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Lighten up: Cracking down on lighting violations

Truck LightsLights account for almost 30 percent of all CSA violations. In an ironic twist, inoperable lights serve as visible indicators that a truck’s overall maintenance may leave something to be desired and act as an invitation to inspectors to give the truck a thorough inspection.

“Pre-trip and post-trip inspections play a significant role when it comes to avoiding CSA violations. Inspecting the trailer and tractor for broken or inoperable lights can save a driver time and stress in the long run,” says Phillips Industries Marketing Manager Megan Vincent. “We all know lights can be the easiest violation for inspectors to spot, so why risk it? If any of the lights are nonfunctioning, they will stand out and could call attention to other violations the vehicle may have.”

Due to schedules and time constraints, Truck-Lite Marketing Communications Specialist Andrew Liuzzo says drivers may not always invest the proper amount of time into pre-trip inspections.

“In addition to being functional and intact,” he says, “lights and reflectors must also be wiped clean of any dirt or debris, a step that is sometimes overlooked.”

An electrical system becomes less reliable as it ages, becoming more susceptible to damage and failure. The operating environment also plays a role in system integrity and drivers operating an older vehicle in challenging conditions should be the most diligent in their inspection process.

Scheduling and time constraints aside, Optronics International President and CEO Brett Johnson says there is no more important step in lighting safety than a proper pre-trip inspection.

“Regardless of maintenance practices and the type of lighting technology on a vehicle, it all leads to the question of whether the lighting and electrical system is in sufficient operational condition for safe operation and the driver is the last person in line to make that call,” he says.

Lighting violations carry six severity points each, with headlight and tail light violations an automatic Out-Of-Service violation, adding another 2 points.

“Identifying a cracked or missing lens by a walk around inspection is a pretty simple way to reduce the chances of being spotted for a violation,” Vincent adds. “Are there more advanced option for checking your system? Absolutely. There are several systems currently on the market that can monitor the state of your lights, making it easier to know if you are experiencing light failure.”

Symptoms of a failure

Vincent says flickering or dim lights are usually pre-failure symptoms, which can be caused by issues like improper bulbs, damaged wiring or corroded sockets.

“While these could be signs of a light failure itself, it tends to be an underlying problem within the electrical harness or wiring,” she says.

Johnson says if you’re experiencing lighting woes with LEDs, there is almost certainly a deeper electrical issue exists.

“A dim or flickering light is often a good indicator of electrical problems, especially with LED lighting,” Liuzzo adds. “Beyond just visually inspecting whether a light is lit, a driver or technician should always inspect connections and harnesses. A multi-meter can aid greatly in ensuring that a lamp is receiving proper voltage.”

“LED lighting is more resilient than incandescent lighting and an LED lighting failure may be a sign of a bigger problem,” Johnson adds. “Drivers should understand that the detection of a failed lamp may mean corrosion is already present within the system.”

Corrosion is one of the most common causes of a lighting fault, and Vincent says it can be avoided by sealing out the intrusions of foreign substances.

“As we all know, the main ingredients for corrosion are water and/or deicing chemicals, salts, and road-debris,” she says. “Now combine that with electrical current, which accelerates the development of corrosion even further.”

Brad Van Riper, Truck’Lite’s senior vice president and chief technology officer, recommends looking for signs of field repair in the lighting electrical system, because the longer you can maintain the integrity of the wire harness, the better performance will be.

“Fix any field repairs with proper procedures like removing any corrosion, removing wiring that exhibits green corrosion and using heat shrinkable covering over splices and repairs,” he says.

A vehicle’s electrical system is designed to use dielectric grease and in the case of modular systems, connectors have reservoirs to hold the grease.

A system’s connectors should be inspected by a fleet’s maintenance crew regularly during planned maintenance and the grease replenished as needed.

“Moisture and corrosion are constantly assaulting a system at its weakest points and that is any connection point,” Johnson said. “Some fleets apply adhesive-lined heat-shrink tubing to all electrical connectors on the first day they take possession of a vehicle and if a driver sees this, they know that their maintenance department probably has their back.”

Corrosion prevention, Vincent says, starts at the installation of the light.

“Mechanics can extend the life of their electrical wires and lights by properly sealing the connections,” she says. “We also encourage the use of grease to further prevent the damage of corrosion.”

Van Riper says the first step in preventing electrical system corrosion is to remove any wire probes or picks that penetrate the wire to measure voltage or continuity from your maintenance department.

“The use of these wire probes causes permanent damage to the stranded wire and the corrosion will wick up through the harness, causing the movement of corrosion through the electrical system,” he says. “The use of dielectric grease with a corrosion inhibitor is a great recommendation we make to help improve the resistance of your wiring system from corrosion.”

