Car lighting can come off as a bit of challenge for some especially when you have little to no knowledge on the vehicles electrical system. Even for those experienced individuals, there are still some things that you will never learn until you get hands-on and do the work yourself.
We have created a list of the top 10 things we wish knew before we got into modding our own vehicles lighting. These tips can help the experienced professional and just about any person new to the modifying there vehicles or just about any person wanting better lighting for their cars. These 10 tips have proven to help you save money, a lot of time, hassle, and minimize the labor involved.
#1 Play it safe and wear protection!
Safety is always a priority! When installing any parts to your car, you should always be play it safe. Safety should never be overlooked! When working with car lighting, use industrial grade nitrile gloves and any other safety tools such as safety glasses. Nitrile gloves are heat resistant which means you can handle things that are as hot as an LED headlights heat sink or fan. When replacing your factory bulbs or upgrading your existing LED headlights to JDM Astar LEDs then you should always wear gloves to help protect your hands, and the LED lamps. It’s rare for the oils on our hands to cause a diode to over but this is not a reason to not
Using industrial automotive gloves that offer a nitrile linear are perfect for handling extremely hot parts such as resistors and/or a high intensity discharge bulb (HID for short).
Next time you catch yourself playing Hot Potato with you factory bulbs, make sure you have your automotive gloves handy!
#2 Magnet pickup tools are lifesavers!
If you are working on an older car and have damaged or brittle sockets, you may have run into this pickle already. We see this very often on classic cars or sockets that have excessive wear. Sockets that do not secure a bulb correctly has known to allow the factory bulb or an LED to just slip off the socket and end up in the housing.
This can be extremely tedious and quite annoying to fish out especially if the bulb is lodged deep inside the lamp housing.
Try using a magnet pickup tool. Most good quality aftermarket LED bulbs have metal bodies for heat dissipation. By simply removing the lamp assembly, you can easily remove the LED bulb out by using the extender on the magnet pick up tool. Some magnet pickup tools offer a bendable rod for even better reach should the LED be stuck in a corner of the housing where you cannot easily reach it. This can help save loads of time and minimize the frustration involved from trying to just bounce that bulb around until you can finally grab it and remove it from the housing.
#3 No room to mount resistors? No problem!
Hyper flash is a very common feature in most automotive vehicles today. If you plan to upgrade to LED turn signals, you will almost always experience a hyper flash problem with your signals. As you may know, the purpose of a resistor is to burn more power. The resistor must then get rid of that power and so it just burns it which translates most of the energy consumption to thermal energy or heat. Because of this factor, resistors must always be mounted to a metal surface for heat dissipation to help keep temperatures down and secure the resistor to prevent direct contact to non-metal surfaces. This, however, can pose a problem if your car has nothing but plastic in the area, not enough wire length to reach a metal surface, or no secure metal surface to mount the resistor to.
Did you know that you can actually mount all the resistors to either the front or rear turn signal sockets? Your car controls driver and passenger side turn signals separately. To the car, it does not matter where you have the resistors wired up just as long as each side has the necessary load simulation that is equivalent to the turn signal bulb you replaced and is usually one per LED turn signal bulb. The advantage of this is that you can install all 4 of your resistors to the front or rear.
As long as you have 1 resistor unit to compensate for the load of each turn signal LED bulb, on that same side, then it will still remedy the hyper flash problem for that entire side. This means that if your car only uses 2 turn signal bulbs per side (driver or passenger sides) then you can wire up your 2 resistors to the front or rear while still keeping the factory turn signal flasher relay happy.
#4 Check your factory bulbs and car before you attempt the labor!
Most aftermarket automotive bulb type products are not vehicle specific but rather SIZE specific. This means that it may be difficult to locate 1 LED or HID headlight that is specifically designed for your model vehicle. However, if you can identify the headlight bulb size your vehicle is currently using, you will most certainly find hundreds of options to choose from.
Before you decide to pick up your own set of aftermarket LED headlights, you should ALWAYS check your factory bulb sizes before attempting to access the bulb especially when it is labor intensive. This can save you time, and the frustration experienced when you find out that you wasted over 2 hours, to access the headlight bulb, only to learn that you do not have the appropriate sized LED headlight bulb. Knowing what factory bulbs are in there now and how much labor is required will prevent those sudden surprises, not to mention the time lost and hassle of having to ship your parts back, and ensures the installation is seamless.
Any of the following vehicle makes may experience additional or intensive labor that may require removal of additional parts to access your factory headlights such as front bumper, housing assembly, grille, a large quantity of plastic fasteners or wheel wells:
European vehicles– Alfa Romeo, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Fiat, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Porsche, Volkswagen.
