Lighting Upgrades: Round 1 – LED Headlights and Driving Lights

As I mentioned in the last post on lighting, no 50″ LED light-bars will be harmed in the making of this post.  This is about upgrading OEM lights with aftermarket lights.  Look at it this way, how often have you seen someone going down the road using a 50″ lightbar?  No?  Neither have I.

Trust me, the camera is helping me out a lot here.
My stock headlights were atrocious.

How often do you use your headlights and fog lights?  If you’re like me you use them all the time.  So why spend the money on something you won’t, or can’t, use?  That’s my rationale for upgrading my OEM headlights… plus they just downright suck.  So, without much further ado, here’s the install write up…

First things first, need to do a little repair work.

I noticed a while back the headlight harness on my Wrangler left a little to be desired.  The wires going into the OEM bulb plug were exposed and corroded.  This probably contributed to the dim nature of the LJ lights, but it also caused some random shorting.  At one point I hit a bump and my high-beams kicked on.  This upgrade is none too soon and probably long overdue.

Copper wire isn’t supposed to be green…
… or, you know, exposed.

Not my best splice, but it gets the job done.
It’s worth mentioning this noticeably improved the brightness of the old headlights.
Further evidence this was long overdue.

With that little repair taken care of it’s time to move on to the last of the Phase 1 upgrades.

LED headlights and high/low LED fog lights.
Notice the amber covers in the lower left.  I can remove them for white light when needed.
Upper right = HATS!
Nice classy packaging.

These Rigid Industries LED headlights are pretty simple to install and are a direct replacement for the OEM headlight lamp assembly.  Removal is as basic as removing some screws.  Just be careful not to drop them and also be careful not to drop the lamp assembly.

Three torx screws for the trim ring.
Four torx screw for the lamp retaining ring.
Helps having a third arm for this.

Winking?  Black eye?  A pirate?
(Stopped for lunch)

Each LED lamp individually wrapped.
Box also included stickers!
Also – Thanks Juliana. Awesome job on the packaging.

Nice clear optics.

Old sealed beam lamp on the left, new LED hotness on the right
The sealed beam lamp is ribbed because it’s acting as a lens to disperse the lighting.
That type of lens is called a “Fresnel Lens.”  Take the time to look up Fresnel.  Cool dude.

Notice the corrosion on the old lamp’s terminals.
This kit includes dielectric grease – use it (I also used it on the new sockets I spliced in).
I like how the new LED housing is sealed and has a generous lead for the wires.

New LED head light in place.
I probably need to touch up those trim rings at some point.

Pretty bright even in daylight.
(High Beams)

With the new headlights in place and working I can wait till it’s dark and then go through the aiming process to make sure I’m not blinding people.

The other upgrade on deck is swapping out the aftermarket slim lights.  I picked these up many years ago at a Jeep show swap meet and they were floating around the garage.  Although this LJ came equipped from the factory with auxiliary driving lights they were missing when I bought it.

Old aftermarket slim light.
Estimated wattage 100w
Halogen bulb
120,000 Candlepower

Upon trying to wire them up with the factory headlight switch I realized why the lights were missing: the auxiliary light part of the OEM headlight switch was busted.  For those unfamiliar with a factory Jeep headlight switch you turn the knob to turn the running lights on and then again to turn on the headlights.  You flick the switch lever back to click on the high beams.  If you pull out on the knob it clicks on the auxiliary driving lights.  Apparently when the switch failed it failed in an open-circuit manner which would leave the lights on 100% of the time.  Whoops.  Guess that means I won’t be tapping into the OEM switch right now.

New 2×3 LED Driving lights with built in attenuation to 20% power.
20,300 Candlepower @ 100%
3,979 Candlepower @ 20%
Note: Although a lower CD rating than the older slim lights I’m removing, these LED’s should be a lot more functional.  I was only using the 100w slim lights so supplement my high beams.  Illegal, I know, but I’m pretty good at turning them off quicker than the average driver.  These new lights will be independently switched and wired and only used as-needed.  I figure with the upgraded headlights I won’t have to worry about night driving any more anyway.

There was cardborad around the lights but I had already gone fishing for the instructions the night before.
Kit includes wiring, 3way switch, and of course stickers!

The lights I’ve chosen for the front of the LJ are a set of Rigid Industries Dually LED lights with built in high-low functions.  Remember when I said in Part 1 where “more light isn’t always better light”?  Well the built in attenuation to 20% power made these lights a lot more attractive to me than traditional LED’s.  Effectively I’ll have four lights in one:

  • Amber @ 20% power for driving in fog/rain/sleet/snow when needed
  • Amber @ 100% power for when I really need more lighting in bad storms 
  • White @ 20% power for general night driving when need
  • White @100% power for when I really need more lighting off road

Installed on the bumper.
Nice rugged all metal housing.
Plug is weather tight with a general lead.

Removable amber cover.  Pops off in seconds.
Chances are these will be on 99% of the time.

Pretty night even in broad daylight.
(100% power setting)

Conclusion:

I haven’t driven with them at night yet, so stay tuned for a more detailed “real world” review at some point.  In terms of the installation, as with all upgrades and minor repairs they are always long overdue.  I drive a lot at night and always hated the dim dull OEM spec headlights on the wrangler.  The mismatched bulbs and bad wiring certainly didn’t help.  I was also frustrated with the aftermarket slim lights I was using since they seemed to be too bright (although they helped at night to supplement the dim high beams) and were useless in inclement weather.

My only complaint with the kit is the limited length of the wiring harness.  There was pretty much only one spot I could run the wiring to.  It’s not a bad spot – on the dash kick panel just behind the steering wheel (down and to the left a little from the Jeep’s head light switch).  I would have liked to run it over to the dash, but that’s more on me for not being prepared with other switch options.  If you plan on using a remote switch/relay system at some point considering doing that before an upgrade like this.  If you plan on doing a simple install like this, than the kits from Rigid Industries will have everything you need.

These Rigid Industries LED Headlights and Dully LED auxiliary lights are awesome upgrades for the OEM lights on the LJ. Stay tuned for ongoing review updates of the Rigid Industries LED lighting and some other lighting related upgrades down the road.

Update: 2016-03-13

I finally got to drive at night with the headlights.  What a difference.  They are a very neutral white without any blueish tint which I like.  Visibility is a world of difference.  Not only are the LED lights brighter than the OEM halogen blubs, their pattern is a lot broader which is nice for peripheral vision.  I still need to take the time to fine tune their aim especially since I also did the 2″ lift.

Before
After

Notice how much more light is on both lanes ahead of me as well as the periphery to my right.  Also notice how much more the lane lines pop.

The only downside I’ve experienced is some glare off of street signs.  The LED’s make street signs pop at night which is nice, but they pop so much the light often comes right back at you.  I think this will be reduced with a slightly better aim of the headlights.  Stay tuned for further updates.

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