Reliability and benefits of LEDs

LEDs have carved out a niche as a more durable replacement for standard lights.

Vincent says LEDs usually have a wider voltage operating range, offering the same light output in low volt or voltage drop situations.

“When voltage drop occurs with incandescent lamps, they get dim and you could be cited for insufficient lighting,” she says.

While LEDs come with a price premium over incandescent, Optronics International Vice President of Sales and Marketing Marcus Hester says there are considerations that offer payback.

If roadside service is necessary, the failure of a $5 lamp can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in service fees, lost vehicle and driver productivity, fines for violations and significant points against the CSA scores of both the driver and fleet.

“While in some cases the LED may be more expensive upfront, there is a significant savings in labor and downtime overall,” Vincent adds. “Not to mention, they can reduce the chances of CSA violations as well.”

LEDs also offer extended life, Van Riper adds.

“A good example is marker lights,” he says. “A red incandescent marker lamp has a rated life (B50) of 5000 hours, while a red LED marker lamp has a rated life of 100,000 hours. Couple the life benefit of LED technology with the resistance to mechanical damage, shock and vibration and you have a product that can potentially last the life of the vehicle.”

Hester says the ratio of LED lamp versus incandescent lamp orders by OEMs is now surpassing 90/10.

“There is a clear and decisive move toward LED lamps over incandescent lamps across the board in the commercial vehicle arena,” he says, “and this includes tractors, trailers and work trucks.”

Hester adds LED lamp prices have fallen exponentially over time, forecasting that every decade the cost per lumen falls by a factor of 10, while the amount of light generated by each LED package increases by a factor of 20. Modern LED lamps use between 10 and 30 percent of the amps needed to light an incandescent lamp, enabling fleets to repurpose that power for other electrical components.

“I would have to say that we are entering the twilight of the incandescent era in truck lighting,” Johnson, said. “As a practical matter, I can’t see why any fleet would still find value in spec’ing a vehicle with any incandescent lamps.”

Switching to LEDs

Converting a truck or trailer from incandescent to LED can be as simple as unplugging the old light and plugging in the new LED, but not in every case.

“Tractors are a little more specific to what they can replace as opposed to the variety available for trailers and it’s straightforward,” Vincent says. “In recent years tractors have started using the same tail light as the trailers – 4-inch round – which makes it more universal. In some cases, for trailers, changing over from an incandescent lamp to an LED may require an adapter.  Mounting applications may need to be taken into consideration as well.”

Switching between lamp-types, Van Riper says, should be done with much consideration, adding that HID or LED replacement kits designed for converting halogen lamps to HID or LED  illegal.

“All replaceable bulb headlamps and bulbs shall be marked with the DOT symbol, and if they are not marked, we advise that you do not use them,” he says. “For vehicles equipped with halogen headlamps, we recommend that you stick with halogen replacement bulbs called out by the manufacturer. Use of illegal HID or LED kits in your headlamps will cause glare levels too high for oncoming drivers to be safe. Avoid using bulbs labeled for “off-road use only,” as they often damage your headlamp so that it cannot be repaired.”

Johnson notes that incandescent systems often come with PL-3 connectors that are less reliable than the weathertight connectors found on most LED lamps. While Optronics recommends the use of weathertight connectors where possible to assure optimal service life, fleets with existing incandescent lamps using PL-3 connectors can upgrade simply and easily to Optronics LED lamps, he says.

Hester says the service and replacement market is following the OEM trend toward LED lighting, but that it lags behind because many vehicles originally equipped with incandescent lamps are still in service today.

“Unlike LEDs, you won’t find many incandescent lamps on vehicles that haven’t been replaced multiple times,” he says. “Though LED lamps are often used to replace failed incandescent lamps, repairs are still made by simply replacing one incandescent lamp with another. The ratio of LED lamp sales vs. incandescent lamp sales within the service-related replacement market is about 70/30.”

Lighting violations that aren’t lights

Critical items that are often overlooked are reflectors and conspicuity tape, what Johnson calls “the last bastion of safety and visibility in a situation when the lighting and power are out on a vehicle.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has required most trailers in trucking applications be equipped on the sides and rear with a means for making them more visible on the road for the last 15 years. The NHTSA rule allows trailer manufacturers to install either red and white retroreflective sheeting or reflex reflectors.

Drivers can receive violations for having defective reflectors and conspicuity tape and should make sure reflectors are free of cracks and dirt, he adds.

“Over time, conspicuity tape can also degrade to the point that it is no longer sufficiently reflective, thus making an unlit truck a sitting duck for a collision,” Johnson says.

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Jason Cannon is the Equipment Editor for Commercial Carrier Journal and Overdrive, and is a Class A CDL holder. Reach him at jasoncannon@randallreilly.com.