Brighten your motorhome driving experience with auxiliary lights.
Text and Photos By Jim Brightly
Most drivers will agree that it is safer to travel during the day than at night. During daylight hours, visibility usually is better (unless there is fog, blowing dust, snow, etc.) and obstacles, pedestrians, and wildlife can be seen more easily and avoided. But as our motorhomes and our bodies grow older, the vehicle’s lights become dimmer and our eyes less receptive — especially when they become tired after a long day behind the wheel. Fortunately, it’s possible to brighten up the night with auxiliary lighting.
Hella Inc., a manufacturer of automotive lights and other automotive electronics, uses a variety of modern, up-to-date technologies (halogen, xenon, free form reflectors, etc.) in its line of auxiliary driving lights and fog lights that can greatly improve nighttime visibility when compared to your OEM headlights — and they are fairly easy to install. Hella manufactures a variety of vehicle lights that can meet nearly every need and style.
My wife and I recently relocated from Southern California to southwestern Colorado, and we’ve learned that auxiliary lighting is a virtual necessity where we now live. Driving in this part of the state involves navigating miles of narrow, two-lane roads; roads with no streetlights; and roads with an abundance of active wildlife. The weather can change from bright moonlight to blinding snow in less than 25 miles, and then change back again just as fast. In other words, we now experience the types of roads and driving conditions that many motorhomers encounter all the time. Operating a vehicle in these less-than-ideal conditions demands auxiliary lighting for safety’s sake.
Newer motorhomes come equipped with excellent quartz-halogen headlights featuring the latest lens technology. You’ll have to go a long way to improve on these newer headlights with replacements. But this isn’t the case with the older sealed-beam sets of headlights.
The original sealed-beam headlights on a friend’s 1987 motorhome were woefully inadequate when it came to nighttime illumination. Therefore, we decided to install both fog lights (for a wide low-beam spread) and driving lights (for extended visibility at higher speeds) to help boost the motorhome’s illumination power. Using Hella’s wiring (included in the kits), we keyed the fog lights to the headlights’ low-beam circuit and the driving lights to the high-beam circuit. Connecting the auxiliary lights in this fashion allows the high/low-beam switch to control the auxiliary lights easily.
Before installing these auxiliary light kits, be sure to read the manufacturer-supplied instructions completely. The instructions also include a complete tool list. After we finished our auxiliary lighting project and before putting away our toolbox, we also installed a remote-controlled spotlight on the motorhome’s roof for directional lighting and two much-needed air horns (see sidebars).
Hella offers fog lamps with either clear or amber lenses in several styles. We selected amber for the simple reason that it is the traditional shade for fog lights. The 550 Amber Fog Lamp Kit (part number 74606) that we chose includes a wiring harness with a switch, a relay, and an in-line fuse (mounted on the relay); two lights with 55-watt bulbs; stone shields; and complete mounting hardware. I recommend purchasing the entire kit; otherwise, you may end up spending more time and money running around trying to pick up each individual item.
Why use fog lamps? Weather conditions such as fog, rain, and snow can cause the light from standard headlights to reflect into the driver’s eyes, creating a wall of haze. Fog lights, on the other hand, are designed to shine beneath this haze, reducing glare and improving visibility. Darkness and moisture also reduce visibility. Strolling wildlife, horses, or cattle can materialize out of this haze and darkness and enter your motorhome’s path before you see them. We nearly hit a black horse in a snowstorm on one occasion, and another time the fog lights saved a deer — and significant damage to our vehicle — as it stepped onto the road.
Fog lights evenly illuminate the width of the road and the shoulders (of a two-lane road), providing a wider and safer path of light in which to drive. The added beam width saved us from hitting that deer and possibly causing a serious accident. To spread the beams as much as possible, we mounted the fog lights to the outside of the auxiliary driving lights, which we installed second.
With the wiring harness already included, and Hella’s easy-to-follow instructions and wiring diagram in hand, all you need to do is drill several holes; thread the wiring harness correctly through the firewall; connect the wiring as indicated; and mount the lights, the relay, and the switch. When drilling through the bumper or the dashboard, mark the location first and then use a center punch to start the hole. This will keep the drill bit from wandering over the surface of the bumper or dashboard and possibly scratching it.
Hella’s instructions for the fog lamps are to connect the relay lead to a low-beam circuit, which we did. This allows the dimmer switch to turn the fog lights on and off without the driver touching the fog light switch. If, however, you like a wide fan of light directly in front of your coach whenever it’s dark, you can connect the relay lead to a parking light circuit, which is on whenever the headlights are on, allowing you to use both the fog lights and the driving lights simultaneously. If you wish to do this, you’ll need to make sure your motorhome’s electrical circuit can handle the double load.
Driving at night in dim lighting can stress a person’s eyes, which can significantly decrease normal visual acuity. Auxiliary driving lights provide a greater range of vision, with brighter, more evenly distributed light that illuminates potentially dangerous obstacles at extended distances and gives the driver more time to react and avoid potential hazards — exactly the type of coverage a safe motorhome driver needs.
