Introduction: DIY LED Tail Lights

Hello and welcome to my Instructable!

Today I wanted to cover LED Tail Light installation. The project vehicle is a 2000 Jeep Wrangler. For those of you who don't know, aftermarket Wrangler parts are ridiculously expensive. I wanted to find a good LED Tail Light replacement for the factory "box" shaped lights, but could not find a pair for less than $150. This is where I took a trip to good old Walmart. I went to the automotive section and found their "trailer" lights. I decided to go with these oval shaped ones and spent less than $30 for both. Installing them is pretty easy, check it out!

Materials & Tools:

- LED Tail Lights (The main attraction).

- Butt Splice Connectors (Used for your new wiring harness to connect your old plug).

- Angle Grinder (Or other cutting tool to create a slot for the new lights).

- Buddy or Roommate (To serve as your hands to line things up and test your new lights).

Step 1: The Mock Up

Always doing a quick mock up before installing is best. With these lights you can pretty much face them any direction you'd like. I went with diagonal. If you have a buddy, have them hold the light in place; this way you can take a step back and see how it looks. Thanks roomie!

Step 2: The Stencil

This part is pretty important. I created a stencil of the light on a piece of cardboard. I then transfered the stencil to my desired spot on the Jeep and traced the outline with a pencil. This ensures that I get a perfect fit when it is time to place the light. Utilize your buddy or roommate again to get the perfect line up.

Step 3: The Cut

Before you cut, always make sure you know what is on the other side; also be sure to block any sparks from reaching fuel lines and the tank. My cut was done very carefully with a 3" angle grinder. If you have fancier methods available (like a plasma cutter), use them! After my rough cut, I touched up the edge of the metal with some sand paper.

Step 4: Wiring the Lights

The wiring is very simple! The LED has a positive, negative and ground. I removed the harness from my old tail light and frankensteined it onto my LED harness by connecting positive to positive, negative to negative. The ground was simply locating a screw to the frame. This allows me to use the factory plug. I used heat shrink butt splice connectors that create a nice water tight seal.

Once the wiring was done, I put the light into place! (I had to use a rubber mallet to assist because it was such a tight fit.) Quick test and then I moved on to the other side.

Step 5: Testing and Final Results

Once I finished the other side, my buddy and I went through the blinker and brake light check. Everything was good to go. I drove outside into the darkness and was impressed by my results.

Hope you learned something! I am always willing to answer questions. Thanks for stopping by!

Comments

author
PiotrM7 (author)2016-07-04

Next good modification in this car.

author
1775 (author)PiotrM72016-07-04

Thanks Piotr!

author
PeterA18 (author)2016-07-04

where is the left & right signal indicator? I don't even see reverse light indicator?

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1775 (author)PeterA182016-07-04

The indicators are the lights, like many factory vehicles. Like I mentioned in a previous comment, the reverse lights were to be integrated into an aftermarket bumper.

author
RyanK44 (author)2016-07-03

So.. The edge of the body panel would be bare steel once it is cut, i'm wondering what is stopping the cut edge around the light from rusting since I don't see you mention application of paint, sealant or any other rust protection? (unless the body panel in question is some sort of plastic, but i doubt that on a Jeep)
The new light looks like it has a rubber grommet, at least, to help keep rainwater from splashing into the gaps, but i would be surprised if moisture wasn't able to seep underneath to get to the bare steel (and ultimately be held there by the gasket for extended periods, making matters worse)
I'm pretty sure that unless the cut edge was painted or otherwise sealed, you will have the beginnings of a rusted out panel under there within a few days..

Also, if you wanted truly reliable wiring, ditch the butt connectors - which have a tendency to work themselves loose due to the large abundance of vibrations produced by a vehicle - in favour of properly soldered connections insulated with adhesive lined heatshrink.

One more thing to note, is that both ground and negative connections are one and the same, and often used interchangeably in an automotive environment. Your wiring was likely:
Red-brake
white-turn signal
black-ground
or maybe:
Red-brake/turn (high brightness)
White-(low brightness, to be turned on with headlight switch)
Black-ground/negative

... But that's just me being picky, probably not important to know unless you were trying to use this info as a basis for wiring in some other project.

I do aftermarket lighting installs for a living, so just trying to share some of what I know.

author
1775 (author)RyanK442016-07-03

You are correct, the edge of the cut should be treated with at least a self etching primer to protect the metal. You could pull out the big guns and dab some POR-15 on it if you were really worried.

As far as the butt connectors I used, they were a quality 2 in 1 solution. You connect the wires and clamp them into place like a normal butt connector. You then take a heat gun or lighter and seal it shut. 100% weatherproof. I can guarantee if I was to remove it and yank on each end of the wire, the weak point would not be the connector. However like you said, a good solder with insulation is pretty fail proof!

As far as the wiring goes, it really all depends on the schematic and your vehicle. Most of the lights come with a diagram if you are not 100% sure. When it doubt you could always meter it before you connect things.

Valid points to bring up, thanks for commenting!

author
neo71665 (author)2016-07-03

I do like flush mounts instead of the big warts the factory lights were but they also gave somewhat indication from the side during daylight. During the night there will be more than enough. Nothing some 2 inch leds mounted in the side of the tub wont take care of.

author
1775 (author)neo716652016-07-03

Yeah that would be a fairly straight forward addition if you were concerned.

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imcp1024 (author)17752016-07-03

where are the reverse lights?

author
1775 (author)imcp10242016-07-03

Great question! Long term was an aftermarket bumper with integrated LED reverse lights.