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Thursday
Feb112016

How to Fit Daytime Running Lights to your car

Philips DaylightGuide DRLs

Philips DayLightGuide daytime running lights are smart, high performance and easy enough to fit (click to see)Daytime running lights (DRLs) are standard-issue on all modern cars, but the idea originally hails from Scandinavia where ambient light levels can be lower all year round – not always so dark that headlights are needed, but gloomy enough to warrant something brighter than sidelights.

Away from the cities, Britain has a lot of countryside similar to Sweden’s – sparsely populated rural areas, woodlands and fast empty rural roads – places where cars can become almost invisible to oncoming traffic against a backdrop of trees, hedges or open countryside, and this poor visibility and contrast is a constant cause of collisions and near-misses. Daytime running lights improve safety by highlighting the presence of vehicles in locations like these, but it took decades for the principle of DRLs to catch on across the rest of Europe. The first car in England to have always-on daytime running lights was Sweden’s Volvo 240 and the British Government also flirted unsuccessfully with so-called ‘dim-dip’ lights for a few years.

Daytime running lights project an intense pencil-beam of light forwards, which shines directly at oncoming traffic and can typically be seen from half a mile away or more.  This has to be more effective than dipped headlights which shine downwards onto the road ahead.

DRLs can be of great benefit during Britain’s winter months, when the sun is low and roadside trees and hedges cast shadows onto country lanes – just like they do in Sweden. Cars tend to hop unseen in and out of shadows and can easily be overlooked by oncoming traffic, and at busier junctions, DRLs are the first thing that other motorists see, forcing them to think twice before pulling out or overtaking.

Daytime running lights turn on automatically with the engine, but they’re not designed for night-time illumination as they would dazzle road users. So they must either dim or switch off at night-times. Some latest ones dim automatically when ambient light levels fall.

Best choice of DRLs

If you don’t have a new car, you can have the next-best thing and benefit from this excellent safety feature as after-market DRLs are readily available as DIY accessories. My advice is to avoid the cheapest ones that are low-intensity and pretty feeble in construction, a bit flimsy or they shine an odd blue-white colour: I think the cheapest ones are just a waste of money.

I chose to fit the latest generation Philips DayLightGuide LED daytime running lights and below I’ll explain  how they are installed. They are intense super-white LED lights made to the highest OEM standard, in robust diecast alloy lamp units with tough gravel-resistant lenses. They are simple to fit (3 wires, 4 at most). Other high-quality types are made by Osram and Hella, some having individual dot-lamps or faceplates that fit your model of car directly, but they can be pretty complex to install as a DIY job, needing relays and extra wiring.

The latest Philips DRL has another neat design feature: their Luxeon LEDs produce a diffused white bar of light rather than individual ‘pixels’ of light, which creates a smart high-tech effect. They go dim when the sidelights are switched on (see later) and they are compatible with hybrid/ stop-start cars too. As a bonus, the Philips DRLs have a ‘see-you-home’ feature so they stay lit for a short time after switching off the engine, to light up your way to the door.

The lamps in this Philips design, like its predecessors, have U-shaped sprung-metal mounting brackets to affix them to your car.  You can screw them directly to the front of your car, or (as in my case) on the underside of the front bumper instead. They can also be fitted in a grille or securely bolted to the front via the two M5 blind holes on the rear of the lights.

A WORD OF ADVICE: ONCE YOU CLICK A LAMP UNIT INTO ITS BRACKET, THERE IS LITTLE CHANCE OF REMOVING IT AGAIN. THEY HAVE A STRONG ONE-TIME ‘CLICK’ LATCH. DO NOT TRY TESTING THEM TO SEE IF THEY FIT!

Philips DRL DIY Installation hints and tips

Check over the front of your car to decide the best mounting points. It’s a good idea to make two cardboard templates of your LED lights then tape them to the car, to double-check the positioning and mark out the drilling holes.

It’s critical to measure up correctly, and per UK/ EU law Philips cites a minimum of 600mm between the lamps (as a guide, that leaves a minimum 40mm gap either side of a typical front number plate). Some larger DRL light units might prove too big for your car: depending where you fit them there might be insufficient distance left between them. The Philips DayLightGuide is relatively compact and they include a diagram showing minimum and maximum dimensions reference the height above the road surface, edge of the car and distance from the indicator bulbs.

Also important is to check the forwards alignment to ensure the lamps are facing front as uniformly as possible, otherwise oncoming road users will see one lamp glowing brighter than the other.

