CPF Automotive lighting

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mdocod

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I find myself back at CPF once and awhile to do product research. I'm in the process of trying to add auxiliary lighting to my old SUV and not having much luck finding what I am looking for. What I have found is an interesting and perhaps humbling look into my own past...

Out of one corner of CPF's mouth, we have a good argument for safety issues related to non-DOT approved lighting systems on vehicles. (yes, many of them are unsafe due to bad light distribution, performance, or glare).

Out of the other corner of CPF's mouth, we have exhaustive explanations for why MANY current production sealed beam forward lighting systems are absolute trash, and arguably unsafe due to poor performance. FYI: these are DOT approved forward lighting systems.

I'm seeing a lot of effort to convince readers, that DOT approved OE lighting systems are extraordinarily special and could only be the result of exhaustive engineering that could never be replicated. Or perhaps more accurately, these posts are trying to imply that it's unlikely for someone to stumble into a modification that would pass DOT requirements. The implication here is that these OE systems are meeting "tight" standards, and any deviation could be massively dangerous. In reality, if you've driven an assortment of vehicles with DOT approved forward lighting, then you know from first hand experience that OE lighting isn't a bulls-eye sort of deal. In a room with 4 walls, a ceiling and a floor, if the dart hits the same wall that the dart board is mounted to.... that's DOT certified. Certainly that leaves plenty of opportunity (3 walls, a ceiling, and a floor) to come up with something that would not pass, but the "range" of potential characteristics that could pass DOT approval is a lot looser than is being implied.
As one example of the real "range" here.... there are some OE systems, that are HID/halogen interchangeable with absolutely no change in optics, DOT approved either way as both are factory options and the ONLY difference is the light source. Another great example would be to contrast a sealed beam incandescent light that is still DOT approved, to one of the several DOT approved conversion systems for these sealed beam fixtures (both LED and HID systems that replace the entire optics, light source, etc, as an example, "Speaker" brand systems). Here, we have obvious, vast changes in illumination performance all falling under the same "certification." Then when we subjectively compare brand X's DOT approved fixture to brand Y's DOT approved fixture, we see differences in the beam shapes, smoothness, intensity, artifacts, etc etc, yet they all still fall within the umbrella of the same certification.

I'm reading CPF posts indicating that lighting systems need to meet objective measurable standards and have DOT or SAE certifications to be street legal. I believe there's a difference between producing vehicles and lighting systems for sale or operating a commercial fleet, and driving or modifying a personal vehicle. The former, may well fall under federal law, but the later? I'm pretty sure that depends on local law, as it is the state that has granted the licence to operate the vehicle and the state that will ultimately enforce law. I can't find a shred of language in my local state law concerning a requirement for federal DOT approved lighting fixtures (or ANY certifications). In fact, while CPF members tout that the "law" requires certified, objective performance traits, that may not always be true...

Local law for me, describes some objective requirements (minimum number of fixtures, maximum number of fixtures, maximum number of fixtures simultaneously used as part of a distribution of light, etc).
Flying in the face of what some stickied CPF posts would have you believe, the law concerning performance, distribution, glare, etc, are largely SUBJECTIVELY described and enforced here in Colorado.

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In Summery I would like to say the following to those interested in modifying their vehicles lighting systems:

1. Read your State DOT regulation for lighting and only make legal modifications. If in doubt, don't do it.
2. If you have time, read federal DOT regulations for educational purposes (if you have the stomach for it, bleh...)
3. Don't trust your intuition on the matter. Stick with cerebral problem solving. Research research research.
4. Transportation Illumination regulation can be summarized as having the right amount of illumination in the right places. Learn from this. Never assume that more light is automatically better.
5. There's a mountain of awesome information on CPF regarding transportation lighting.
 
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calflash

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I also have been baffled by poor but legal lighting systems. I have come to the conclusion that the "tight" sae standards are basing safety primarily on eliminating glare for all the other drivers who see your headlights. The requirements for what the driver sees must be much less stringent because some systems actually feel dangerous when you are behind the wheel. Under the broad label of lighting safety, I think confusion in the discussions comes from the fact that sometimes the focus is on what the light does to/for the driver and then sometimes the focus is on what how the light affects other motorists. There seem to be few systems that do well on both counts.

