Fitting an LED headlight in tight spaces

Fit issues can be a bit of a drag, and may discourage you to attempt to install another LED headlight to your vehicle.  One of the most common reasons as to why a fit issue occurs are due not having enough clearance. This may either be due to the dust cover or caps that you find on many vehicle makes and models or simply how the vehicle is manufactured.

Dust covers may sometimes pose fit issues with your new lights and prevent you from installing your preferred LED headlights.

So how do you get around the dust cap without compromising the housings waterproof seal, if any, while still being able to use an aftermarket LED headlight that will easily fit?

In this article, we cover the top 3 tips on how to get around fit issues or situations where you have extremely limited clearance and cannot easily fit an aftermarket LED headlight bulb due to the headlamp dust cover or cap getting in the way or simply not having enough clearance.  By clearance, we are referring to both depth and off towards the side of where the factory bulb mounts. 

Some housings do not have the bulb mounted in the dead center of the dust cap opening or insertion point of the assembly so certain LED headlight designs that are very wide will prevent you from even twisting the LED headlight bulb into place to secure and install

” Some housings do not have the bulb mounted in the dead center of the dust cap opening “

#1 Consider a physically smaller headlight bulb.

The latest addition to our headlight lineup products…The 1:1 Micro LED Headlights.

As car lighting experts and industry leaders in LED car lighting, we have come across just about every issue anybody has seen or had to deal with in terms of fitting a replacement LED headlight bulb.  In situations where the LED headlights cooling mechanism protrudes too far out, consider using a fan style LED headlight. Fan style headlights come in various different phyiscal size options.

The first steps to always consider are to understand how much clearance is actually available.  The best way to do this is to compare the physical dimensions of your factory bulbs to that of the LED headlight.  This allows you to determine what areas of the LED may pose a fit risk.  You can also simply do a small visual inspection, however, this will only work when the labor involved to access the bulb is not intensive.

Fan style headlights tend to be substantially smaller in physical size as they offer a faster cooling rate over a passive heat sink style headlight that slowly dissipates heat.  This allows us to play more with the physical design of the LED headlight and thus allow it be substantially smaller without comprising rate of cooling or thermal radiation.  Since a mechanical fan is a faster cooling method for an LED bulb, we can eliminate parts of the design in order to reduce its phyiscal size without compromising the bulbs performance. A perfect example would be our latest 1:1 Micro LED headlights.

1:1 Micro Headlights have proven to fit in the most confined housing areas.

The 1:1 Micro Headlights retain similar dimensions to that of a factory halogen bulb and fits almost anywhere!

Another perfect example would be our T2 model headlights or even the newest K1 Series Headlights. 

Lastly, newer heat sink style lamps such as our 6S headlights are also an excellent choice. These run passive heat sinks that are different from a traditional bulky unit like what you see on our NX Series and 8th Gen Headlights.  The 6S use thin strips of aluminum that we refer to as ‘cooling fins’.  These are intended to be spread out, bent and molded to your liking or to the clearance available in the area.  In other words, the fins must be fanned out and you can bend them over and around if spacing is very limited on either side of the headlight bulbs mounting area. 

6S Headlights are suitable for most domestic, and foreign vehicle lamp housings.

The 6S design will also even fit in headlamp housings that have squared or rectangular-shaped dust covers/caps.  These are much more compact from the typical heat sinks you find on various other model headlights we carry.

#2 Replace the factory dust cover with an aftermarket cover.

Dust covers tend to leave about only 1’-1.5’ gap between the cover and the factory bulb.  Trying to fit an LED headlight with this much space may come off as a challenge, but not anymore.  In the past, you either had to drill a hole large enough to fit the fan or keep the cover off all together.  Keeping the covers off or modifying will ONLY work in cases where there are no metal parts prone to oxidizing nor any electronic circuit boards in the area such as any unique headlamp housings with a mechanical shutter, or adaptive headlamps.

Aftermarket headlamp covers can provide more depth to fit your LEDs fans or heat sinks easily without modifying the housing.