Module fitted to the inner wing; the two connections are also shown (click to see)The Philips DayLightGuide system has a small control module with generous wires connecting the LED lights via two water-resistant connectors. One lead is 2m long and the other 3m long, enough for a larger car or 4x4. I screwed the module onto the inner wing in the engine bay, not too far from the battery: a tough job needing a power drill and HSS drill bit, then an impact driver to screw the self tappers down. Ensure no pipes or wires are in the way underneath! Others have used strong double-sided pads or tiewraps instead.

After locating both lighting brackets underneath my bumper and drilling small pilot holes into the (plastic) bodywork, they were screwed in firmly using the self-tapping screws supplied. I added a washer or two under the self-tappers to level the lights up, as they would otherwise 'droop' due to the curved bumper design. Both wires were then routed from the control unit and out to the lamps. I routed one carefully around the radiator grille to avoid any drive belts, pulleys and hot exhausts or hoses etc. and the other wire went straight down to the DRL below. I securely bundled up excess wires using tie-wraps as necessary on the car’s existing wires and cables.

JUST TO REPEAT MY ADVICE: ONCE YOU CLICK THE LAMP UNITS INTO THEIR BRACKETS, THERE’S LITTLE CHANCE OF REMOVING THEM AGAIN. THEY HAVE A ONE-TIME ‘CLICK’ LATCH. SO DO NOT CLICK THE DRLs INTO THE MOUNTING BRACKETS UNTIL YOU ARE 100% SURE EVERYTHING IS SET UP AND WORKING PROPERLY.

Electrical testing and hook-up

The red + terminal wire connects to the +12V battery post, under the head of the clamp's boltThe +12V feed wire has an inline blade fuseholder which can be connected direct to the car battery +12V post. I loosened the + battery terminal’s nut & bolt while keeping the battery connected, cleaned it up with degreaser etc, then I slipped the red wire forked terminal underneath the bolt head and re-tightened it. The negative wire connects to the – battery post the same way.

(Tip: ensure you have your car radio/ CD code number available in case you accidentally disconnect the battery!)

Next, find the nearest sidelight bulb ‘live’ 12V wire (don’t confuse it with the bulb’s earth lead): check the sidelight bulb terminals with a d.c. tester or voltmeter with test probes, and find which wire goes ’live’ when the sidelights turn on.

Digital multimeters are very cheap these days. If you’ve never used a multimeter before, you must select a ‘V’ (Volts, say 20V) range NOT ‘A’ (current). The 0V (black) negative probe of your voltmeter is touched to the car chassis (eg a mounting bolt or screw somewhere) and the + (red) test lead is touched to either sidelight pin, to show which pin goes ‘live’ when the sidelights are on. Practise on a headlight bulb connector if you like.

Scotchlok connection taps into the live sidelight wire; dummy resistor bulb shown (see text) (click to see)A Scotchlok connector (supplied) then splices into the live sidelight feed: the wire runs right through the Scotchlok while the (orange) wire from the Philips module is placed alongside into it, and the connector is closed with pliers to tap into the wiring. The Scotchlok slices into the insulation and makes contact with the copper wire inside.

A fourth wire (blue) on the Philips module is for use on hybrid or stop/ start cars, and for expert users it goes to terminal KL15 (Ignition 2 position) or ACC of the fusebox.  In my case, I left it disconnected. Their diagram shows the unused wire connected to earth, but I found it made no difference.

As these DRLs go DIM when sidelights are turned on, they also replace your existing sidelights. As it’s illegal to show four sidelights, Philips includes two dummy power resistors that replace your existing sidelight bulbs (see photo). I guess this avoids errors arising in CANBUS or high-tech diagnostics that my car doesn’t have anyway.

Testing and finishing off

Do not click the light units into their brackets just yet.  Connect the two lamps to the module and check they work as follows. Turn your sidelights on, and both DRLs should glow in sidelight mode. Turn them OFF again, and your DRLs should now glow at maximum brightness (see-you-home mode) for about 30 seconds before they switch themselves off completely.

DRL in action - note the neat 'striplight' effect of these Philips DayLightGuide LED lamps (click to see)

With the lights still OFF, start the car and the DRLs should come on automatically at full brightness (DRL mode). Turn the engine off and they should extinguish after 30 seconds or so. Only when you are 100% satisfied everything works, click the LED units fully home into their brackets (same way up for both lamps).

Finish off by double-checking and tidying the wiring with tie wraps to ensure nothing will chafe or catch on any engine parts.

Fitting these Philips DayLightGuide daytime running lights has been a very reassuring move and is probably the best money you can spend on an older car. You do feel safer in the knowledge that oncoming traffic can't fail to see you. On quite a few occasions my DRLs have caused oncoming or merging traffic to hesitate or hold back, and I’m sure that on two or three occasions they prevented an accident or near-miss. I wouldn't be without them.

 

Monday
May182015

How to store a spare car battery at home?

