Car Lot Lighting: Lots Of Wasted Light


I heard last week that a local car dealer (I won’t say who) spends $20,000 a month to light their car lots – or in other words, about the price of a new car, every 30 days.

I am in the wrong business – whew. And I thought we had some big electric bills this winter.


Auto dealerships have a real conundrum. They want to be good stewards and be energy-efficient, but they also want their cars for sale to be visible and look good to potential buyers.

Yet this dealer I’m quoting, can’t be atypical. Drive past any car lot in Des Moines after dusk and you’ll see dozens of dealerships using hundreds and hundreds of lights to illuminate all those pretty cars, trucks and vans.

So what are the alternatives?

The easiest, AND CHEAPEST, fix is to switch from the basic 400w Metal Halide that nearly every lot uses, to an econ-o-watt 360w Metal Halide.  This bulb is designed to be a direct replacement for the 400w version.  No ballast changes, just un-screw old, screw-in new. 


This bulb puts out just as much light as its higher wattage brother, but instantly saves 40 watts of energy.  Assuming you’re running the lights on your lot 11 hours a night, 365 days a year, at an average of $0.10 per kWh, you could save $16 per year, per bulb.  OH, and by the way, Mid-American Energy gives you a rebate of $3.00 per bulb. 

How many 400 watt lights do you have on your lot?   

Another alternative is to completely change out the fixtures to an LED replacement fixture.  This isn’t a cheap solution, but the energy savings and maintenance savings can be an excellent way to justify this option.

Another alternative is to only turn on every other light, rotating them each hour. Many car dealers look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I suggest this, but there’s plenty of research to show that car lots can be well-illuminated using this method. There are special sensors that can accomplish this – and we’re talking about a 50% reduction in lighting costs. If you’re writing a check for 20 grand a month to Mid-American Energy, it seems like it might at least be worth considering.


In fact, if all car dealers across the country reduced their energy consumption by just 10%, they would see a total of $193 million in energy savings. For some dealers, those savings could be the difference between staying in business or turning out the lights, for good.

The other option is something “going green” proponents have been suggesting for years – shut all the lights off after 2am. Yes there are people who browse car lots at that time. But I know that no car dealer is actually selling cars at those hours. In fact the vast majority of cars are purchased in daylight. Perhaps all the car dealers in town could enter into some kind of joint agreement.

Sure. And maybe the KCCI Weather Beacon will go dark.


But if I was a smart car dealer who really wanted to make a PR splash, I’d tell the public that I was going to start shutting off my lights after 2am, to save energy, and the environment – and that I was going to pass those energy savings onto my customers.

Turn off the lights, sell a few more cars. Hey, maybe I am in the wrong business.

Jack Huff, along with his son Brian and wife Sue, owns and manages Adventure Lighting in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information, go to

11 responses to “Car Lot Lighting: Lots Of Wasted Light”

  1. Dexter says:

    Inresting idea. I don’t think most dealers have even thought of doing something like this for the environment. I think we all have a social responsibility to create a better environment.


  2. manuel s medina says:

    Hi I am looking for mh 1000 watts do you hae it? Please give me a call at 32339000 thank you

    • We do have them. Need to know if you’re looking for the standard MH1000/U or the MH1000/U/BT37 (smaller version) And where is that phone number from? I can’t dial it…

      Thanks for the inquiry!

  3. gary says:

    Im working on lighting a carlot now.One of the reasons for lighting the lot all night, is for security reasons.I’m pretty sure the thieves are working after 2:00 am? Now what about your theory?

    • Excellent point, perhaps we shouldn’t suggest that ALL the lights be turned off after 2AM. Instead, turn off 3 out of 4 fixtures and still provide ample security lighting throughout the night.

      In fact, I’ve proposed Car Lot lighting recently to this same dealership mentioned in the article where we use LED lighting to replace the 1000w Metal Halide. 250 watts to replace 1080 watts. If that savings isn’t significant enough, the technology exists to equip each LED fixture with a node that wirelessly talks to each other fixture on the lot, and in turn a program hosted by a computer on campus. The operator can tell all the fixtures on the inner part of the lot to dim to 50% at 10PM. The perimeter fixtures stay on at 100% of output. Then at midnight the inner fixtures drop to 25%, and the perimeter to 50%. Then again at 2AM, perimeter fixtures to 25% and inner fixtures to 10%. This still provides ample lighting for security purposes and an INCREDIBLE amount of savings on the energy side. Don’t get me wrong, this technology is expensive. But the rebates available combined with the energy savings create an incredible story of saving $$$$$$$.

      Thanks for your question!
      Brian Huff 515-288-0444

  4. coach1978 says:

    I agree .I used the wrong company with the wrong technology on th small car lot i’m working on.The LED lighting;78 watt aled area lighting was very dim at best.

  5. Alycia says:

    I personally blog likewise and I am composing a little
    something related to this excellent article, “Car Lot
    Lighting: Lots Of Wasted Light | Here’s A Bright Idea!” tanseged . Do you mind if Iwork with several of your personal tips? Regards ,Antonia

  6. You could definitely see your expertise in the work you write.
    The world hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe.
    Always follow your heart.

Back to the top