This will be a pretty short How To because swapping in LED lights is pretty simple, just changing a light bulb. But maybe it can be a place for people to discuss issues they have with LED lights, as there are a few that can come up.
ISSUE #1: Flashers
The main issue when you replace your turn signal bulbs with LEDs is that you need to replace the flasher in your truck with an LED flasher. I found out there are several kinds of these and not all will work.
The type of flasher you want is the kind that has an extra wire coming out the top that needs to be grounded. Basically it is a three-prong flasher that fits into a two-prong slot like our trucks have. This is what it looks like:
The link is to Summit but it can be purchased several places. It costs about $13 and you need two of them, one for the turn signal flasher and one for the hazard flasher. You can find similar flashers elsewhere but I recommend the United Pacific for these reasons:
- It comes with a polarity reversing adapter to swap the pins around. On my 83 the reversing adapter was required on the turn signal flasher, but the hazard flasher worked directly without the adapter.
- The flasher actually has a small relay inside it, that clicks open and shut as it flashes. In other words, you can hear it. Some LED flashers are completely solid state, so no sound. I actually prefer to have the clicking sound, so I know my flashers are working without looking at the dash.
In case you didn't know, these flashers are located in the fuse panel with is under the dash on the driver's side near the kickpanel. The turn signal flasher is the one you can see when you remove the fuse panel cover and the hazard flasher is on the back-side of the fuse panel. You will probably have to unbolt the fuse panel from the firewall to get to the new hazard flasher in. The panel is held in with two screws.
Of course it is not enough to just plug in the new flasher, you also have to run the little ground wire somewhere. I grounded mine at the same screw that grounds the driver's side courtesy light under the dash near the kickpanel. Your truck may not have this light depending on your trim package, but you probably have a convenient screw hole in that spot anyway.
One final note - the new flasher is taller than the stock one, so your fuse panel cover won't fit back on unless you cut a hole in it.
Here is a photo of the United Pacific turn signal flasher installed in the fuse panel. The hazard flasher is also installed but you can't see it, it's on the backside. Both have their ground wires grounded at the courtesy light.
ISSUE #2: Color Selection
This isn’t an issue so much as something you need to be aware of. When you buy an incandescent bulb for your brake lights, for example, the bulb is like any other bulb since the days of Thomas Edison: it puts out what appears to be white light. Then you stick it in your red plastic tail-light housing, and out comes red light. Great.
However, what is important to realize, is that an incandescent bulb actually puts out light frequencies of almost every color of the rainbow. When you stick that bulb in your red tail-light housing, the red plastic filters out all the colors but red, and the red passes through. You didn’t know your little incandescent bulb was putting out red light, but it was.
Now for the important point: this same principle does NOT apply to LED lights! When you buy a white LED, that thing puts out white light and pretty much that’s it. When you put a white LED behind a piece of red plastic, the red plastic will filter out everything but red. Since the LED isn’t generating any red light, or hardly any, the light will appear very dim. You’ll think you got a dud! Actually you didn’t, but when it comes to LEDs:
Match the color of the LED to the color of the bulb housing!
So if you are buying an LED for your brakes, buy a red LED. If you are buying an LED for your front turn-signals, buy an amber LED.
ISSUE #3: Dimming of LED Dash Lights
If you decide to use LED lights for your instrument cluster and elsewhere in the dash (heater controls, and the light that illuminates the headlight/windshield wiper *****), you may be wondering whether they will still work with the dimmer control (part of the headlight ****).
The answer is, sort of. You will still get a dimming effect, but it is maybe about half of what you would have gotten with incandescent bulbs. If you keep turning the dim **** beyond that point, then the lights turn off completely. In other words, the setting is pretty much Full Brightness - to Still Pretty Bright - to Off.
So be forewarned if you decide to use LEDs in the dash.
Some people have considered using an aftermarket PWM dimmer for the dash lights. Be advised, all the ones I looked at actually pulse the Ground signal. That will not work in our trucks! The lights share a common ground with the other instrument gauges, that would be nearly impossible to isolate because it is part of the printed circuit board on the back of the gauge cluster.
But I am happy to hear about anyone who does successfully get a PWM dimmer working, so post here if you do. It is a good idea, but hard to implement.
