Reviewer's Notebook: PIAA 520 Ion Crystal Driving Lamps

Nov. 01, 2005 By George Reiswig


The war cry of the Tsunami Tribe of central Bulonga?

French for "nice lights"?

An acronym standing for "Pretty Incredible And Awesome"?

Noun? Verb? Adjective?

Superlative! Company produces lights. Bright lights. Lights that put light where drivers need it.

After years of trying lights from a competitor who used plastic housings, I got a pair of PIAA 520 Ion Crystal driving lamps. I had purchased a set of their fog lamps before, and had been duly impressed.

So I had high expectations for these.


The lights come assembled with the recommended 85 watt halogen bulbs in them. The housing is black, powder-coated steel. A plastic lens cover is also provided, although it appears to protect primarily against branches. The gaps in the grid are easily large enough to permit gravel to damage the lens.

However, the lens is noticeably thicker than others I am familiar with, and probably is sturdy as a result. The lens and reflector have been computer designed to work with one another, and the result is the ability to throw a lot of light only where it is needed. These 85 watt lights seem to be as bright as others I have used with 120 watt bulbs.

All PIAA lights come with a well-designed electrical harness that is made with high-quality wire, Teflon insulation, and good connectors.

PIAA clearly understands that it is critical to avoid a voltage drop at the light that would be caused by routing voltage from the battery all the way back to the dash switch, then back out to the light. Instead, they provide a switch that operates a relay under the hood, enabling you to shorten the electrical path as much as possible. This saves you from routing thick and expensive wiring through the firewall and under the dash. This also keeps the high current wires out of the passenger compartment.

The switch has an LED indicator to tell you when the lights are on or off (red = on, green = power available, lights off). Fuses used are automotive, blade-type, so substitutions are consistent with the rest of the vehicle's electricals. Even the mounting hardware is top quality: it is anodized to prevent corrosion.


Few tools are required to install these lamps, since the harness has been thoughtfully made. A crescent wrench or socket wrench will be needed to tighten the mounting bolts, to ground the necessary wires to chassis bolts, and so forth. If you want to mount the relay and fuse to the chassis, you may need to drill holes and use a screwdriver to do this.

I used double-sided foam tape to mount the switch to my dash, although PIAA supplies hook-and-loop tape for this purpose. I also used some wire ties to neaten the wires as they traveled under the hood.


One issue with many lights is that they are made to mount vertically, as on top of a rollbar or underneath a bumper. With lenses and reflectors designed to throw light in certain, well-defined patterns, the orientation of the lens is critical. These were no exception to that rule, but the hardware in the light is such that all that need be done is to drill an extra pair of holes in the housing to accommodate 90 degree rotation of the lens assembly.
That done, I was ready to mount them to the side panels of my winch mount. The instructions are excellent, showing you exactly how PIAA recommends hookup. The switch is separate from the harness, so I mounted that first, then fed the appropriate connector through a hole in the firewall. PIAA recommends hooking up one wire (positive for the relay) to the parking lights' positive lead. That way, the lights will not be operable unless the parking lights are on. PIAA provides a clip-on wire spice for this purpose. If you want the driving lights to be used with or without the parking lights, simply find another positive source, such as the same on used to power the lights themselves. From there it is as easy as hooking up one two ground wires to the chassis.


The lights are bright. They have a yellowish tint to them which is actually quite natural, but a bit different than what you?re used to from this type of light. They have a fairly wide coverage from side to side, and their vertical coverage is limited. This was very nice, since having the lights shine a lot of light at the near road surface is not only wasteful, but somewhat blinding. The PIAAs seem to cut through fog very well. One other thing that I really appreciated: once you have aimed the lights where you want them and tightened down the hardware, you're done. The lights aren't going to change their aim no matter how much bouncing around you do!


PIAA produces top-quality lights. They are expensive, but worth it. I also have had experience with their customer service department (a lens on my fog lights cracked), and they were both prompt and courteous. I will not go back to using lights from their well-known competitor, with whom I have not had very good experiences in either customer service or parts quality.
For more information, please view another excellent article on PIAA lamps or contact PIAA at 1-800-220-1874. Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!