Auxiliary lighting has come a long way since the introduction of LED lights for off-road vehicles. Instead of relying on short-lived halogen bulbs or fragile neon tubes, you can deck out your vehicle with LED pod lights for a more customizable lighting setup.
While pod lights are smaller than auxiliary driving lights or spot lights, they aren’t only there to give your built-in lights a boost. Pod lights are powerful in their own right, and can produce 10,000 lumens or more. You can use them as spot lights, fog lights, and even as decorative lights to help your vehicle stand out from the rest.
But with so many pod lights on the market, how can you decide which is the best one for your vehicle? Let’s take a closer look at the different types of pod lights, as well as the pros and cons of LED lights, to help you make an informed choice.
What are pod lights?
First, what exactly are pod lights? Modern pod lights are made primarily with LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, in contrast to halogen bulbs and other types of auxiliary lights.
LEDs are popular because they’re more powerful than halogen bulbs, while using less energy to produce light. That means you can install multiple pod lights on your vehicle without having to worry too much about draining your battery.
Also, LEDs offer more fine-tuned control, because they turn on and off instantly, and don’t take any time to heat up. Some pod lights can even change color, and you can control them with automated flashing patterns using a smartphone app.
But what sets pod lights apart from other auxiliary LED lights, such as light bars and rock lights? The main difference is their size and versatility.
Even though they all run on the same technology, they’re all designed to be installed in different places on your vehicle and to illuminate different parts of the scene.
At one end of the extreme are light bars, which are essentially a bunch of LED pods built together into one unit. Because they’re big and bulky -- they can be several feet long -- they have to be installed on the front grille or roof of the vehicle. They usually point forward and are used as flood lights, spot lights, or combination beams.
At the other end are rock lights, which are smaller than pod lights, and are meant to be installed underneath the vehicle to illuminate any hazards close to the ground.
Pod lights are somewhere in between: they can be just as powerful as light bars, but are small and versatile enough to be installed almost anywhere on your vehicle, such as the front, rear, side pillars, and even embedded in the bumper.
Let’s look at a few different styles and how they’re installed.
Types of pod lights
Most pod lights come in the shape of a cube, usually 3 or 4 inches on each side, but you can also find round and rectangular pod lights.
It’s easy to install them individually, or attach multiple lights to a single mount. You can decide whether you want your lights to be adjustable, or firmly secured in place.
Pod lights come with a specific beam pattern, such as a flood beam or spot beam, so you’ll need to know in advance what you plan to use them for.
If you plan to use them as a spot light so you can drive at high speed in off-road areas, then you’ll want to install them as high on the vehicle as possible.
If you plan to use them as fog lights, you’ll need a more dispersed beam installed low to the ground, such as a flush mounted pod light embedded in your bumper.
Some lights come with multiple beam options, or a combination beam, making it easy to switch between beam patterns when driving in different environments.
Bracket mounted pod lights
Bracket mounts are a good option if you’ll be installing your lights on a bumper or pillar. This is one of the easiest installations, because many off-road vehicles have mounting features built in, such as a hole in the bumper where the bracket’s bolts can go.
If you don’t have mounting options in the right place, then you can drill a hole and attach the bracket or mounting plate there. Some types of brackets, such as pillar mounts, are designed to hold multiple light pods that can be removed or adjusted easily.
Another type of pod mount is a cradle mount, which can allow for rotation of up to 180 degrees, depending on its design. This kind of mount can be installed on the roof, grill, or winch, and can accommodate individual pod lights or light bars.
Bracket mounts give you plenty of flexibility for installing pod lights on your vehicle, but in some cases, you may not want a bunch of pods protruding from your vehicle.
Flush mounted pod lights
Whether you’re driving on narrow trails with branches could damage your pod lights, or you just want a sleeker design, you can choose a flush mount installation instead.
How do flush mounted pod lights differ? The lighting units themselves are the same, but they’re installed by drilling a hole for the entire pod in the frame or bumper.
This has the advantage of a more streamlined appearance, with fewer changes to the original factory design of your vehicle.
The downside is that they’re a little harder to install, and it’s more difficult to move them or adjust the angle of the beam once they’re in place.
Because they’re typically mounted low to the ground, in either the front or rear bumper, they’re best suited for flood lights or fog lights and not for spot lights.
Pros and cons of pod lights
Pod lights are incredibly versatile lights, but they aren’t right for every scenario. In some cases, you might be better off with a light bar or another type of auxiliary light.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of LED pod lights.
As with any type of auxiliary lighting, you get what you pay for, and these pros and cons will vary depending on the quality of the materials and construction. LEDs may be more expensive, but you can count on these advantages over other types of lights.
One of the biggest advantages of LED pod lights is that they have a long life expectancy and they don’t burn out as quickly as halogen bulbs do. LEDs can last for five years or more, and if you invest in pods with durable housing, you don’t have to worry about damaging them in rough terrain or adverse weather conditions.
Pod lights are incredibly energy efficient, and a single set can produce 10,000 lumens or more, using half as many watts as a comparable halogen bulb.
Daylight color temperature
LEDs produce a color temperature of around 4000k to 5500k, which is closer to daylight than halogen bulbs and creates a natural white color. It’s ideal for off-road use, because it’s as close to sunlight as you can get from an auxiliary lighting unit.
Despite these advantages, there are a few disadvantages to pod lights that you should keep in mind when deciding which type of lights are right for you.
Not street legal
Most auxiliary lights aren’t street legal, and that includes pod lights. That’s because the light they produce is so powerful it can blind or distract other drivers. If you’re driving on paved roads, then you’ll have to cover them up to avoid the risk of a ticket. This is easy enough to deal with by buying covers for your pod lights.
Don’t melt snow
LEDs don’t produce heat, so if you’re driving in snowy environments, then you’ll have to make sure that your lights don’t ice over. This can be a hazard if you’re used to halogen bulbs that heat up and melt any snow and ice that’s covering them.
Require more wiring
All lights require wiring, so this isn’t unique to pod lights, but the fact that you might be installing a whole set of pod lights at once can make the wiring more complicated.
You’ll need to be careful to tuck the wire properly so it doesn’t hang loose on the outside of your vehicle, and you might need to install components, such as fuses and relays, to avoid drawing too much power from a single circuit.
Always follow the instructions that come with your lighting kit, and test out your lights before using them while driving.
What are the best pod lights for your vehicle?
Every off-road adventure is different, and what works in some environments may not be right for others. That’s why pod lights are so convenient: you can install multiple units on the outside your vehicle without big, bulky components that get in the way.
Plus, pod lights are essentially universal, and you can install them on almost any vehicle with the right mounting brackets and wiring harness.
Of course, getting pod lights that are designed specifically for your vehicle will help you match the look and feel of any other accessories you’ve installed.
Check out the pod lights at Inspired Engineering, where you can search by vehicle type or browse popular product categories. If you aren’t sure if a specific pod light is right for your vehicle, just give us a call and we can point you in the right direction!