Switch iron to LEDs

That LED lights provide superior illumination on machinery is testified to by the fact that most manufacturers are equipping their high-horsepower tractors, combines, self-propelled sprayers, and forage harvesters with this lighting either as standard or optional equipment.

The popularity of upgrading older machinery to LEDs is rapidly growing due to the myriad retrofit options now available on the market. LED retrofit options have proliferated in recent years, as will-fit  plug-and-play replacements are available for many of the most popular tractor models going back to the early 1970s. When complete kits are not available, there is a wide variety of individual lights available.

What makes LEDs replacement-friendly is the fact that the bulbs draw fewer amps and volts than other sealed beam lights. As a result, you can convert all the older lights on a vehicle and triple or quadruple light output (measured in lumens). An upgrade does not threaten to overload a vehicle’s electrical system, which helps to preserve batteries and alternators. 

Double, Triple the Light Output

A light-for-light comparison in halogen vs. LED lights proves this point. A halogen light (they typically come in 27-, 50-, and 65-watt bulbs) generates an average light output of 300 to 800 lumens.

In contrast, a 16-watt LED bulb turns out 1,200 to 1,400 lumens, and a 45-watt replacement generates 3,600 or more lumens. In addition to being a light barn burner, LED lights generate better quality light color that is closer to sunlight. That cool white light provides for better depth perception.

Also, because LED bulbs don’t have a filament, they are extremely resistant to vibration. Many LED units offer a life rating of 40,000 to 55,000 hours (depending on the manufacturer). This compares with 500 to 700 hours for halogen lights and 2,500 to 3,000 hours for HID bulbs.

As mentioned before, available LED conversion lights have proliferated the last several years. A major trend in that regard is suppliers providing modular LED conversion kits of will-fit plug-and-play lights for an entire vehicle. Replacing all the lights on a vehicle utilizing all of the power supply provided for lighting can triple – if not quadruple – the illumination output of that entire vehicle.

“We design our conversion kits so they utilize all the current available for light in a vehicle’s system,” explains Jake Hart of Tiger Lights (tigerlights.com).

Still, individual light replacements (consisting of an entire light with housing, light, reflector, lens, and mounting) are also available for older vehicles. The industry does provide individual bulbs, often with a new reflector and lens, for conversion needs.

Prices for complete conversion kits vary by vehicle. For example, a complete kit for late-model tractors, combines, and sprayers (often consisting of 14 to 16 lights) sells for between $1,000 and $1,600, depending on the supplier. Conversion kits for older tractors (such as Deere 4040 to 4440 models) range from $400 to $1,000 depending on the number of lights in the vehicle. 

Then, too, there is a wide variety of individual LED light replacements available that include flood and spotlights as well as amber flashing, red taillights, and cab lights. Prices on these lights vary, but you’ll pay from $40 to $150 for individual lights. Often these replacements consist of a complete unit that fits into a recessed housing on the vehicle. However, there is a wide variety of stand-alone conversions offered either as a bulb, reflector, and lens replacement in an existing exterior housing or a complete replacement of the entire unit including the housing.

The key when shopping for replacement lights is to first determine what’s available for the vehicle you are upgrading. For example, a 4×6-inch LED light for John Deere models 9100 through 9400T tractors that use the original mounting and wires sells for $100 to $120. If four such lights were installed in the front hood of these particular tractors, it would make a complete headlight conversion for that tractor (not including fender or cab lights) between $400 and $500.

Successful Farming magazine made arrangements with an LED light supplier (Tiger Lights) to supply the Braatan family farm of Butterfield, Minnesota, with LED light conversion kits for their Case IH 9120 combine and Case IH 9380 tractor. All the retrofit lights for Bret and Mike Braatan’s vehicles were plug-and-play units. “When you hear that parts are will-fit, well, sometimes will-fit doesn’t always fit,” Bret says about their conversion projects. “But the provider said its LED lights were direct replacements, and that was the case.”

The father-son farm team found swapping out lights was as simple as removing existing light modules, plugging the replacement modular in the existing power supplies, and then screwing the new units into place. The exception to the Braatans’ retrofit chores involved the rear work light on their Bobcat 850 skid steer loader. “That required a little rewiring for a new plug, but that was simple. Really, I didn’t have to read the instructions for the replacement bulb,” Bret says.

Tiger Light’s Hart says halogen bulbs are nonpolarized and, thus, can’t tell the difference between a standard and CK bulb socket in a vehicle. Because LEDs are polarized, they won’t work in CK sockets, which need to be replaced. “With a halogen bulb, you can put a positive or ground on either terminal and the light will work,” he adds. “LED requires a definitive ground and definitive positive feed, so you’ll need to replace the plug.”

Costwise, the Braatans say the price tag for an entire vehicle replacement would have seemed steep until they saw the difference in light output from the LED retrofit. 

“We do a lot of fieldwork at night,” Bret says. “Our old lights are like candles compared with the LED replacements. The upgrade throws out far more light so we can get far more detail farther out into a field.”

Comparison of HID and LED lights on highway

Besides generating more lumens per watt than halogen or HID lights, LEDs also deliver light that is closer to sunlight, which provides increased detection of objects at a distance. Note the comparison photographs provided by Hella (hella.com/agriculture). 
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