Here are some part numbers for some LED bulbs I used on my truck. I purchased all these through SuperBrightLeds.com. There are many places to buy LED bulbs and I admit most will be cheaper than SBL. These are just what I chose, and maybe the part numbers and photos will help you in your own selection:
Brake Lights: 1157 Style (dual intensity) 45 SMD LED Tower - Part #1157-R45-T. These are RED LEDs!
Reverse Lights: 1156 Style (single intensity) 45 SMD LED Tower - Part #1156-CW18-T. These are WHITE LEDs!
Front Turn Signals: 1157 Style (dual intensity) 45 SMD LED Tower - Part #1157-A45-T. These are AMBER LEDs!
Front Sidemarker Lights: 194 Style (wedge base) 5 SMD LED - Part #WLED-AHP5. These are AMBER LEDs!
You will note the brake lights, reverse lights, and front turn lights are all basically the same bulb type, only in different colors and dual intensity for the brake and turn signal bulbs (1157 style) versus single intensity for the reverse lights (1156 style). This is what they look like (photo from SuperBrightLEDs):
This is what the front sidemarker bulb looks like (photo from SuperBrightLEDs):
Here is an easy upgrade to make your dome light about one hundred times better. Total cost will be around $20.
First, get the LMC clear dome light lens cover, Part #47-4291.
Second, get a bright LED bulb to go in there. LMC sells one but I thought this one was even brighter: 194 Style (wedge base) 10 SMD LED - Part #WLED-WWHP10-DAC. That is the part number for the "warm white" version. And yes, it does fit in the dome housing.
Here are some photos of the parts.
Here is the LED pancake bulb installed, it just barely fits.
Here is the LMC lens installed (yeah, I know my roof looks like tinfoil, but my headliner isn't in yet)
Here are two photos of the interior of the cab in a dark garage. All the lights in the garage are turned off and no daylight is getting in. All the light in this photo is coming solely from the dome light, in this photo I have the LMC lens and the LED dome light bulb.
Compare the last photo to this one, which has a stock incandescent bulb and the stock (opaque) dome light lens.
Here is a photo of the footwells. Again in this picture, all the light in the cab is coming from the dome light (back to the LED bulb for this picture), and of course the light from the footwells themselves. On the driver side footwell I have a stock incandescent bulb, on the passenger a cool LED. Although both sides look bright, most of the light is honestly coming from the dome light. The incandescent bulb looks much better than the blueish LED on the passenger side. If I can find a warm white LED I may try it in the footwells, but for now, I'm going to keep the incandescents there.
Final Note on my Photos: Guys, I have to be honest and tell you, my camera is rather a nice one and it takes great low-light pictures. It looks like broad daylight in the photos, but in real life, it was maybe not quite so stunning. The LED dome light with the LMC lens is about a hundred times better than the stock arrangement no question. But in spite of what these pictures might indicate, it won't actually give you a tan, or light up the next county.
But comparing it to a regular incandescent, the incandescent seemed brighter. Not bright mind you, just brighter. The map lights are kind of a poor design no matter what.
The problem with the map lights is that A) there isn't a lot of room in there and the really bright LED bulbs are oversize, and B) light only comes out a single, small hole where the lens is, and many LED bulbs (like the Hipo one above) are not very good at putting out uni-directional light. The Hipo bulb only had one or two LEDs that were actually facing the lens hole once you got the thing in there, and most of the rest of the LEDs were wasted shining in other directions.
So long story short - I'm keeping the incandescents in the map lights. They are kind of a pain to change, but hopefully they won't burn out very often since they won't get used very often.
But, if anyone finds a good upgrade bulb for the maplights, please post it here! We'd all be interested to know. The more light the better.
Here are a couple pictures of my running lights in the same dark garage. Again, there is no external light getting in. The doors are closed so the dome light is off. The only lights are the running lights.
In these two photos, the driver's side brake and turn signal are on, so the driver's side lamps may look a bit brighter than the passenger. I was trying to show the difference but it all kind of washes out in the picture.
Again the camera does a good job of exposing the scene, but honestly, in real life, these things are bright. When that brake light comes on and if I look at directly, it literally gives me a headache. It will make red spots in your eyes it is that bright. Unless the guy behind me is in a coma, he's going to know I hit the brakes.