Re: state law - I found it interesting to check my local regulations too. I found that in CA, auxiliary driving beams are not required to meet SAE standards. In fact the vehicle code makes no reference to SAE lighting standards. Even lower and upper beam requirements are only based on visibility of 100 and 350 feet respectively. The code seems a little outdated, but in court some have been able to reverse tickets because the CA vehicle code specifically does not contain a standard for aux. high beams. That said, I feel SAE standards for various beams should still be used for the sake of those you share the road with.
 
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Alaric Darconville

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non-DOT approved lighting systems on vehicles
these are DOT approved forward lighting systems
The DOT doesn't "approve" anything.

I'm seeing a lot of effort to convince readers, that DOT approved OE lighting systems are extraordinarily special and could only be the result of exhaustive engineering that could never be replicated.
The DOT doesn't "approve" of anything. The OE lighting systems are the product of engineers who have done exhaustive research into optics and materials and so can build a headlamp or turn signal to fit in the aesthetic design of the vehicle itself. The lamp assemblies themselves are made to extremely precise tolerances, with carefully selected materials designed to withstand the rigors of automobile service.
Or perhaps more accurately, these posts are trying to imply that it's unlikely for someone to stumble into a modification that would pass DOT requirements. The implication here is that these OE systems are meeting "tight" standards, and any deviation could be massively dangerous.
Yes. Because vehicle lighting is not something that you "stumble into".

Sentence mentioning "DOT approved" removed

As one example of the real "range" here.... there are some OE systems, that are HID/halogen interchangeable with absolutely no change in optics, DOT approved either way as both are factory options and the ONLY difference is the light source.
[citation needed] (Also, the DOT does not "approve" anything.)

Another great example would be to contrast a sealed beam incandescent light that is still DOT approved, to one of the several DOT approved conversion systems for these sealed beam fixtures (both LED and HID systems that replace the entire optics, light source, etc, as an example, "Speaker" brand systems). Here, we have obvious, vast changes in illumination performance all falling under the same "certification." Then when we subjectively compare brand X's DOT approved fixture to brand Y's DOT approved fixture, we see differences in the beam shapes, smoothness, intensity, artifacts, etc etc, yet they all still fall within the umbrella of the same certification.
The DOT doesn't "approve" anything.
Part of meeting the requirements for a headlamp involve meeting certain minimum intensities at particular test points, without exceeding certain maximum intensities at certain test points. So, yes, there's a LOT of room for improvement in any lamp that meets the standard-- improvements that allow those lamps to exceed all minima throughout every test point in the range without also exceeding any maximum in any test point in the range.

I'm reading CPF posts indicating that lighting systems need to meet objective measurable standards and have DOT or SAE certifications to be street legal. I believe there's a difference between producing vehicles and lighting systems for sale or operating a commercial fleet, and driving or modifying a personal vehicle. The former, may well fall under federal law, but the later? I'm pretty sure that depends on local law, as it is the state that has granted the licence to operate the vehicle and the state that will ultimately enforce law. I can't find a shred of language in my local state law concerning a requirement for federal DOT approved lighting fixtures (or ANY certifications). In fact, while CPF members tout that the "law" requires certified, objective performance traits, that may not always be true...
Federal law remains supreme.
State laws are a mess when it comes to motor vehicle lighting, hence the need for FMVSS 108. Because automakers introduce their product into interstate commerce, it's in the purview of the Federal government to regulate the original equipment. When you modify your vehicle with lights that do not meet the standards, then you're subject to the State laws. If I were driving a vehicle using the JW Speaker Model 8700s, and get in a wreck, the State or the other party's lawyers might try to point at those lamps and say they're not factory original, and therefore were a proximal cause of the accident. I can point at the lens markings and to the company itself to show that they do indeed conform to FMVSS 108, and therefore are not likely to have caused dangerous levels of glare. If instead I'd put in some (obviously a made-up brand for illustrative purposes) "OHZZ RoadRage Plus XXXTreme H4" lamps, because they were "COOL and I did research and everyone on DatsunB210tunerz.ru said they were AWESOME" and got in a wreck, well, yeah... I hope I have enough liability insurance.

