How to Build Your Own LED Tail Lights

Written by rachel moran
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How to Build Your Own LED Tail Lights
Customise LED tail lights within a vehicle's stock housing. (tail lights image by cherie from Fotolia.com)

Vehicle customisation can enhance pride in ownership and improve resale value. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can give any car a slick and luxurious appearance. Install custom LED tail lights into a vehicle's existing housing for brighter illumination, longer bulb life and a stronger overall presence on the road and/or at auto shows. Customise the layout and functions of the bulbs for a look that turns heads, catches stares and is entirely one-of-a-kind. Some experience with automotive light wiring makes this customisation go faster; each year and model may have particularities, but the results are impressive.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Small, straight-head screwdriver
  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic
  • Heat gun
  • Drill
  • 5mm drill bit
  • 5mm LED lights
  • Instant glue
  • Resistors
  • Soldering iron
  • Trailer-hitch wire harness
  • Black silicone
  • Silicone gun

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Remove the housing of the tail light from the vehicle. Begin by unscrewing and/or carefully prying it out with a small, straight-head screwdriver. Remove the plastic from the rear of lamp. Leave remaining the mounting points with enough support to rehouse the lights after customisation.

    How to Build Your Own LED Tail Lights
    Remove tail lights with enough care to replace them properly. (2006 mustang gt tail light image by Jorge Moro from Fotolia.com)
  2. 2

    Mold ABS plastic to create custom plates that match the existing housing of the vehicle. Contour the plastic to the shape of the tail light with a heat gun. Specific customisation options include working with depth to create visual interest or coloured plates as allowed by your jurisdiction's traffic laws.

    How to Build Your Own LED Tail Lights
    Consider creative options when working with ABS plastic. (tail light image by Jorge Moro from Fotolia.com)
  3. 3

    Create the grid pattern for the LEDs on the plastic plates. Lay out the grid pattern on the formed plastic plates. Drill holes in the plates that follow the grid pattern. Lay out functions required of the lights for the particular vehicle. This may include brake lights or indicators. Holes that are 5mm usually allow the most variation in customisations, but any size will do as long as the drilled holes and bulb sizes match.

    How to Build Your Own LED Tail Lights
    Creating a pattern for LED lights lets customisations shine. (Electric drill with a drill on a white background image by terex from Fotolia.com)
  4. 4

    Attach the LED bulbs. Apply a small drop of instant glue to each LED bulb, and place each bulb in a drilled hole.

  5. 5

    Secure resistors to the LEDs. Solder one end of a resistor to the positive side of the LED. The positive side is the side with the long leg.

    How to Build Your Own LED Tail Lights
    Soldering is a simple way to connect important components of the project. (soldering woodburning kit image by Steve Johnson from Fotolia.com)
  6. 6

    Connect the wiring. Determine the wire colours in the car. Use a trailer-hitch wire harness to connect the grounds through a main lead, and connect the wires into the car.

  7. 7

    Secure the tail lights in the car. Fit the ABS plastic plates with the LED lights securely into place. Screw in components as necessary for the particular make and model. Seal with black silicone as necessary.

Tips and warnings

  • Avoid cracking the plastic by placing the entire lamp in an oven at 150 to 200F for about 30 minutes. After the sealant heats, use a thin knife to open the lens.
  • Customise the brightness of the lights by using different resistors. Many people like a 510 ohm resistor. For a brighter lamp, use a smaller value, such as 450 ohm.
  • In some American models, wires follow a standard. For example, black is the common ground. Light green is used for reverse on both sides. Yellow is used for the drivers' side turn signal. Dark green is the passengers' side turn signal. Turquoise is used for brake lights on both sides. Brown is used for the tail lamp on both sides. Refer to the vehicle's manufacturer for specific information.
  • Wear goggles when soldering.
  • Wear gloves when working with sharp objects, power tools or high temperatures.

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