Most headlight housings have a exhaust drain in case moisture makes its way into the outer shell of the lamp housing assembly but for those vehicles with housings that are completely sealed up against moisture then keeping the cover off may not be the best idea as it may lead to a larger problem.

For those cases, consider an aftermarket dust cover.  There are many variations available online through eCommerce stores and you can even find options that are sizeable to replace practically any diameter cover or least the most common ones.  There also options that allow the cooling mechanism of the headlight to protrude out in order to maintain an optimal temperature for the headlight all while still providing a defense against moisture and the elements that kick up while driving.  Of course, you may use some automotive silicon to seal up any small areas that the aftermarket covers will not seal up properly being that they are aftermarket or not genuine OEM parts. This way, you do not comprising the protection of the seal and maintain protection against moisture.

#3 Keeping the dust covers off or modifying the existing covers.

Keeping covers off should always be last resort, however, in some cases, it’s the only option if you want to convert to an aftermarket LED headlight. This would mainly only affect those working on a heavily modified car build, cars being used for trade shows, or vehicles that do not have a unique lamp housings that require the dust cover to remain on.  Be advised that keeping the covers off may lead to collection of dust and debris over time which rarely poses a long term problem, however, some housings do require the cover as it is what provides a seal against moisture. 

You DO NOT want to keep the housings exposed if the cover is the main source to provide a seal against moisture to reflectors of the lamp housing. Doing so will introduce moisture to the lamp reflectors but if the cover is intended for only dust/debris then you should be fine. Most aftermarket LED headlights are designed to handle water and will typically carry an IP65 water-proof rating.

A Chevrolet headlamp assembly with our NX series headlight installed without any covers.

Regardless, protecting the vehicle should ALWAYS be a priority as this is what helps pay the bills(right?).  As mentioned previously, keeping covers off is only safe with lamp housings that do not require that seal or do not expose any electronic circuit boards nor metal parts that may rust due to moisture exposure.  

Our company’s 2016 Chevrolet Colorado utilizes factory dust covers on the headlamp applications and luckily, Chevrolet’s lamp housings are simple. We were able to keep the covers off without a concern so that options like our 8th Generation Headlights will easily fit. Its been over 2 years since we installed them before taking the Colorado to SEMA Show 2018 and no concerns of moisture. Even after pressure washing the Colorado, the LEDs remain functioning all while still maintaining a clean and moisture-free reflectors in the headlamp housings.

By keeping the covers off, not only does it allow the LED headlight to easily fit in the area, but allows a better rate of cooling for the bulb.  This means you will get more out of your LED headlights!

Keeping the covers off or modifying will ONLY work in cases where there are no metal parts prone to oxidizing nor any electronic circuit boards in the area”

If you are ever not sure about the purpose of the vehicles headlamp dust covers, contacting your vehicles local dealer will always help.  They will advise of what the cover is intended for as well as what may happen if they are left off.  If you are concerned, contacting your local dealer is recommended before you attempt to keep the covers off. Be sure to speak to an experienced individual that has hands-on experience with working with vehicles car lighting systems.

DIY modification made to a cover to allow the 6S cooling fins to fit through for optimal cooling.

Those that are comfortable with a little bit of minor DIY, you can also modify the existing dust cover as a workaround. 

If you determine that modifying the dust cover is your best and ONLY route then you should consider getting a spare set of covers so you can keep the original ones intact and modify the spare covers. 

This way, if you modify something incorrectly, you can still use your original ones.  Modifications to the dust covers are only suggested if the mods required are minimal.  For any small areas that are left exposed, apply a dab of automotive silicon to seal up the area and maintain a waterproof seal. 

We got YOU and your ride covered!

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If you are ever not sure about how to go about fitting an aftermarket LED headlight or simply need some guidance, we can help! 

We are trusted by our local Toyota and Honda dealer partners including hundreds of thousands of JDM Astar supporters and enthusiasts world-wide. 

Not only do we offer the latest and greatest of automotive LED lighting but know the automotive lighting better than anybody else. 

“JDM ASTAR…lighting up your world, one car at a time!”

-JDM ASTAR Team