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Done in a Day: Upgrade Older Jeeps With Low-Buck JK Headlights

Posted in How To: Electrical on June 8, 2018
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Seven-inch round headlights have been used on Jeeps for many decades, and during that time lighting technology has advanced. Sealed-beam headlights have been in use since the late 1930s, utilizing a tungsten filament inside a glass bulb with a reflector. Brighter lighting debuted in the 1960s with the use of halogen bulbs. Since then, headlight technology advancements have also included high-intensity discharge (HID) and light-emitting diode (LED) light sources. The aftermarket is full of quality choices for those looking to increase forward illumination.

It’s relatively easy to swap the ’07 to ’18 JK Wrangler factory 7-inch headlights with their replaceable H13 bulb assemblies into a slightly older Wrangler such as a TJ/LJ. The newer reflector design is superior to those found on earlier Jeeps, and used JK headlights are readily available.

One concern when changing to brighter bulbs is the increased electrical current draw. Some replacement lights may draw significantly more current than the original bulbs and overload the factory wiring harness. We found a JK headlight on low or high beam draws about 4 to 6 amps of current, similar to OEM sealed halogen lamps.

Once you have the H13 assemblies in your Jeep, it’s also possible to purchase numerous aftermarket bulb replacements. The major bulb suppliers manufacture bulbs with increased lighting output for more downroad visibility, without an appreciable increase in current draw. However, these bulbs tend to have a shorter lifespan than the standard bulbs. There are also LED and HID bulbs on the market for those looking for a different lighting color or for even more light output.

We picked up a set of used JK Wrangler headlights and a pair of pigtail H13 connectors for less than $50 and completed the swap into our ’06 Wrangler Unlimited in a couple of hours. We’re pleased with the simple improvement and can now easily upgrade the bulbs if we choose. We’re already eyeing the possibilities of putting these same assemblies into a much older Jeep. Stay tuned.

Here is the JK Wrangler assembly (left) compared to an older Wagner sealed-beam halogen headlight. Both are DOT-approved for road use.
The newer JK assembly uses a replaceable H13 bulb that fits into the backside of the reflector. Replacement is now quick and easy from under the hood by twisting the bulb free of the back of the reflector.
We wanted to check the current draw of the JK headlights to see if a wiring harness upgrade might be necessary. Under a number of conditions, the greatest increase in current draw we observed was about 16 percent. The existing wiring should be enough to handle the increased load.
The newer bulb assemblies fit right into our LJ Wrangler and should fit just about any standard 7-inch headlight basket. The newer bulb assembly provides a different, modern look that owners of older Jeeps may or may not like, but one thing is for sure—you will have increased lighting coverage.
We did a few quick tests to confirm our wiring hookup, making sure which connector lead was for what purpose, and that sort of thing. On our ’06 Wrangler we found the black wire was ground, white/green stripe was low beam, and green/white stripe was high beam.
Here is the new Dorman #84785 H13 connector compared to one of our old ones. We used the green wire for ground, black wire for low beam, and brown wire for high beam.
The three wires were spliced and soldered on the new connector. We sealed each splice with adhesive-lined heat-shrink tubing, and then tucked all the wiring back into the split-loom tubing for protection. There are connector adapters on the market, but we prefer to hardwire the needed connector for weather resistance and reliability.
Here is a pattern from our used, passenger-side sealed-beam halogen headlight. Some hot spots are noticeable and the beam is not ideally uniform.
One of our used JK headlights exhibits a more even beam spread, and the tint seems marginally whiter than the sealed-beam halogen. It’s easier to see objects on the road surface and there is less glare overall.
As mentioned, there are other replacement H13 bulbs on the market, depending on your specific lighting needs or driving conditions.

Amazon Affiliate links are our attempt to show you real-world pricing and availability for the products we review and install, and while the Amazon links are separate from editorial and advertising, the Four Wheeler Network may receive a commission on purchases made through our posts.


Dorman Products
Colmar, PA 18915

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