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Lightbars: What to Consider When Buying

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Star Razor Lightbars

There are many different shapes and designs of emergency response vehicle lightbars available in today’s market, and the type you choose is typically based on your budget and personal taste.

The first consideration should be what kind of vehicle will the lightbar be installed on? For example, police cruisers typically have front take-down lights, while a tow truck would need rear work lights. Lightbars range between 20 and 100 inches long, so also consider the width of the roof or mounting surface.

Next, what is your preference for types of lights used? Lightbars can consist of LED, halogen, or strobe lights, or they can use a combination. This is usually determined by personal preference or budget. There are pros and cons to each:

Halogen: These warning lights have lower upfront costs and lower repair costs, and they provide true 360 degree coverage. The downside is their higher heat generation and higher amp draw. They are also typically larger than LED or strobe lights.

Strobe: Strobe lights are brighter and more intense, require less power to operate, and last longer than halogens. They are quiet, but the initial and replacement costs can be three to five times higher than halogen.

LED: Like strobe lights, LED lights are quiet. They are the most compact option, making them more versatile. They generate no heat and have very little amp draw. They are the most expensive initially, but they are the long-lasting and have significantly lower repair and replacement costs.

Other considerations when choosing a new lightbar include:

Style: Does the shape complement the vehicle design?

Amount of Light: If you need two primary warning lights, it is typically less expensive to buy a short lightbar instead of a longer one that would have a lot of unused space.

Aerodynamics: A lower profile on the lightbar creates less wind resistance, resulting in lower fuel costs.

Some emergency response vehicles can use mini-lightbars. These offer the same features as a full-size lightbar but are used when a lower warning signal level is appropriate. They are commonly used by volunteer firefighters on personal vehicles, as well as on public works trucks or on fire trucks in addition to a full-size lightbar.

Mini-lightbars come in either permanent or magnet mount versions. Permanent mount kits attach to the vehicle’s roof with bolts, while magnet mounts use four heavy-duty magnets. Magnet mounts typically have a power cord that connects to the cigarette lighter adapter, making it easy to remove or move to a different vehicle. This is a popular option with volunteer firefighters who are using a personal vehicle.