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L.E.D. Tail Lights - Death to Filaments!

Posted in How To: Electrical on April 6, 2007 Comment (0)
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Pluck one of the hairs off your head and take a look at it. Now suspend that from two toothpicks, put tension on it, and try to decide how sturdy you think it is. That's basically the construction of a lightbulb. Add some twists, or curly-cues, and you've got how a lightbulb is made.

Your hair is the filament, and that thin strand of wire is what lights up by carrying the electricity to close the circuit. Just how long would you think a super-heated wire, stretched taut, bounced from here to high heaven as your Jeep goes down the trail would last?

But, wait, it gets better. There are alternatives to a filament lightbulb, but because they are costly to manufacture you only see them in higher-end automobiles. The light emitting diode (LED) has a much more robust construction and will typically burn a hundred, if not a thousand times longer than a regular filament-laden incandescent bulb.If the service life wasn't enough to convince you, look at it this way: LEDs actually light up faster than incandescent bulbs. Ever had a near miss? Ever had someone just love tap you because they couldn't stop fast enough? At highway speeds, after you hit the brake, an LED will light up about 20 feet sooner than a regular bulb, giving the person behind you an extra 20 feet to react.

So why swap in another piece of burning hair when it comes time to get rid of the clunky stock Jeep lights? Upgrade. Go to something with an LED in it. Follow our guide, and we'll give you the pros and cons of some different lights and some pointers on what to look for when spending that hard-earned money on some LED upgrades.

LEDtronics Factory Replacements

General: LEDtronics has LED bulbs for almost every application. Whether it be Jeep, boat, or home, they've got something. For the Jeep, they offer bulbs so that you can replace those filaments without the hassle of removing the stock lights. If it ain't broke, right?

Pros: High-quality LEDs are used in the bulbs, and they will fit in the stock Jeep housings.

Cons: The danger of a rock, tree, or shopping cart is always there. If your stock housings or bulb sockets need attention (oxidized, cracked, or otherwise worn) these will have the same intermittent functionality that the regular bulbs have.

LED-R-US Factory Housing Replacements

General: Look just like the factory lights, but they're loaded with LEDs and are much, much brighter.

Pros: If you want that stock Jeep look, these are the way to go. They fit in the exact location your stock ones do, and all your Jeep buddies will be doing double takes while trying to figure out if they are LEDs or if their eyes are deceiving them.

Cons: Much as we'd like to tell you these are a direct bolt-on, they aren't. In the place of the three factory bolts, there are three studs. Granted, they are in the stock locations, but you still have to drill out the holes in your body for them to fit. Also, you will need to reuse the plugs off the factory lights to plug into the Jeep harness. That said, they are still way easier to install than flush-mount lights.

Off Road Only LiteDOT

General: With side-facing lights, these LEDs help keep you in compliance with DOT regulations. They're surface-mounted lights, but they are extremely sturdy and will take an occasional hit.

Pros: The instructions are very thorough and walk you through step by step. There is no guesswork involved with installation. They use two of the three stock holes for easy mounting. The LEDs are fully potted-in fact, one of the displays we've seen at shows was a pair of these lights lit up in a gold fish tank (yes, with fish in it).

Cons: Although they can be seen easily during the day, they're only a little brighter than the stockers, and they aren't as bright as the others tested for this story. While the lights actually bolt to the Jeep easily, some license-plate mounts may get in the way and need to be trimmed.

American SuperLite Flush-Mount

General: These are just like every other flush-mount light out there-you'll have to cut your body to make them fit. They are available in an array of colors and sizes.

Pros: Heavy-duty, high-intensity individual LEDs sit on a fully coated, overbuilt circuit board. Then the whole thing is sealed in a housing, and the wires are fully potted to ensure a waterproof housing (no moisture in these). They are backed by a limited lifetime warranty.

Cons: If you like metal mounting brackets, you're out of luck. These LEDs snap into plastic rings or rubber grommets. If you look directly into them when you first get them, you'll be seeing spots for quite a while-these lights are really bright.

Buyer Beware

When LED shopping for your Jeep, if you do end up looking at other brands, make sure they are completely sealed. There is nothing worse than condensation in a brand-new set of LED lights. Not all of them were made for water crossings. The potting that we talk about is simply a silicone-type of plastic poured into any openings and then allowed to cure. Often, lights that accept a plug aren't completely sealed.

Not all LEDs are created equal. While it's true that they generally last a lot longer than incandescent lights, cheap diodes can have a short life and fail early, leaving you with dead spots in the light. Also, with the beating that lights take in a Jeep kind of environment, it's important to have a beefy circuit board supporting the LED. If the board is thin or improperly supported, it can crack, leaving dead spots. Check the warranty of lights you are looking at buying. Often, the good lights will feature unlimited lifetime warranty against the lights going out or getting dead spots.

If you're looking at flush-mount lights, observe tractor-trailers and other industrial type trucks that use them. Note which ones have dead spots and which don't. That's how we ended up with American SuperLite.

Also, to maintain compliance with the DOT, most vehicles must have rear- and side-facing reflectors and marker lights front (amber) and rear (red). What that means is that if you flush-mount a set of lights, to technically be legal, you need side marker lights and some kind of reflectors. While we've never gotten pulled over for this, the law is on the books, and you should know about it. Off Road Only includes reflective tape with its kit for full compliance.

All LED turn signals will need some kind of turn signal and hazard flasher module modification or replacements. Without it, they'll flash faster than normal, as though a bulb went out. If you're OK with them flashing fast, then just leave it. If you swap the LEDs in and it bothers you, check out Randy's Electrical Corner (page102) for some simple solutions anyone can use to solve this problem.


Off Road Only
St. Paul, MN 55104
American SuperLite


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