To match our fog lights, we chose the 550 Driving Light Kit (part number 74406). It includes the same items as the fog light kit, except the lenses are designed to provide distant illumination with a narrower beam. The procedure for mounting and connecting the driving lights is identical to that for installing the fog lights, with the following exception: we connected the relay lead to a high-beam circuit, which makes it much easier to dim the lights for oncoming traffic.
If you do purchase one of these auxiliary lighting kits, don’t be surprised to find that Hella leaves the final assembly for several of its lights to the new owner. This is done to keep prices lower and save the buyer money.
In some cases, the lights’ mounts are set up to mate with horizontal brackets, so you may have to modify a light mount to mate securely to the surface on which you are attaching it. We used 2-inch-wide flat washers to spread the stress of the weight of the lights on the motorhome’s fiberglass bumper. (You shouldn’t have to do this if your motorhome has a metal bumper.) In addition, due to the design of the coach’s fiberglass bumper and steel sub-bumper, we suspended the lights beneath the bumper.
For complete, trouble-free installation, it will take one person approximately two to three hours per pair of lights. As with most motorhome projects, an able assistant can help reduce the time it takes to install the lights. But if you rush the installation, it will likely take you longer, because you’ll make mistakes and the job won’t look as precise. Be patient and install it correctly the first time. In addition, there is surprisingly little room in many motorhomes’ engine compartments, as we found out with this 1987 model. Before you begin drilling holes, plan your switch and relay locations carefully, and route the wires so that they don’t interfere with moving engine parts, come in contact with hot hoses, or rub against sharp chassis components, which could cause electrical shorts.
Whether you’re climbing the canyons of Colorado, moving through the mountains of Montana, idling along the byways of Idaho, or catching the autumn color carousel in Connecticut, auxiliary lights from Hella can increase your driving safety tremendously.
Prices for the various Hella products are available upon request. For more information, contact Hella Inc., 201 Kelly Drive, Peachtree City, GA 30269; (877) 224-3552; www.hellausa.com.
The 1987 motorhome on which we installed the auxiliary lights had a pair of electric horns that were hard to hear even when they were new. After 15 years, they had become barely audible. So with safety on our minds — and our tools still handy — we decided to add a new horn kit to the motorhome.
Besides its selection of exterior automotive lights, Hella offers a well-rounded product catalog that includes fans, interior lamps, backup alarms, automatic rain-sensing wiper actuators, safety equipment, and, of course, air horns. For owners of older motorhomes with weak or disabled horns, a new, louder horn may possibly help them avoid an accident or alert another driver to a dangerous situation.
Because of space considerations, we determined that a dual-horn setup would suffice, although Hella also offers a three-horn kit for those who wish to draw more attention. We found that the Dual-Tone Air Horn Kit (part number 85105) did the job nicely. The kit includes everything necessary for installation except the wiring and solderless connectors — you’ll have to provide those yourself.
Using Hella’s wiring diagram, we connected the kit’s relay to the existing horn circuit. We decided to leave the existing horns in the circuit so that all four horns are actuated with the steering wheel’s horn bar. The instructions described two ways of doing this.
Light Up The Night
How many times have you driven into a strange campground late at night, received your campsite assignment, and then awkwardly tried to find it in the dark? The campground is quiet, everyone appears to be asleep, and there are no streetlights illuminating the street names or the campsite numbers. You try shining a flashlight from the driver’s seat through the windshield, but the light just reflects back at you.
Finally, you or your passenger has to get out of the motorhome at each junction to find the street you’re looking for. The more times you wander up and down the rows of darkened RVs, the more porch lights come on with people peering through their curtains wondering who’s making all that noise. You’re embarrassed, and you’ll be even more red-faced in the morning when you have to face your neighbors.
Golight Inc. offers an array of remote-controlled spotlights that provide a powerful 400,000 candlepower light source capable of reaching distances up to 1/2-mile — a great tool for finding that secluded campsite.
We evaluated two models: the 2067, which is a permanently mounted unit with a hand-held remote control and a dash-mounted remote control; and the 7901, which is a magnetically mounted portable spotlight with a hand-held remote control. Both units appear identical, except for the mounting assemblies, and both use a Phillips H9 65-watt bulb, which draws 5.5 amps. Each provides a 370-degree rotation with a 120-degree tilt. The remote control can turn the light on and off, rotate it, and angle it, providing excellent coverage for a spotlight. And if you live or travel in an area with inclement weather, Golights are built to handle storms, no matter whether they include snow, rain, dust, or frigid temperatures.
If you have trouble spotting addresses at night, or simply would like to identify that strange noise in the darkness, you might consider one of these units. We mounted the 2067 model on the roof of my friend’s 1987 type A motorhome, which proved to be a fairly simple installation, taking two people between one and two hours to complete. The 7901 model was ideal to stick on the towed vehicle’s roof. We simply plugged the light into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter and left it there. The hand-held remotes are said to have an effective range of 100 feet, so we could easily control the towed vehicle’s spotlight from inside the coach, both while traveling and when parked.
For more information, contact Golight Inc., Route 3, Box 37B, Culbertson, NE 69024; (800) 557-0098; www.golight.com.