Curved vs Straight Light Bars: Which is Best?

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Effective auxiliary lighting is a must for most 4×4 vehicle owners. And they’re accessories chosen as much for form as for function.

Modern light bars come in a wide range of options, quality, and price. They have rapidly grown in popularity thanks to their mounting flexibility and easy integration on any truck.

RELATED: The Best Light Bars in Australia

Key considerations

LED Light bars can mount onto a bull bar, roof rack, or bumper and, as a combo beam, provide wide coverage of light that old spot lights could never achieve.

When we reviewed LED light bars, we considered many major points, which are also important considerations when comparing curved vs straight light bars.

These include:

  1. Dimensions
  2. Beam distance
  3. Beam pattern width
  4. Choice
  5. Mounting locations
  6. IP Rating (Ingress Protection)
  7. Installation
  8. Aesthetics
  9. Price

As with most 4×4 accessories, your personal priorities will determine what type of light bar is most suitable.

Below, we cover the advantages and disadvantages of curved and straight light bars to help make your decision as easy as possible.

Dimensions

Straight light bars come in sizes between 6 inches (150mm) and 52 inches (13200mm).

The vast majority of curved light bars are between 40 and 52 inches (1010mm and 1320mm) in length. There are shorter ones, like this 30-inch example, and even some 12-inch and 20-inch options, but the choice is extremely limited.

Beam distance

A straight light bar can light up the road further ahead because the light is naturally focused straighter.

It doesn’t matter if a curved bar is a spot flood combo beam; because the outer LEDs and reflector elements aim to the sides, the illumination out in front won’t be as strong.

A 28-inch straight light bar can illuminate further than a 50-inch curved one.

Beam pattern width

The biggest advantage (and main difference) of a curved light bar is the width of the beam pattern.

When comparing light bars, like-for-like the curved light bar beam pattern can be up to 50% wider than a straight bar.

While most straight LED bars have a beam width of just 50 degrees, the beam width for a curved LED bar can be as much as 170 degrees, as with this one from Lightfox.

Range of products

Straight LED bars dominate the market, and in every size there is a huge range of beam patterns, brightness, IP-ratings, and mounting brackets available to choose from.

Most companies focus on straight light bars and offer just a few curved options, if any.

Mounting locations

Since most curved light bars are 40 inches or longer, it restricts mounting to the roof (similarly long straight bars have the same problem).

A smaller straight or curved bar mounts virtually anywhere on the vehicle.

IP Rating (Ingress Protection)

Electrical components are susceptible to water damage, so choosing an LED light bar with a sufficient IP rating is important. Protection from water might make you reconsider where you mount your new light bar.

Most will be IP67 or better, but a full breakdown of the standards found amongst most light bars is below.

  • IP66 – IP rated as “dust tight” and protected against heavy seas or powerful jets of water.
  • IP67 – IP rated as “dust tight” and protected against immersion for 30 minutes at depths 150mm – 1000mm
  • IP68 – IP rated as “dust tight” and protected against complete, continuous submersion in water.
  • IP69 – IP rated as “dust tight” and protected against high-pressure, high-temperature jet sprays, wash-downs or steam-cleaning procedures.

Installation

Installation is largely the same, and is dependent more on the manufacturer than the style of light bar.

Buying something with a DIY wiring harness means a light bar is installed on your 4×4 in a couple of hours, with virtually no modifications.

Aesthetics

While this is subjective, a curved LED light bar often blends in much better with the lines of most vehicles (like the curve of a windscreen), especially in the longer lengths.

The longer straight bars can look a bit naff depending on where they are mounted to the vehicle.

While hard to prove without side-by-side testing, it makes sense that a curved light bar will generate less wind noise than a straight light bar. This is also dependent on where it is mounted.

Price

A new light bar can cost very little, but after sales support may be questionable and the warranty limited to 1 year or less.

Spending a little more opens up a wider variation of choices as well as quality. While the sky is the limit, the $200-$400 price range offers many quality curved and straight options.

Maximising a curved bar’s strengths

A curved bar works best in the longer sizes.

That means it still has bright illumination ahead (1Lux @700m is achievable), while still doing the job of lighting a wider area to the sides than a straight LED bar.

Shorter curved light bars are too compromised with their spot beams.

The best option

It is obvious that straight and curved LED bars each have pros and cons, so installing both will give you the very best lighting possible.

A roof-mounted curved bar with a flood beam will ensure a wide illumination pattern.

This, coupled with a straight light bar with a spot beam capable of 800 metres or more illumination, and you’ll have enough light for any conceivable off roading scenario.

Light bars can be very cheap these days, but like anything, you get what you pay for.

Quality products with great after sales support and up to 5-year warranties are excellent value at around $250, and include a plug-and-play wiring harness. For less than $500 you could light up a runway in the bush.

Choosing your light bar

Ready to go light bar shopping? Check out our picks for The Best Light Bars in Australia.