“I do not prize the word ‘cheap.’ It is not a badge of honor...it is a symbol of despair. Cheap prices make for cheap goods; cheap goods make for cheap men; and cheap men make for a cheap country.” ~ William McKinley
There are few business strategies I loathe more than the one that involves ripping off a high-quality product with cheap copies made to look exactly like the original.
It’s not that I mind products made to a lower standard and price to compete with expensive products. If you can’t afford, say, a $1,000 set of driving lamps, do I think you should have to live without driving lamps? Of course not. But the company that produces the $200 set of driving lamps for you should be honest about it (and I suppose this means forcing you to be honest as well), and make its lamps to its own design.
Look closely up top at the distinctively red-rimmed ARB Intensity driving lamps I photographed on a 4Runner parked at a Tucson Toyota dealer. Note that the logo at the bottom of each does not say “ARB,” it merely, rather banally, says “LED.” These aren’t ARB lamps at all, but Chinese copies available on Amazon for a fraction of the price of the U.S.-made ARB Intensity lamps. Visually they are impressively similar, and if you were after the “look” of the prestigious ARBs without having to shell out the substantial chunk of cash they go for, you’d probably think you’d done well. I could guess that after springing for the genuine ARB front bumper, this 4Runner’s owner either didn’t have the cash left over for ARB lamps as well—or, as I hear more and more often, he turned the situation on its head and thought, ARB is ripping me off! Look what I can get on Amazon for a tenth the price! Same exact thing except without the brand name!
Or perhaps not.
I did some quick research, and found the cut-price lamp on Amazon. (Incidentally, technically speaking the correct term for the device is lamp. What it produces is light.) It was listed as the “Lumitek 2X 185-watt Nine-inch Round Headlamp Lamp Round LED Off Road Light CREE LEDs Spot Beam Led Work Light Fog Light Driving Light Roof Bar Bumper for SUV Boat 4x4 Jeep.” Whew. At $108.12 for a pair (Prime), an astonishing deal on the surface. And, to be completely fair, they carried a four-star rating, which is pretty good. So I began reading the reviews.
The good ones uniformly praised the value for money, as one would expect. Several buyers had had them installed for some time with no issues.
But then there were these reviews (and this is just a sample).
“I wish I could like these lights, but they may just be too cheap. I ordered a set based on the good reviews, but to my disappointment only one of the two lights in the set would turn on. I double and triple checked my wiring but still they wouldn't work. I eventually just hooked them up to a direct power source and confirmed that one was dead.”
“These do not seal out moisture at all. First wash and water sits inside. Lights still work, but idk how long they’ll last like that. Have to disassemble and place a sealant glue On perimeter. Other than that they work well!”
“I knew these were going to be cheap, so while I was disappointed with one not working, I knew I was getting what I paid for. However based on so many popular reviews I ended up returning mine and purchasing another pair thinking that a defective light wouldn't come twice in a row. Lo and behold, after receiving my second set today and hooking them up to a power source, yet another one of the lights was dead and not working. C'mon! I would've given these a good review If they had worked the second time purely because they are so bright (the one that did work) and the price tag.”
“After about a year, the two units I ordered started having issues. When one failed, I asked for a replacement under warranty and was sent one. I took the other dead one apart and discovered that all the LED chips are in parallel, so if one starts to fail, the others are sent too much current and also fail. I bought some replacement leds from an electronics distributor (CREE JK2835AWT 6V) and soldered them in.”
And then there’s that “185 watts” rating. The equivalent ARB 32SV2 Intensity lamp is listed at 165 watts. Several Lumitek users actually measured the draw of their copies—which is to say the output. And:
“Not as advertised! These only draw about 50 watts a light! Immediately sent back!”
“One tests at 57w, one tests at 63w. Far below 185w. Granted most lights nowadays come rated higher then actual output. This is very disappointing.”
“Unbelievably Bright for their cost. Very Satisfied. The 9" Light Draws Just Over 3 Amps Per Single Light.”
This user might have thought they were bright, but 3 amps means his lamps were actually producing about 40 watts—less than one quarter the advertised rating.
And such is the unpredictable way with cut-rate products such as this, as I’ve found with many others, from winches to cordless drills to Yugos. (Yes. I knew a woman who put 120,000 trouble-free miles on one). A few people will have great luck, others will have miserable luck, and, one suspects, yet others will have miserable luck but will be loath to admit it and insist they got a breat buy. (Come to think of it, did my acquaintance really have such good service from the Yugo?)
On one hand you can argue that, for the price, you can put up with going through three or four lamps to get a pair of working units, if you don’t mind the hassle and shipping. Lumitek offers a 12-month guarantee, so with luck you’ll have enough time to get sorted. Of course, the output of the lamps you wind up with might not even come close to the advertised rating, and it appears you don’t want to get them wet, but . . .
Okay, I’m being a bit sarcastic. But there’s another issue here: Waste. Do you think all those lights returned under warranty are shipped back to the factory in China and rebuilt? I’ll bet not. My bet is they’re simply trashed. Even if they are shipped back, it’s a waste of the crap components and fuel and pollution to do so.
I’m sure there are budget-priced driving lamps that are built better and would serve decently (do your research). The Lumitek approach rankled especially because of the blatant copycat styling.
So, what about the real thing, the ARB Intensity LED lamps? We have a set on our Land Cruiser Troopy, and they have performed superbly. I was impressed by the huge margin of safety they offered when we were “forced” (by overly optimistic planning) to drive for several hours after dark on Highway 87 on the way to Alice Springs, with large hopping marsupials creating an interesting obstacle course. Recently ARB announced an updated version, the V2, and I’ve just installed a set of the AR21 V2 on my FJ40. I will report, but the specs (which I’m confident are accurate!) are even more impressive than the originals. Full review soon; however, I can already confirm that both of them actually came on when I flipped the switch.
P.S. For an in-depth technical look at the difference between high-quality brand-name driving lamps and cheap copies, take a look at the excellent piece from Baja Designs here.