Domestic vehicles– Some Chrysler models, some Dodge trucks (2000+) and sedans, some Buick models, newer model Fords, GMC, Jeep, Land Rover, Lincoln, and Ram trucks (2000+).
Asian vehicles– Some newer Acura sedans, some Kia sedans, Mazda sedans, Subaru SUV’s, Scion,
If your vehicle maker is listed here, check your owner’s manual to understand the steps required to gain access to the bulb you are planning on replacing. There are good sources on the internet that will provide useful information as well.
If you own a very popular model vehicle, you will almost always find a source on sites like Youtube that provide the ‘How-To’ steps in replacing a bulb for your car. Sources like Carcarekiosk.com are also very good for tutorial videos on accessing various light bulbs in your vehicle. Research your car with these sources and make your new LED upgrades a breeze to install.
#5 Stay on top of your states periodic vehicle inspection laws!
The use of automotive aftermarket LED headlights is legal in most states and no state defines an aftermarket LED headlight replacement bulb illegal for road use. States, however, do have periodic vehicle inspections such as emissions inspection, and automotive safety inspection. For states that have safety inspections, make preparations before attempting to get your vehicle inspected while your LED bulbs are installed. You should always check inspection requirements before attempting to install any aftermarket LED type bulb to your vehicle as to ensure you are complying with your states vehicle safety inspection laws.
Always check your states inspections laws instead of just reinstalling your stock bulbs and putting back your LEDs once you pass state inspection as we have heard and seen in many cases. Below, we referenced a chart that shows states that require yearly inspections. If you reside in a state that require safety inspections, check your local laws and regulations from sources such as the Department of Transportation or the DMV websites.
DARK BLUE- Periodic safety inspection
LIGHT BLUE- Safety inspection upon sale or transfer
LIGHT GREEN- Safety inspection required to register
YELLOW- Emissions testing required in some areas
BROWN- Emissions testing required in all areas
GREY- No inspection required
#6 Replace your headlight bulbs ONLY with LEDs that use a fan or heat sink.
If you are planning to replace a headlight low beam or high beam bulb, you will require a HEADLIGHT type LED replacement bulb. There are many options online that go as low as $15 a pair and fit your low beams since they use the same size and physically appear like the factory bulb. Those particular bulbs, however, lack a fan or heat sink and are usually a sign that the LED replacement bulb will not support a headlight type application such as a low or high beam. Installing this type of bulb into a headlight assembly is not recommended as it is not safe to utilize as a headlight replacement and will almost always have poor results. There is reasoning behind this though.
LEDs need a lot more power to support a headlight application. Not nearly as much as factory halogen bulb but much more compared to a 2W-5W LED such as what is featured on the image above. Higher power consumption translates to even more thermal engery that is generated by the diodes. Since LEDs have a heat threshold, a headlight type LED replacement bulb WILL ALWAYS use a high velocity fan, a passive thermal heat sink, or a combination of both. These parts usually protrude about 1in-2in after installing the LED headlight and are obvious visible parts.
The purpose of these components are to provide a faster method of cooling for the diodes and results in a balance between light intensity, and efficiency to ensure a long life expectancy. This is what helps prevent a burn out of ANY light emitting diode (LED). A faster cooling mechanism allows the LEDs internal driver to maintain efficiency at its highest and therefore provide an even longer operating and lifespan. If the bulb does not have this type of cooling mechanism then it is more than likely designed for other applications and lamp housings except a headlight type.
The last thing you want to do is buy one a wrong LED bulb and get stuck with results that are way too dim! Way dimmer than your original bulb too! This can be discouraging to some since you now have to go through the labor a second time to remove the bulbs. And since the results you initially found were not the greatest, it can be discouraging to you from wanting to try that same brand again or not use LEDs on your car all together.
Save yourself the time and trouble and ALWAYS check if the type of LED replacement is appropriate to replace the existing factory bulb. If you are ever not sure, or just need some assurance, give the guys at JDM a call and we will gladly guide you to find you the bulb you need to determine the best LED lighting solution for you and your car.
#7 Aftermarket headlight housings can create a nightmare!
Not entirely true as there are several aftermarket brands that have brought the industry some of the best headlamp assemblies that we have seen and even vehicle manufacturers are unable to replicate yet alone offer something that is just as innovative.
What we mean by this is that your aftermarket housings can change your factory bulbs to something different. We came across this on our first cars we attempted to modify and most aftermarket headlight housings are known for using an H1 halogen bulb. This is because an H1 halogen bulb is more cost effective since this particular bulb lacks any seals/orings, needs a dust cover to seal against moisture, and exposes electrical connections. Some aftermarket brands do not use a headlamp assembly with a dedicated bulb( such as an H11 or 9006) or retain the factory bulb as it tends to cost the manufacturer or supplier even more to make and feature into the housing assembly. This means that the consumer must also fork out a larger cost for the added convenience of retaining your original factory bulbs.