My maintenance-free car battery was showing its age and the winter cycle of heavy use with all the electrics on, plus short stop and starts gradually took its toll.  To avoid being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a flat battery, I swapped it for a new one and the Honda dealer shrugged (usual reaction) when I asked if I could keep the old one – no need to scrap it when it’s good enough as a spare, for jump-starting or running 12V accessories (notably a 12V impact wrench or 12V lighting). I could also hook a 12V inverter to it, to obtain 230V mains voltage in a power cut.

Car batteries have enough capacity to melt a metal watchstrap and great care is needed not to short them accidentally or this could start a fire or cause serious burns. Old ones are also an explosion risk due to hydrogen gas escaping. Problem is, how to store a car battery in safety?  The answer came from the marine and camping sector, where 12V lead-acid battery storage is a common problem. I found Italian  manufacturer Trem produces a wide range of high quality plastic battery boxes for camping (leisure batteries) or marine use, and I found a tough box with removable lid that was just the job.

Trem Standard battery box [click to see]Trem’s Standard box with a red lid measures 270mm x 190mm x 200(H) mm  excluding the lid dimensions, so once the lid is on there's some clearance for battery posts etc. As my car battery measured 230 x 120 x 200mm(H) it would fit perfectly.  My Trem battery box came from a specialist marine distributor in Scotland but happily they are now also available from Amazon.

I packed the battery inside a little to stop it moving around. The lid is retained with a buckle and nylon strap (cut to length) with fittings to secure it to a flat surface if wanted. The moulded plastic body has two carrying handles and the red lid is shaped to allow heavy duty cables to exit.  Note how the sides appear to be curved inwards, presumably to allow for ventilation. It’s easy to carry and pretty tough, but should be handled with care or it will shatter if dropped onto a hard surface from any height.

Occasionally I top it up with my CTEK MXS5.0 conditioner/ charger. The Trem battery box has proved a very neat and tidy storage solution, and the battery is now safely stored in the garage out of harm’s way and it’s always ready for use.

Thursday
May222014

Repair a Draper ARHL 6V rechargeable battery

It's simple enough to do once you locate the correct spare part, so don't throw away that old Draper searchlight but repair the battery instead. I show how in this step-by-step article, along with a source of spares.

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Friday
May092014

CTEK Battery Chargers connect with 'comfort'

Describing the CTEK MXS 5.0 12V electronic car battery charger with many unique features that conditions and maintains your car battery and is clean, fast and simple to connect. Ideal for winter use, also ideal for vintage cars, marine use, motorcycle or motorhome owners.

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Thursday
Oct032013

Gelert Camping gas cylinder stands

Gelert Camping Gas Cylinder StandSmall camping gas stoves and lamps can become top-heavy and unstable in use, and I’ve often worried that mine could potentially topple over and cause an accident. If they’re used on uneven ground then that adds to the risk of a mishap.

Camping accessory maker Gelert helps answer this problem with a specially-designed tripedal Gas Canister Stand.  It’s a set of three plastic legs that fold out and clip underneath to increase the footprint of most portable gas canisters, helping to prevent them from tipping over (unless you’re extremely clumsy or unlucky).

Folded flat, the black plastic legs measure about 115mm x 20mm and the set weighs 20g. In fact only two legs swivel out from the centre hub as the third is permanently fixed (look for a tubular split pin on the fixed leg). Simply fold the two legs right back until they gently lodge into position and clip the assembly under the cylinder. First-time users should take care not to force the fixed leg by mistake.

The set has a series of notches to accept different sizes of canister, and a typical Campingaz CV300, for example, clips into place pretty securely on the cylinder’s steel base and its footprint is effectively doubled. Rubber feet prevent it slipping on tabletops, and a set of 60mm ground spikes is included that will anchor the feet to softer ground.

The spikes are retained in the legs’ mouldings when not in use, but they tended to fall out and it’s a pity that they’re not all stored securely when the legs are folded together. In due course I expect they'll be lost.

The grounds pegs are stored in the legs. They tended to fall out. Note the rubber feet too.

The main design reason three legs or feet are used is to avoid wobbling on an uneven surface (hence, milk-maid’s stools have three legs for use in cow fields).

Stability is quite reasonable but freestanding, the unit could still be prone to tipping over on two feet if knocked far enough so it’s not foolproof; even so the gadget helps overcome a risky problem and the small investment can only help improve safety.

Two of the legs fold out from the hub while a third is fixed: take care not to force it.

 

Sunday
Feb192012

The story of TF2 with Teflon®

In the early 1990s I found myself inventing and designing products for mountain bike maintenance, including TF2 with Teflon® spray lube. I recall the background from initial concept through to product launch in this article, along with some interesting aerosol facts that I bet you didn't know.

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