As vehicle lighting technology has advanced over the years, so has the technology surrounding the kits themselves.
One of the first advancements to be made was the introduction of wireless controls. These enabled users to use a wireless remote to control the lighting effects, compared to the control box.
Another great advancement, made possible by the introduction of LED lights, was the ability to have each light source connect independently to the vehicle’s battery. This meant that, unlike their neon counterparts, the LED light tubes didn’t have to be linked to one another, meaning that if one of them malfunctioned the others would continue to work.
Other advancements led to LED lights being made smaller and more flexible. This allowed for a broader range of applications, such as adding LED lighting to motorcycles and ATVs. Motorcycles in particular had been a difficult area in the past for LED lighting, as space was limited in terms of where LED lighting could be applied. This made installation very difficult and also tended to lower customer satisfaction.
Today, LED light kits for motorcycles are far more streamlined and therefore much easier to install and hide. The fact that they’re not so obviously displayed now has led to much greater customer satisfaction.
Perhaps one of the coolest advancements made so far is the integration of LED lighting kits with other types of technology, specifically that of smartphones. Virtually everything these days can be controlled via smartphone, so it only makes sense that your lighting kit can be as well. Underbody lighting kits can now be operated with a smartphone through the use of an easy to download app. You can then change the colors of the light kit or decide what kind of visual display to initiate. This control option also features Bluetooth technology rather than Wi-Fi, as it offers a much better connection, thus reducing the likelihood of interference and system interruptions.
The ease of use and overall versatility offered by LED lights means that you can install a lighting kit almost anywhere to your car, either inside or out. In terms of interior lighting kits, the most popular are those that add ambient lighting to the floors through the use of carefully concealed light bars.
These light bars are easily installed beneath the driver’s side dash and the glovebox, as well as beneath the front seats. Wires are able to be expertly hidden by tucking them beneath trim and into the center console. Control boxes are also discreetly mounted to the center console, offering easy access while at the same time keeping the system out of the way.
Exterior applications are pretty diverse, but perhaps the most popular way of adding light is through the use of an underbody light kit. Such kits contain at least four light bars or tubes that are mounted to the pinch welds of your vehicle. The kits will include everything you need to attach and connect the system, making installation super easy.
Apart from underbody kits, you can also purchase kits in order to light up your wheels – an application equally as popular. When it comes to wheel light kits, you can mount your lighting to the top of the fender well in order to cast light throughout the entire wheel well, or you can place the lights behind the struts in order to highlight your rims.
If you have a truck, then not only can you benefit from these application options, but you can also apply LED lights to your tailgate, tool box , or truck bed. All of these options are great in terms of the personalization options they provide, but they can also be practical add-ons as well.
Tailgate light strips can help make you more visible to vehicles behind you, adding to your visual display when you put on your brakes . If you have a work truck or enjoy outdoor activities that might have you out at night, then having extra lighting around your toolbox and throughout your truck bed can be very helpful. In addition to colored light kits, you could also add clear LED light bars or strips in order to create your own on-the-go work space.
Obviously, LED light kits can be used on any car, truck, or SUV, but you can also use them with motorcycles, ATVs, golf carts, and boats. Whether you want to add aftermarket clear LED lighting for purely practical purposes, such as increasing your range of visibility, or you just want to trick out your ride for a more personal look, LED lights offer enough application options that your customization abilities are almost limitless.
You don’t have to stop at the lighting kits, either. If you want more from your vehicle without having to use as much energy, consider replacing existing halogen lights used in your headlights, taillights, and even your dash lighting with LED alternatives. They’ll not only burn brighter, but also use less energy and last much longer.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding and appreciation for everything that goes into underbody and other lighting kits. More than anything, though, hopefully you’ll use this appreciation as motivation to customize your own vehicle. After all, if you’re going to drive something around, then you might as well enjoy it by making it truly reflect your own specific needs and tastes.