In the car lighting industry, we have seen many cases where a consumer or installer has taken every correct step to ensure the appropriate LED replacement bulb was ordered only to find that the size changed due to the aftermarket housing assembly. Upon learning about this, it can also pose other problems such as limiting you to what LED replacement options you can use on your aftermarket housings, since H1 sizes are not very common, and the physical limitations your LED headlight now has because of the type of housing and bulb that is being used. An H1 halogen bulb tends to require a dust cap or cover that seals the housing posing yet another fit problem since most LED headlights use a fan or heat sink. The cover must now be modified or replaced. There is also very limited clearance in the area which means you cannot use anything that is physically too large.
If you are thinking about putting both aftermarket housing assemblies and aftermarket LED headlights to your car, make sure you know what bulbs are being used with your new housing assemblies! If you plan on building up your project car then you should always consider using a higher end housing assembly to help you retain your factory bulbs but if you opt to take a short cut and save some cash, make sure you know what you are putting into your car to avoid these types of problems.
Always check the housing the vehicle is using and you will save yourself money, time, labor, and the world’s most painful headache!
#8 Do not overpay for labor if your vehicle only takes a few minutes and no tools to replace your bulb!
We see this on a daily basis! It is mainly from those that lack experience or do not have knowledge about their cars and almost always have to outsource a 3rd party to make an install for them.
If you are not sure, lack experience, or do not have the confidence to install to your car then you should always seek a professional for both safety and assurance that the installation is done correctly.
For those that are okay with getting their hands a little dirty, or have some experience, check to see if your car is easy to work on first. We’ve seen many cases where a shop charges a client an excessive amount of money and the labor involved only takes about 10mins. A better example is a tire patch! Many tire shops give free tire patches for the most minor holes. Other places can charge as low as $10 which covers the labor involved. There are some places, however, that will charge you $20 or more. For a tire patch?! Same concept when replacing a light on your car.
Always familiarize yourself with the steps involved in replacing a bulb on your vehicle. A good source is your owner’s manual! You can save yourself money, hassle of scheduling a shop visit and taking time off of work, and the satisfying and rewarding feeling of knowing you did the work yourself, and did not cost you a dime!
# 9 Have your resistors or decoders ready before you attempt to install.
This a very common thing that we come across often. There are several vehicle makers that use a unique circuit or system on various lighting applications such as vehicle headlamp lighting. These systems are infamous for creating various problems for an aftermarket LED replacement headlight or smaller sized LED replacement bulbs.
Two of the more common issues are turn signals that hyper flash or flickering and/or auto shut off from a vehicles low beam headlamp circuit. Research your vehicles make and model to see if there are any common issues that may arise when replacing any of your factory bulbs to an aftermarket replacement bulb. When you plan ahead, it can help save time of going through the labor of installing your LEDs only to learn that a problem came up and now you have to go out of your way to buy resistors, and install them.
Automotive forums are one of the best sources for details like this or just call the guys at JDM Astar for any guidance. We keep track of the various systems that are present in many cars today such as Pulse Width Modulation signals, Totally Integrated Power Modules, CAN bus, Pulse Voltage signals, or a voltage change (Ex. Daytime Running Lights). These types of systems/circuits can be finicky with ANY aftermarket LED bulb and tends to make them behave abnormally. Our research and testing has allowed us to determine what cars will require such parts so we can help you avoid getting surprised by a problem and ensure your LEDs operate as they are intended to.
#10 Always seek some guidance!
This applies to any person looking to replace a bulb in their vehicles. Whether you are professional that works on cars daily or are new to working on your own vehicle, never hesitate to seek guidance. If you are not sure of something, trying to figure things out on your own can create more issues than it does resolve not to mention the amount of time that can be lost. Seek guidance from JDM ASTAR, contact a local dealer, get hands on and check your car but most important, never hesitate to ask for help!
JDM Astar is available Monday-Friday 9:30AM-5:30PM PST. If your matter is not urgent, you can also reach out to us via email. We guarantee responses within 24 hours or by the next business day. We can also set up a time and date to reach out to you to help guide with upgrading your vehicles lighting or technical guidance to resolve any issues the vehicle has in adapting to an LED replacement headlight.
We are here to help and will remedy most car lighting issue, or get you that slick lighting mod to finally complete your car build!
Whatever the case may be….JDM Astar has YOU and YOUR RIDE covered!
“Lighting up your world…one car at a time!”