Emergency Lighting – Quality vs. Cheap Crap

I understand the struggle when it comes to vehicle equipment and warning lights, especially in regards to the private security and fugitive recovery professions. You want stuff that will protect you, protect your other equipment and warn others of your presence all without forking out a ton of cash. 

Problems typically arise when you turn to eBay and/or Amazon to purchase some of that equipment and problems generally compound themselves whenever you go after the cheap installers (or you do it yourself and cut corners). 

This post isn’t here to poke fun or tease anyone; it’s being written to help others to learn from our past mistakes. 

Garbage Installers

When we first started out, we didn’t have much money to sink into ELS (emergency lighting system) equipment nor did we have the time to install much of anything ourselves. That majorly bit us in the rear end and it was a mistake that we will never repeat. We bought a cheap Chinese lightbar off of eBay and sent it (and the vehicle) out to an emergency equipment installation company in our area. After we received our vehicle, while the light bar did work, the installation was, by far, one of the shoddiest jobs that I’ve ever seen. Wiring was exposed, almost none of it was wrapped in conduit (cable wrap), there were no rubber grommets used and the amount of electrical tape that was used could have probably secured a third world nation. After numerous phone calls, copious amounts of arguing and threats of lawsuits, the company did refund some of our money and we had to redo most of the work ourselves. 

At first, I wondered if it was possibly due to the fact that we were in the private security business and that the install company may have felt that we were an annoyance to them. Basically, I felt that the installer figured that our money was not worth 100% of their effort. I ended up realizing that wasn’t the case; that basically, the install company just did a lousy job when it came to performing their services. That realization came after I was able to see some of the work that they performed on a few of the local law enforcement patrol vehicles. It was literally the same mess; exposed wiring, no rubber grommets, electrical tape on everything and fairly poor cable management. 

When it comes to getting equipment installed, if you are unable to do it yourself (lack of time and/or lack of knowledge), take your time to find a reputable installer. Do some research and find out who their previous clients are/were, make some phone calls and see if the company tries to cut corners, does poor work and/or if they are unable to meet proposed deadlines. Don’t get taken for a ride by garbage installers. Not only is it your money that is involved, but your safety and wellbeing are also on the line.

Cheap Equipment

I understand that you want to save money, I really do. But it is actually better and less frustrating to save up a little money and purchase higher quality equipment than it is to continuously keep fixing stuff. 

As you’ve noticed, I mentioned a cheap Chinese lightbar that we purchased from eBay. That basically lasted us long enough to get some better equipment. Throughout the Northeast and the Midwest, we tend to get a lot of rain. Fun fact – Pittsburgh gets the same, if not more rain than Seattle. (Really, it’s not a joke; Seattle gets an average of 37.5″ of rain per year and Pittsburgh gets an average of 38″ of rain per year.) After a couple of months, we started seeing condensation on the inside of the lightbar and after around six months, we noticed how bad it truly was. It started with one of the alley lights refusing to work, then it graduated to one of the corner lights and one of the rear (traffic advisor) light modules failing. When we attempted to pull the light bar apart to fix the LED modules, we were greeted with probably about a half inch of water that was in the center of the lightbar housing (along with some exposed wiring). Needless to say, at this point in time, I was done; the lightbar was going in the scrap bin and maybe I would look into repairing it at a much later date. That was until I realized that all of the mounting hardware was rusted solid.

Moral of the story, in order to try and save $200-400, I ended up with a mess and a headache (as well as a hunk of scrap that is still sitting on the storage area floor). 

What should you get?

It’s really “to each your own” here, but if saving some money is your goal, I would probably research WhelenCode 3 and Federal Signal (the big three). There’s nothing really wrong with their products, it’s just that they tend to be a little on the pricey side. My suggestion to you is to look into products from places like Feniex or SirenNet and if you are really hurting, you can also try looking into Lamphus on Amazon (I am currently testing Lamphus’s SolarBlast exterior lights, a review will be done on them in the near future)STL is pretty cheap, but they did have some quality control issues when a couple of us had them in the past.

To give you an idea concerning price variance between manufacturers, we’ll do a quick price comparison on some ‘Hide Away’ LED modules. (Prices may vary depending on where you are getting them.)

Base model LED Hide Away Lights (price = each, quantity of 1)

  • SirenNet SNHA2 —————————— $47.50*
  • Whelen Vertex VTX609 ——————— $72.98
  • Federal Signal 416500 ———————- $87.59
  • Feniex Cannon 120 ————————– $69.00
  • Code 3 6 Pack ——————————– $58.83
  • SoundOff Universal ————————– $74.24*
  • STL Flare 6 ———————————— $41.99*
  • Lamphus SnakeEye ————————- $49.99*

*From experience, I can only vouch for the quality of the Whelen, Code 3, Federal Signal and Feniex LED Hide Away lights. We have not used or tested the others listed in this comparison. And no offense to the other manufacturers, but I will say, out of that list of lights that we have used, the Feniex Cannons darn near blow the others out of the water, they are crazy bright.

All in all, hop on posts like ours, look on YouTube and sites like SirenNetGalls or FleetSafety and read the reviews on products before you spend your hard-earned money. Don’t rely on the manufacturer’s website, they will always be biased for their products.

As always, if you have any comments, questions or anything like that; feel free to drop them in the comment section below!

Disclaimer: We are not sponsored, nor do we have any affiliation with Feniex, Code 3, Whelen, Federal Signal, SirenNet, STL, Lamphus or any other manufacturer that has been listed in this posting. 

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