LED Revival of a GM Underhood Reel Light

Reviving an underhood light solution

Jay KopycinskiPhotographer, Writer

Flashlights are portable and handy, but when you have trouble out night-wheeling and you need a light, it's no fun remembering you left your vehicle flashlight at home on the workbench. A simple, rig-mounted light can mean you always have illumination with you, and one powered by your vehicle means there's no keeping up with alkaline battery condition.

Many of you may recall the reel underhood lamp that was used on most ’88-’98 GM pickups. From what we could find, GM sold the reel light under two part numbers: 15990293 and 15528774. However, both are now listed as discontinued. These lights can still be found at salvage yards, and we thought we'd try one again but with a new twist.

The reel lights use an 1156 base bulb, so we swapped out the factory bulb for an LED replacement that we found on eBay. We ended up with a brighter light, reviving the use of these interesting factory lights.

This simple, but useful, design was placed on GM trucks for about a decade or so. The lamp can be left in place and there is an on-off switch on the unit. The lamp with magnetic base can also be unsnapped and pulled out more than 18 feet using the wire reel.

The low wattage incandescent bulb in the lamp was good back in the day, but popping in a modern LED bulb can bring this light to life for the modern age. We found the forward firing LED cluster bulbs weren't much better than the incandescent it replaced. Multiple-LED panel lamps seemed to work best, while keeping the overall bulb height less than about 1.6 inches to fit under the installed clear plastic cover

We found a convenient place to mount it under the hood attached to a center brace. We were mindful that the light would drop down in a location that would not interfere with engine components with the hood closed. We ran the wire down the underside of the hood and actually tapped into the wiring at the anemic factory light for power.

Here you can see how well our LED-enhanced light works under the hood compared to a dim and poorly placed factory light at the lower edge of the hood.