Local law for me, describes some objective requirements (minimum number of fixtures, maximum number of fixtures, maximum number of fixtures simultaneously used as part of a distribution of light, etc).
Flying in the face of what some stickied CPF posts would have you believe, the law concerning performance, distribution, glare, etc, are largely SUBJECTIVELY described and enforced here in Colorado.
Hence the need for Federal law. State laws are a mess. Some will merely say that a lamp needs to be "visible from 300 feet" and other vague things, without any apposite material referenced within.

In Summery I would like to say the following to those interested in modifying their vehicles lighting systems:

1. Read your State DOT regulation for lighting and only make legal modifications. If in doubt, don't do it.
2. If you have time, read federal DOT regulations for educational purposes (if you have the stomach for it, bleh...)
3. Don't trust your intuition on the matter. Stick with cerebral problem solving. Research research research.
4. Transportation Illumination regulation can be summarized as having the right amount of illumination in the right places. Learn from this. Never assume that more light is automatically better.
5. Question everything, and don't feel bad questioning the "internet safety police." There's a mountain of awesome information on CPF regarding transportation lighting, but there's also a lot of over-enthusiastic attempts to stop you in your tracks with scare tactics that may be unwarranted.
1. The ol' "check local laws before ordering" routine, eh? Most people aren't going to "not do it when in doubt"; they'll think they're smarter than the "local laws" or that they've found some "loophole". Nope.

2. Sure, read them, but be advised they refer to SAE publications for testing methodologies-- those publications are not in the public domain, and without knowing exactly what they say, it's hard to determine what the law really says in some cases.

3. Research does not mean "read 5, 10, or 20 internet forums and find out what the loudest people say most frequently".

4. Yes. Thank you, yes. That is correct.

5. "Questioning" to gain clarity on the information presented is one thing, "questioning" to try to trip people up, or to try to justify doing the absolutely wrong thing is quite another. "Scare tactics" are not used here; those are the province of political parties and the anti-vaccine movement.

Modifying your vehicle in the way "you see fit", particularly when it can result in dangerous conditions, is a form of bullying. That's what it is, is bullying, plain and simple. When you modify a vehicle such that it produces dangerous levels of glare contrary to law, you're bullying other drivers, making them suffer by your own breaking of the rules. It can lead to property damage, bodily injury, and even death.
 
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-Virgil-

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I find myself back at CPF once and awhile to do product research.

Once and awhile, eh?

I'm in the process of trying to add auxiliary lighting to my old SUV and not having much luck finding what I am looking for.

That's unfortunate. I'm not seeing any posts by you where you ask for recommendations after describing the vehicle you're working on and the lighting needs you have. I think that might be one of the reasons why you're not having much luck finding what you are looking for.

In fact, looking at your posting history, I don't see any vehicle lighting related posts from you at least as far back as 2010 (I didn't look beyond page 7) except for your two posts you made today or yesterday. You've made a fair number of posts about flashlights and other non-automotive topics ranging from button batteries to quitting smoking, but just these two on vehicle lighting. Modifying flashlights doesn't affect anyone but you. Modifying vehicle lights affects you and everyone involuntarily sharing the road with you. Even if you could argue a plausible case that there's no law against exactly whatever you want to do to your car's lights, it is selfish and irresponsible to inflict yourself this way on others and their safety. That is why we have federal and international technical standards and regulations for vehicle safety devices and systems including lights. It's also why rule 11 of this board says what it says.

So while everyone's welcome to post here as long as they follow the rules, it's kind of sour for you to be passing high-handed judgment about the advice on this part of the board. You don't appear to be doing so from a position well grounded in knowledge and understanding.

What I have found is an interesting and perhaps humbling look into my own past...

The internet is like that sometimes!

Out of one corner of CPF's mouth, we have a good argument for safety issues related to non-DOT approved lighting systems on vehicles. (yes, many of them are unsafe due to bad light distribution, performance, or glare).

There is no such thing as a "DOT approved" lighting system or device. This has been covered in such detail on this board, so many times, that it's a little difficult to understand how you've managed not to see it during your search for information on upgrading your SUV's lighting.

Out of the other corner of CPF's mouth, we have exhaustive explanations for why MANY current production sealed beam forward lighting systems are absolute trash, and arguably unsafe due to poor performance. FYI: these are DOT approved forward lighting systems.

