Puddle lights are a great way to light up the area underneath your van, to show puddles, dropped items or scare away animals. It also looks cool as hell. These instructions were put together using some pictures that I took along the way while installing so they're by no mean complete. I am not a professional installer so this guide assumes that "good enough" method is good enough. Let's go!
- Vehicle: 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan GT
- LED: Susay Waterproof LED Light Strip 12V with 300 SMD LED Cool White (no adaptor or connector included)
- 12v waterproof LED strip with wire leads
- 50ft of high gauge wire like telephone wire
- electrical tape
- No More Nails or similar adhesive
- baby wipes
- heat shrink tubing to seal up the wires and replace the stripped wire jackets
- soldering iron/pencil
- trim removing tools (plastic pry tools)
- Philips screwdriver
- wire stripper
- extension cable
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Step 1: Prepare Your Wires
I'm going to assume that you are proficient in some light soldering.
- Before we start, cut two 25ft lengths of wire. strip both ends and expose about 2cm of raw metal wires for both wires. We really only need 2 wires (negative black and positive red) to hook up with the LED strip.
- If your cable has more than 2 wires you can braid some of them together to double them up. This is actually a good way to add redundancy in case 1 wire fails, it can still use the path from the other braided wire. As long as you're left with 2 wire leads at the end of it you'll be good. Just make sure to braid the same colours together on the other side!
- With the soldering iron tin all the wire tips on one end of each wire. Ensure that the wire jacket is cut back enough to give you about 6 inches of wire, you'll need it for later. Leave the other end untinned.
Step 2: Tap Into Your Hatch Light
We'll need 12V to power the LED strips so I tapped into the hatch light. I noticed when I unlocked the doors or opened the doors it functioned like a dome light for cars so it was the perfect power source to use.
- Open the back hatch and using the Philps screwdriver, unscrew the 4 screws that are holding the back panel in place (put them away). You can see in the first picture the 4 "holes" at the bottom of the hatch door.
- Once all 4 screws are out gently pull on the panel handles located at the bottom of the hatch and the plastic paneling should pop off. There are some yellow clips holding it in place and a gentle downward tug should pop those loose.
- Remove the clear lens housing with your hands by just getting some leverage using surrounding plastic paneling. There are 2 clips on the top and 2 larger clips on the bottom. It should come off pretty easily.
- The lense housing holds the stock light bulb attached to the power cable. Slide the red plastic lock to one side and remove the housing from the power cable
- Open the housing and take it to your solder station. Now solder both prepared wires (in step 1) to the leads that the bulb uses. Just ensure that the black wires are on one side and red wires on the other side. Make sure to test for continuity before proceeding.
- Place the lense back on the housing and ensure that the wires can exit out the back of the housing without hindering the clips. I just used the holes near larger clips to avoid drilling new holes
- Thread the wires back into the hatch light cavity and pull the wires behind the paneling up the right side of the door to the top of the window. try to run them behind existing clips to the wires don't run everywhere
- I used some electrical tape to secure them to some existing wires as well
Step 3: Running the Wires to the Exterior
The challenge now is to run the wires that are interior to the exterior without having to drill any holes and without it being visible.
- Take your screwdriver and unscrew the headliner panel. There is a screw on either side and the rest are held in by clips. After removing the 2 screws (put them away) it will just pop off with a gentle downward tug
- Take the 2 wires and fish them through the existing port. It's a little tight going through the rubber gasket but I made it work by doing them one at a time. this will bring your wires from the hatch into the headliner of the body of the van. This may cause some rainwater issues getting into the body but if you're worried you can use some caulking to seal the hole back up.
- I used black electrical tape to wrap them together and conceal them as best I could
- Now that we're in the body, run the wires right along under the headliner panel and tuck them behind the right side weather stripping. Run them all the way down to the bumper
- Once down to the bumper there is another plastic panel between the bumper and the luggage area that you should remove. Gently pull upwards and the entire panel should come up.
- Thread the wires through the first hole that you see and through the little round hole below out to the exterior of the van
- Once complete replace all the panels but don't screw them in yet in case we need access again for troubleshooting
Step 4: Run the Wires to Each Underside of the Van
We made it outside the van but believe it or not that was the easy part! We now have to run the wires through the bumper and around each rear wheel well to get to our destination.
- Do one at a time but take one wire and fish it through the underside of the bumper, to the wheel well (I can't believe how rusty it is under there!)
- Come out through the side of the bumper into the back of the wheel well
- Now you'll have to find a seem to tuck the wire into up and over the tire to the front of the wheel well
- I used some No More Nails adhesive to glue the wire to the inside of the fender
- This is where baby wipes come in handy has it's really sandy and dirty up inside that fender and the glue needs a clean dry surface to adhere to
- This is the dirty, time consuming part
Step 5: Light It Up
Once you've run both wires to the front of each rear wheel well, you're almost ready to connect to test.
- Unroll your LED strip and measure out the length you need for each side of the van
- You just need scissors to cut the strip into the 2 sides strips. Ensure you use the front of the roll for one side and the end of the roll for the other side. Both strips must have the black and red wires for power.
- You can save the middle (wireless) left overs for future projects. All you need to do is manually solder some wires to it and they should work no problem
- Open a door and ensure that the hatch light is on then connect the LED strips to test. If connecting the wires don't work you have it backwards and just switch the polarity.
- Once tested, take those baby wipes and clean the underside of the plastic painted panels really well and let dry
- Remove the backing of the LED strip to expose the adhesive and stick it to the underside of the side panel ensuring that the lead wires are at the back of the van
- Connect the power again to the now attached LED strips. This is where you'll need to bring the soldering iron out to solder the wires on the van. Remember to use the heat shrink tubing here to seal up the exposed wires. Wave a lighter under the tubing to shrink it and hug the wires inside.
- I have zero confidence that the adhesive on the LED strip is going to hold over the winter so I'm going to glue the strip down permanently.