Luke - I hesitate to post this here, but will do nonetheless. I am sure you are setting the camera so it cannot adjust between shots - right? The only way I've been able to compare light levels between bulbs is to take a shot of the brighter condition in something like Program mode, and then dial that exact setting into the next shot using Manual mode. Otherwise they come out looking much the same. But, I'm confident you are way ahead of me on that.
Anyway, I LOVE WHAT YOUVE DONE! Thanks for the write up as I plan to follow you, although now I'll have a lot less leg work to do. But, have you tried the cargo/3rd brake light yet with LED's?
What's the story with your license plate light? Original housing with an LED lamp in it? I have the same story as you with the driver's side one removed for a trailer connector, and the passenger's side one is not stock, and not bright enough for my tastes.
Yes, I guess there are a few bulbs I haven't yet mentioned. You're right, I do have an LED in the license plate light - and coincidentally, it is the same bulb I have in the cargo light:
License Plate Light/Cargo Light: 194 Style (wedge base) 5 SMD LED - Part #WLED-WHP5.
You will notice this is the same wedge bulb I have in the sidemarker lights, just that those are amber and the license plate/cargo light are obviously white versions. Incidentally you can use this same white bulb in the glove box...
For the license plate, yes, I am using the stock housing with this LED bulb. However my stock housing was pretty faded so I bought a new one from LMC, it was about ten bucks. They have several colors to choose from, black, silver or chrome. Part number for the chrome one is 50-8482, that should help you find the others. Having a new clean housing where the plastic wasn't hazed over helped quite a bit. And yeah, as you can see in the photo, even now with only one license plate light instead of two, it's plenty enough.
Alternatively you could try some license plate "screw" lights, like these ones at Amazon:
The only problem with those that kept me from trying them, is the thought they might get kicked and broken every time I used the bumper to step up into the bed.
I will try to take a photo of the cargo light in action. Frankly it is not so great. I tried quite a few bulbs in there, LED and otherwise, and none really put out a lot of light. Again the main shortcoming of the cargo light is the housing itself. I would like at some point to install further lights under the bed rails but we shall see.
Gary, yes, you're absolutely right about the camera settings, and in this case, I admit I did not bother with any of it. All these photos were taken in "Auto" and the camera chose the settings. It's important I caveat these pictures appropriately so I'm glad you brought it up.
All the same, I only posted one comparison shot and even with the camera choosing the settings (which would tend to make the lights look even), you can still clearly see the stock dome light puts out quite a bit less light. This is most evident in the light being cast on the walls outside the cab of the truck.
But of course we all knew the upgrade was going to be brighter, so that is no surprise. The question as to "how much brighter is it really?" - that one I did not answer.
Truthfully, none of these photos really show what the appearance is like in real life. The camera makes the scene look brighter than it truly is, as I mentioned. Although it is possible to set up an equal comparison of one condition relative to another, it is much more difficult to set up something that is an accurate representation of the scene as the human eye sees it. Since I was destined to fail that one, I decided not to bother with the other! Also I am lazy.
If anyone wants to set up a truly scientific comparison this would be a great place to post your results. Let me be clear, my photos are anything but! That was not my goal in this case. The pictures are just eye candy more than anything, serving to illustrate the text. The pictures do not give a full sense of the actual improvement over stock, or even an accurate portrait of the scene as it appeared to me standing in the dark garage.
One way to document the difference is via the camera's settings. For instance, if it chose 1/8 second for the stock and 1/32 for the LED we'd know it is 4 times brighter - forgetting reciprocity, which probably doesn't apply to digital.
When I posted above about using LED bulbs for my turn signals, I had tested them to work fine with the flasher I described (United Pacific 90652) - but this was without the engine running. Later I discovered that with the engine running, the turn and hazard flashers would give random patterns at best, or not even work at all.
The issue I believe was interference from the ignition system, which affected the timing circuits in the LED flasher. In fact I highly suspect the whole problem to be caused by my MSD Tach Adapter which I mistakenly installed in the cab, near the fuse box (and hence near the flashers), when in fact it really needs to be installed in the engine bay - it makes an audible noise that is maddening, and I can only imagine what sort of electrical noise it makes.
