Miata lights

By Frank Potter


Driving lights

Canadian spec DRL (Daytime Running Light) Conversion


Not all aftermarket lighting is street legal in all areas of the world

Aftermarket headlights  

As far as I can tell, if you install them, no one important (which is to say, wearing a uniform and packing heat) is likely to find out, or to care if they do. Unless, that is, you have done something that really ticks them off and they are searching for something to nail you on, in which case, you're on your own. The standard Hella lights use, if I remember correctly (and no doubt someone will let me know if I don't) 55/60W bulbs, and those wattages are not likely to cause anyone's testing equipment to spontaneously combust, or even to take particular notice. At least they haven't tripped any alarms in the annual Virginia Safety Inspection, to which my Miata is regularly exposed.

You can also get higher intensity bulbs for most aftermarket lights. Some people have installed 55/100W bulbs and report significantly improved long-distance results. On the other hand, bulbs this strong might well trigger some kind of official response that you would just as soon avoid, and at this point retrofitting the 55/60s might not satisfy your local safety inspectors. Also, if you leave them on high for extended periods, you run a certain risk of blowing fuses, melting wires and other unpleasant events.

So, here as elsewhere, you pays your money and you takes your chances. You can always keep the original headlights and switch them as testing time rolls around, and this way you won't run any appreciable risk at all. But (there is always a "but") then you have to figure out where to store those old, useless and puny lights.

Anecdote time -- Years ago, when I was living in Oregon and owned a 190SL, I mounted a landing light behind the Mercedes emblem in front of the radiator. It was terrific, but cars miles ahead of me on straight highways tended to do a lot of frantic blinking at a point where I could barely see their lights.

Aiming headlights  

After you install your headlights, you will need to check to be certain that they are aimed correctly. In the process, you may well discover that your original lights weren't aimed very well, and with better lights, the problems will multiply.

Fortunately, the process of aiming your headlights is not complicated. For better information on this subject, I have raided PBC's technical files for a paper by Bill Bien on headlight alignment. If you want a copy of the real stuff and not my casual summary, you can contact PBC, and they will be happy to send it to you.

Essentially, what you must do is to find a flat place where you can park 20 feet from a perpendicular wall, like a mall parking garage on a Sunday morning. Measure the height and center of your headlights, and then mark those spots on the wall in front of you. (I think the correct height is 26 Inches on stock Miatas, but I don't have one to use to test, and mine has been shall we say modified more than somewhat.) Your tire pressures should be correct and your gas tank maybe half full, if you want to be really accurate about this whole thing--which is, after all, the point of the exercise.

Now, measure two inches down from the horizontal, and you have found the low beam cutoff point. Next find the correct point directly in front of the driver's side light and mark that. The last step is to measure the distance between the lights and set your right-hand light accordingly. The light pattern will be a straight line to the aiming point, and then an angle upwards and to your right. The point at which the angle takes off is the aiming point that you need to hit.

If graphics were easy to do on the Web, or if I had the time to do a good GIF graphic, this would all be a lot clearer, I'm sure. Eventually, we'll have something here to do that. In the meantime, you can figure it out from what I've told you here, or you can get the real story from PBC.


Driving Lights

PIAAs and such Y

ou may well want to augment your headlights with driving lights. I did, and I'm pleased with the results. The ones with which I am most familiar are PIAAs, and until more and better information comes in, that's what I can talk about with any kind of authority.

Until recently, the only driving lights that I've seen on Miatas were big and projected some considerable distance from the mouth of the car. And then PIAA came out with their 1000 series and I fell in love.

Resisting temptation not being a prominent element of my personality, I installed a set of PIAA 1000 driving lights on my car a couple of months ago. The installation took maybe a couple of hours (I had qualified professional help, which was a huge plus). The lights fit nicely in the corners of the Miata mouth, and shed enough light that I don't feel nervous driving at posted speeds with only the PIAAs in operation. (Candor and Truth in Packaging combine to force me to admit that driving at posted speeds is also not a prominent element of said personality.)

The lights come with mounting instructions and with a switch. If you have room on your instrument panel, you can also use a Mazda rocker switch for these lights, although you'll have to buy that separately. I didn't have that kind of space, so I mounted my switch on the edge of the instrument panel cluster. You'll want to be able to see it clearly, so that you can tell whether the lights are on or off. They can be mounted to operate whenever the ignition switch is on, or whenever your headlights are on high - whichever you prefer.

I like the way they look and feel. They don't interfere with airflow, which is particularly important for those of us who have super- or turbochargers, and who have to be careful to avoid stressing our cooling systems. I know for a fact that four other people who have seen my PIAAs have ordered them, so they certainly don't make the car less attractive. (Mazda already tried to do that with their license plate brackets.)

Back to the Garage

20 June, 2001