Well, they're not "DOT approved", but yes, the technical regulations that apply to vehicle lighting devices and systems allow a large range of allowable design, construction, and performance parameters. However, it's not a free-for-all, the allowable range is not infinite, and subjective impressions are useless to determine the safety performance of a lighting device or system. The regulations have hard, objective, scientifically-based requirements for design, construction, performance, and durability. Many of these requirements are intricate and technically quite challenging to meet. None of this is a shocking bombshell newsflash; it's always been this way, and it is the only honest and accurate description of the regulations and technical standards.

I'm seeing a lot of effort to convince readers, that DOT approved OE lighting systems are extraordinarily special and could only be the result of exhaustive engineering that could never be replicated.

It's interesting you're seeing this, because there's actually little to none of it. It is a mischaracterization of the advice given.

Or perhaps more accurately, these posts are trying to imply that it's unlikely for someone to stumble into a modification that would pass DOT requirements.

That's less inflammatory, but still not really an accurate summary of the advice that tends to be given here by people who know enough to be dispensing advice on the subject. It sounds like you're frustrated that people are being (correctly) advised that homemade or home-modified car lights aren't safe, effective, or legal. It's unfortunate you're experiencing frustration, but that doesn't change the facts.

The implication here is that these OE systems are meeting "tight" standards, and any deviation could be massively dangerous.

That's not an implication, it's a fact. It doesn't mean all OE lamps are excellent, but very few vehicles have objectively bad lights. Remember, not only is there a range of performance permitted, but also there is a wide gulf between objective performance and subjective opinion. "I hate my headlights" is not the same as "My headlights are bad".

In a room with 4 walls, a ceiling and a floor, if the dart hits the same wall that the dart board is mounted to.... that's DOT certified.

That's not a reasonable or accurate description of reality.

As one example of the real "range" here.... there are some OE systems, that are HID/halogen interchangeable with absolutely no change in optics, DOT approved either way as both are factory options and the ONLY difference is the light source.

This is a popular myth based in ignorance, guesses, assumptions, and desire to fabricate an excuse for why a particular modification is OK. No matter how often it is repeated, no matter how loudly it is shouted, it is still not true. Never has been. Never will be.

Another great example would be to contrast a sealed beam incandescent light that is still DOT approved, to one of the several DOT approved conversion systems for these sealed beam fixtures (both LED and HID systems that replace the entire optics, light source, etc, as an example, "Speaker" brand systems). Here, we have obvious, vast changes in illumination performance all falling under the same "certification."

Well, no, not really. Each certification applies to one kind of lamp. A GE incandescent sealed beam number 6014 falls under the same certification as another GE incandescent sealed beam number 6014, but not the same certification as a Wagner incandescent sealed beam number 6014, not the same certification as a J.W. Speaker LED headlamp number 8700 that fits in place of a 6014, not the same certification as a Truck-Lite LED headlamp that fits in place of a 6014, not the same certification as the headlamps on a 2013 Honda Civic, etc.

You seem to be trying to argue that because the regulations allow a large range of performance, homemade or modified lights are OK. That is a non-sequitur and it is also just plain not correct.

Then when we subjectively compare brand X's DOT approved fixture to brand Y's DOT approved fixture, we see differences in the beam shapes, smoothness, intensity, artifacts, etc etc, yet they all still fall within the umbrella of the same certification.

Your understanding of how certification works is faulty, but yes, there are large visible differences in headlight beams. The thing is, safety performance (and compliance with the standards) can't be determined by observation or "subjective comparison". It can only be determined by objective measurement. You probably don't have a photogoniometer in your garage or basement, or a vibration test machine, or a humidity test machine, or a salt spray chamber, or any of the other equipment necessary (yes, necessary) to test car lamps. There are labs specializing in these kinds of tests, and anyone can send a lamp to such a lab and pay to get the testing done. But just as it takes a lot of special equipment and knowledge to test a lamp, it takes a lot of special equipment and knowledge to design and build a lamp (or modify a lamp in a manner that maintains or improves its performance). The odds are overwhelmingly against an amateur tinkerer, no matter how enthusiastic or confident.

I'm reading CPF posts indicating that lighting systems need to meet objective measurable standards and have DOT or SAE certifications to be street legal. I believe there's a difference between producing vehicles and lighting systems for sale or operating a commercial fleet, and driving or modifying a personal vehicle.

