Backup lamp

Effective backup lighting

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I’ve never met a vehicle with factory backup lamps that were worth a damn, and I’ve never been sure why—granted, we don’t reverse at the same speed we go forward, but there are plenty of bad things that can happen at five miles per hour when your field of vision is reduced to a couple of mirrors, or your neck is craned at 100 degrees and you’re peering out the corners of your eyes.

In the context of a four-wheel-drive vehicle negotiating a difficult trail after sundown, this problem is magnified tenfold. If you’re backing up, it’s often because the trail in front has become too difficult to negotiate, and that means the trail behind you is not that much better. If you need to turn around and the trail is narrow with a steep dropoff, well . . . you’ve probably been there, as have I.

For those reasons, my FJ40 has been supplied with superb backup lighting for several decades, courtesy of a 7-inch round Cibie Oscar halogen fog lamp with a 100-watt bulb. The Cibie provided a massive amount of light, and drew enough power that I had to re-engineer the backup circuit with 10-gauge wire and a relay. But it’s gotten me out of tight spots more than once, and makes reversing in town a breeze.

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However, time marches on, and halogen lamps are for many applications being quickly outdated by far more efficient LEDs, which last much longer (50,000 hours compared to 2,000 or so), are more resistant to vibration, and draw a fraction of the power. The Cibie had a very high cool factor in addition to its usefulness, but I decided an upgrade was in order. So I looked up Baja Designs, which in a lot fewer years than Cibie has been around has earned a stellar reputation for its auxiliary lighting systems. A quick browse through the online catalog landed me on the S2 Sport “work and scene” lamp, a two-LED lamp a fraction of the size of the Cibie (2.93 x 1.76 x 1.68 inches), yet which produces 1,130 lumens while drawing an absurd .9 amps, compared to 8.3 for the halogen lamp. 

The Cibie had always been mounted on a tab on the right side of the Stout Equipment rear rack on the 40, which was really not optimal, although it threw enough light that the loss on the driver’s side was minimal. I tried mounting the BD lamp there, but it just didn’t look right and would have suffered the same offset effect, so I remounted it to the bottom center of the rack, where it is well-protected and produces a perfectly balanced spread. I had to carefully trim away come copper filaments in the fat 10-gauge positive wire that had fed the 100-watt halogen bulb in order to be able to solder it into the BD quick-disconnect fitting, but otherwise installation was easy.

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Results? The S2’s 1,130-lumen output is lower than the Cibie’s halogen bulb, which probably put out around 2,000 lumens. However, the fog-oriented focus of the Cibie produced an extremely bright horizontal strip of light about 20 feet behind the vehicle, with less bright light in front and behind, because it was mounted higher than a fog lamp normally would be. The BD S2 produces a much more even flood of light closer to the vehicle, which is slightly less impressive but actually much more useful.

The S2 has an IP69K waterproof rating, which means it is submersible to nine feet and impregnable to pressure washing. It also exceeds the MIL-STD810G rating, which means . . . actually I have no idea what it means, but it should mean this will be the last backup lamp I need to install on the FJ40.

Baja Designs is here. Stay tuned for an upgrade on the 40's driving lamps as well.