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Shining a light

  • Michael Freeze
- Posted: October 23, 2019

LED headlights clear the way for a safe, efficient plow

It’s the little things that matter. Headlights may seem minor in the grand scheme of snowplows, but they are worth more than their weight in gold on those early, crack-of-dawn mornings during a snow event. 

“Headlights are the most important item on the plow for safety,” says Douglas Clark, CSP, product manager of Western Products. “To get that safety, they need to ensure that the light works with the plow they have.”

The rise of LED

Lighting packages have come a long way from the days of sealed beams to halogens that have been the bulb of choice for vehicle and snowplow original equipment manufacturers (OEM). However, the trend has been moving toward LED lighting. LEDs use electroluminescence (light created by electrical fields) and have several advantages over sealed and halogen bulbs.

“Everyone is interested in LED technology,” says Mike Stoeckel, J.W. Speaker’s director of aftermarket sales. “A lot of the OEMs are transitioning away from halogen in favor of LED because it lasts longer (8-10 years) and is brighter.”

Another advantage, Stoeckel notes, is that filaments in halogen lights can break more often in the rough snow removal environment. LEDs also use less energy and emit a whiter light. 

“This white light helps illuminate the snow very clearly and is less straining on the eye, which is beneficial for keeping eyes fresh for long nights behind the plow,” says Mark Klossner, marketing vice president for BOSS Snowplow.

LEDs are also much more affordable than they were just a few years ago, says Ryan Eichorn, lighting products manager at Buyers Products. 

“The technology and processes have evolved so contractors can get brighter, more efficient lights for a fraction of what they cost five years back,” he says. 

Efficiency and safety

In addition to lower prices, LED headlights are better equipped with brighter light patterns that allow operators to more effectively and safely navigate their areas since they can see and be seen better. 

“Snow contractors are often out in the middle of the night and during snowstorms, so they need lights that are bright enough to be seen in all varieties of low visibility conditions,” Eichorn says. “They also need to know their lights can handle freezing temperatures and rough impacts without icing over or breaking.”

Clark says LED headlights are important for job efficiency. “The better an operator can see what he or she is doing, the more precise they can be,” he notes. “Being able to see well when plowing cuts down on-site damage and adds to the precision of the work done.”

The lack of heat produced by LEDs is a major concern for plowing snow in adverse weather conditions. Some manufacturers have advanced LED efficiency further by adding heating systems to prevent ice buildup. 

Consumer education

While cost savings may entice contractors to make the shift to LED lighting, contractors should do their homework to ensure they are purchasing the correct lights that will fit their plow and be legal. LED lights can be purchased via aftermarket or as an upgrade for existing equipment. If snow contractors choose aftermarket, it’s recommended to install LED in compliance with government standards. 

Eichorn says companies work to provide the most accurate information possible so that customers can find the lights that suit their needs. However, Clark contends, manufactures have to educate plow owners to properly weigh their options and recognize the ultimate goal.

“More than anything, contractors need to be able to see. The work that gets done in snow and ice management is done in poor visibility and road conditions,” he says. “A good set of headlights is one of the single most important factors in ensuring safe, economical, thorough work on a job site.”

Whether it’s original or aftermarket, it’s understanding the product that manufacturers say will bring out the most potential in LED technology. 

“One of the challenges to overcome is that people don’t understand the technology of LED,” Stoeckel says. “That’s why education is important. It’s different, but for most people, seeing is believing. If we explain well to our customer, it validates our product to the snow removal industry.”

Buying tips for LED headlights

• The right design. Customers are asking for purpose-built designs. If you’re trying to fit an existing 7-inch round head lamp on a snow lamp, it doesn’t fit well and it blocks the driver’s line of sight. Newer headlights have a lower profile so they stay out of the driver’s line of sight, are compact and powerful.

• The right light. If purchasing aftermarket headlights, make sure they work with your plow and are in regulatory compliance. The light color cast by each snowplow headlight option should be closely evaluated. 

• Heat it up. Contractors should ask how the system will generate the heat needed to keep the lights free of ice and snow. Look for lights with heating elements, and ask if they are regularly used in wet and freezing conditions where there’s risk of icing.

• Dependability. Durability and reliability are critical. If you are in a winter environment, you need durability for a winter environment bombarded by snow, ice and moisture. 

• Check the specs. Snow contractors should look at a light’s Ingress Protection (IP) rating to determine how resistant it is to water and dust. IP is an international method used to describe the protection of a fitting to stop the penetration of solid objects or water entering the light fitting. A rating of at least IP65 is recommended for plowing applications. 

Source: Mike Stoeckel, Ryan Eichorn, Mark Klossner, Douglas Clark, CSP

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