The particulars depend on a lot of factors, but to a large extent this is true. Even in those situations where it might not be true, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to bull ahead with whatever lighting modification idea you might have in mind. You might get away with it for awhile, maybe a long while, but in the event of a crash serious enough (death, injury, property damage) for the vehicles involved to be inspected, modified safety equipment can and will be used against you in a court of law, and the results can be ruinously expensive.

I can't find a shred of language in my local state law concerning a requirement for federal DOT approved lighting fixtures

There's still no such thing as a "DOT approved lighting fixture".

In Summery I would like to say the following to those interested in modifying their vehicles lighting systems

Good advice applies year round -- whether the weather is Summery, Wintry, Springlike, or Autumnal.

1. Read your State DOT regulation for lighting and only make legal modifications. If in doubt, don't do it.

Always a good suggestion.

2. If you have time, read federal DOT regulations for educational purposes (if you have the stomach for it, bleh...)

Something about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 makes you nauseous...?

3. Don't trust your intuition on the matter. Stick with cerebral problem solving. Research research research.

This is good advice, too, but it's important to keep in mind what that word "research" means. It does not mean "search the internet until you find someone who agrees with you and says your idea is cool and you should do it because safety regulations are for losers".

4. Transportation Illumination regulation can be summarized as having the right amount of illumination in the right places. Learn from this. Never assume that more light is automatically better.

This is excellent and very accurate advice.

5. Question everything

Well, I don't know about everything. We don't question that round wheels are better than triangular ones. Likewise, a lot of questions in the realm of vehicle lighting have a correct answer that will not change no matter how often the question is asked, how loudly, by how many internet fanboys.

There's a mountain of awesome information on CPF regarding transportation lighting

Also true!
 
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mdocod

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If light fixture has "D.O.T." engraved, printed, or molded into it, then, unless there is something afoot, the fixture meets DOT requirements if installed in accordance with the regulation. If you don't think the word "approved" works here fine. I'm not interested in having a debate over semantics, and don't appreciate being belittled over an issue of semantics. You guys are basically taking cheap shots at me and I feel insulted.

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Just because I haven't directly started a thread asking for some guidance doesn't mean I haven't read through hundreds of threads already. I'm not sure how my lack of recent posting activity has anything to do with whether or not I have actively referenced CPF posts to gather information. I can't believe I'm hearing someone use post-count as a measuring stick for credentials. Sad.

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a lot of what people say is "illegal" on this forum, is not illegal at all. Issues of liability, safety, etc, are separate.
 
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-Virgil-

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If light fixture has "D.O.T." engraved, printed, or molded into it, then, unless there is something afoot, the fixture meets DOT requirements if installed in accordance with the regulation

That is true.

If you don't think the word "approved" works here fine. I'm not interested in having a debate over semantics

It's not a debate about semantics. The difference between "approved" and "certified" has specific, significant technical and legal weight. It's not just a word-choice issue. It's also not a matter of what I (or anyone else) thinks. Vehicle safety regulations in the US do not work on an approval basis -- that's just a plain fact.

I feel insulted

It is unfortunate that you choose to feel insulted by misunderstood words on a screen, but it is your choice. You can just as easily choose otherwise.

Just because I haven't directly started a thread asking for some guidance doesn't mean I haven't read through hundreds of threads already.

That's true, but if you're not willing to belly up to the bar and ask your questions, it's kind of unrealistic to complain just because the particular topic you happen to be interested in doesn't happen to have been brought up previously by someone else.

I'm not sure how my lack of recent posting activity has anything to do with whether or not I have actively referenced CPF posts to gather information.

Nobody suggested this. It just doesn't look like you've participated in the automotive sections of this board since at least 2010, and that's why you look silly suddenly appearing here to shout and holler that you're right and everyone else is wrong.

a lot of what people say is "illegal" on this forum, is not illegal at all. Issues of liability, safety, etc, are separate.

Rule 11 of this board prohibits advocating illegal or dangerous activity. You aren't required to like the rules, or to agree with them. All you have to do if you want to participate here is obey the rules. You agreed to do so when you signed up for this board.

-Virgil
 
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