So you may not have this sort of problem on your own setup, but if you do, here is the fix that worked for me. What I did was to:
1) Move the flashers about a foot away to the driver's side kickpanel.
2) On the extension wires to the new flasher location, run the positive and negative power lines through a ferrite toroid core, and then through an L/C (inductor/capacitor) filter.
You can get both these items easily on the internet, I purchased mine from DPCav.com. You may also want to get some heatshrink from them while you're at it. I used some from my own stock but I believe the 1.5" width will be adequate. One foot will be more than enough.
- LC Filter #PSF-001
- 20mm Toroid Ferrite Core
- Large size heatshrink (select 1 foot of 1.5" wide)
You will need two each of the toroids and filters listed above, one for the turn flasher and one for the hazard flasher. Total cost with shipping will be about $30.
The absolute values for these items are not entirely critical, if you want to search for them elsewhere. Any ferrite core will be better than none. For the LC filter we need to make sure the capacitor can handle the voltage and current we will be putting through it, and the DPCav specs list the cap as 25v so that is more than enough. They also list the current capacity as 1 amp. I tested my turn signals to draw roughly 1/2A per side (using the bulbs listed above), so we are well within specs for the turn signal flasher. The hazard flasher does both sides at once so will drawing 1 amp or slightly more, so right at the edge of the LC filter specs, but honestly, it should be fine. I'm not sure how DPCav came up with 1 amp anyway on their design, and I suspect it is conservative.
I didnít take any photos of the process, only the completed item, but the project isnít hard.
1) Cut the around the plastic flasher body (I used a Dremel with a plastic cutoff wheel) so you can remove the circuit board from the inside. The plastic body I threw away.
2) There are three connections on the flasher board, GND, X, L. Ground is the black wire that was coming out the top. X is the positive terminal of the turn/hazard flasher, and is set to +12v when you turn on your turn signals or flashers. L is ďloadĒ and is the wire that goes to the actual bulbs. The X and L correspond to the two terminals for the flasher in our fusebox panel.
3) For the X and L connections, since I wonít be plugging the flasher into the fusebox anymore, I just crimped some spade terminals to some wires, these will now plug into the fusebox instead. These are the red (X) and blue (L) wires in the photos below.
4) The ground wire I already had grounded to a place in the dash as discussed in an earlier post.
5) I extended these three wires about a foot or so, in order that the flasher unit could tuck up behind the driverís side kickpanel.
6) Now, we donít need to do anything special to the L (load) wire but run it straight from the fusebox to the flasher circuit. But the GND and X (+12v) wires we want to run first through our toroid core, and then through the LC filter.
7) After the LC filter, the GND and X wires continue on with the L wire and were soldered directly to the flasher circuit. These connections are clearly marked on the flasher board.
8) Heatshrink both the LC filter board and the flasher board so they donít short against the frame.
9) Do the whole thing over again a second time for the hazard flasher.
10) Plug it in Ė voila. Flashers work, even with my damn MSD tach adapter whirring away. I will relocate the tach adapter later, but I wanted a certain fix in the meantime.
Here is the whole circuit complete (one of them). The red wire is X (+12v) and the blue wire is L (load). These two have spade terminals, and plug into the fuse box where the flasher used to. The black wire is Gnd and has a ring terminal for connecting to a ground point on the dash. The white ring is the toroid coil and the circuit just past it is the LC filter. The board to the far right is the United Pacific flasher board removed from its housing.
This shows the connections for the X (pos) and GND wires through the LC filter. Very simple, you have two go in, and two come out.
This not-very-good photo is a closeup of the United Pacific flasher board. The three connections (L, X, and GND) are clearly marked so it is not difficult to wire to it directly.
This filter business probably seems like a lot of work and bother. But you may not even need it! If you want to use LED lights/flashers, install them first, and test them with the engine off and on. More than likely, if you have a stock setup, they will work fine.
Only if you are having interference problems, most likely from aftermarket circuitry or ignitions you might have added, do you need to consider the filter circuit described. In that case, it is something of a bother, but the good news is, at least it works.
Dome Light LED swap.
I found these on Ebay. They seem to be a direct swap for a stock bulb.
$3 for 2 with free shipping.
Shipping takes a month or two so I am posting this now instead of when I try them out.
You can search "loop festoon LED" on Google to shop for these.