Making a “Good” Rig “Better” – Part 2: Lighting Upgrades

I know what you’re thinking. “Dean, your Jeep already has upgraded lighting.” You’re not wrong. Way back in 2016 I upgraded the stock halogen headlights in the LJ with a set of LED ones from Rigid Industries. I also installed a set of high/low D-Series LED light pods as auxiliary fog (low) and driving (high) lights. Even though those lights are working fine, as this article series implies, we’re going to make a “good” rig “better.”

Headlights

The first set up upgraded lights going on are a new set of headlights. The main motivation for this swap is to add a feature the old lights don’t have – a built in defroster. As the climate continues to shift, and winter continues to become more inconsistent, I’ve been noticing more slush, sleet, and winter mix weather than actual snow. Since LED’s don’t put out heat like a halogen light the lens remains cold. My current lights will slowly collect slush. The new lights with the built-in defroster will mitigate any wintery mix from building up. These defroster elements come on automatically and are wired into the existing harness for the lights. No additional switches, relays, or wiring is needed. Pretty straight forward “plug-and-play” swap.

Old (left) vs New (right)
You can see the defroster rings on the new light
Old lights will be swapped over to the ’06 LJ
The stock headlight bezel (left) was chrome and I painted it black
Apperantly after a few years and a few tens of thousands of miles the paint is wearing off
New headlight bezels (right) are solid black plastic. Looks so much better.

DOT/SAE Fog Lights

The next lighting upgrade is to swap out my (non DOT) D-Series pods for a set of the new 360-Series DOT/SAE approved lights. Not only are these road legal, but the lens design focuses/concentrates the light on the road where it’s most useful. Non-DOT lights just scatter light every-which-way meaning some light is going up into the eyes of oncoming drivers. This reinforces what I said last time which was, “More light isn’t always better light but better light is always more light.” The DOT lens focuses the light on the road where you need it most.

Peep that SAE/DOT sticker
You can see how well these DOT Fog lights concentrate the light right in front of the vehicle
More importantly they concentrate the light ON the roadway rather than into the eyes of oncoming traffic.

Auxiliary Driving Lights

One of my favorite features from my old high/low D-Series lights was that I had a low-beam to act as a Fog light and a high-beam to act as an auxiliary driving light. The two-in-one feature was nice. However, sacrificing the dual-function light for a single DOT fog light left me a little wanting. Since, in my state, I am allowed to run one set of additional lights above what the vehicle came with stock, I opted for a set of the 360-Series Driving lights. Not only would these match the round aesthetic of both the headlights and the round 360-Series Fog Lights they also come with a cool amber back-light effect. These backlights can be tied in with my running lights giving the Jeep a unique look, some additional marking lights during poor visibility, and all without slapping on “Raptor” lights <gags>.

Same 4″ form factor as the DOT/SAE Fog Lights, but with a Driving Beam pattern
These also have an amber backlight. Probably as close to “Raptor Lights” as I’ll get.
Here you can see the beam pattern comparisons and the comparison between the 4″ 360 Lights (top) and their 6″ brethren (bottom).
I went with 4″ because they are more than enough for what I do.
More info on the 360 series lights can be found here.

Install & Wiring

Vehicle electrical systems can be rather intimidating. Factor in that most vehicle fires are caused by faulty electrical wiring, often from added aftermarket accessories, and I can see how people are hesitant to do their own wiring. I’m no stranger to working on 12v systems. In the past I got my start doing car stereos. From there I got into lights, winches, and a host of other electrical accessories when I got into Jeeping. For more of my insights into vehicle electrical systems check out some past articles I did here.

The one thing that’s nice about Rigid Industries is that they sell pre-made wiring harnesses for their lights. If you’re doing just one or two pairs it’s not a bad idea to pick up a premade harness. However, those harnesses are like most “one size fits all” items and they don’t fit all situations. I have found that on a small vehicle like a Jeep the harnesses are too long. On something like a full-size truck they are too short. This time around I opted to just make my own harnesses and rather than spend a few hundred on pre-made harnesses I opted to spend a few hundred on a Deutsch Connector kit from JR Ready.

This kit comes with multiple connector sizes ranging from 2 wire up to 12 wire.
Most simple lights use two wires (power & ground).
Other lights like the high/low lights I was running or the amber backlit one use three wires (power-1, power-2, & a ground,).

This kit also comes with everything you need to install the connectors.

The first time I used Deutsch Connectors was working with my buddy Alex when we did the switch panels on my Jeep. In the past I has used a number of OEM and aftermarket plug assembly. None, in my option, are as easy — and as quick — to use as Deutsch Connectors. Also, Deutsch Connectors are easily rebuildable. So when I went to add a new switch wire for my driving lights to the 12-wire plug Alex had set up for me it was easy. Pop the cover off, remove the locking plate, install the new wire with the pin crimped on it, reinstall lock, reinstall cover. That easy. It probably took me longer to type this paragraph than it took to actually install the new wire. When I said “future proofing” I meant it.

Here you can see the two wires going into the finished plug.
I added some heat shrink not because the plug needed it — they are weather tight — but to help manage the two separate power and ground wires.
Here are the three wire (driving lights) and two wire (fog light) plugs ready to go.
There are plenty of install videos for how to put together a Deutsch Connector, so if I can do it you can too!

All done!

Installing the two lights was a relatively simple task. Outside the cost of the lights themselves, the things I bought to aid the install were:

  • JR Ready Deutsch Connector Kit = $399
  • Misc Wire = $100
  • Heat Shrink Tubing = Had on hand, but a box of misc sizes is like $10 at an auto parts store
  • Tube-clamps for the driving lights = $25 at Tractor Supply

Tool wise a good set of wire snips, needle nose pliers, and screw drivers are pretty much all you’ll need. Now the cost of these tools and things like the Deutsch Connector kit might seem pricey, but a pre-made wiring harness from Rigid is just over $110 — for a single pair of lights. I’m currently running four pair of auxiliary lights on my Jeep:

  • 360-series DOT/SAE For Lights (Front bumper)
  • 360-series Driving beam with amber back light (Front bumper)
  • Dually-Side Shooter Driving beam (A-pillar)
  • Ignite-series Diffused reverse lights (Rear bumper)

Those four wiring harnesses alone would cost me just as much as I spent on wiring and the Deutsch Connector kit. Granted, it’s probably still more of an investment for the wiring, connectors, and tools, but I can do a lot more than four harnesses. Not to mention the new skills unlocked of being able to do Deutsch Connectors. I already have plans in my head for a few other things on my Jeep where I can use them.

Lighting for Days!
And not just random lights for the sake of having lights
Fog Lights are DOT legal so I can use them all the time
The driving lights are also legal in my state if synced with my highbeams

In the end this lighting upgrade embodies my mantra of, “More light isn’t always better light; but better light is always more light.” These lights earned their pay on my trip to FL. I drove from PA to FL in nothing but rain and then from FL back to PA in nothing but rain. The new headlights, amber fogs, and amber driving gave me practical light right where I needed it. Something like a 50″ lighter, or roof mounted lights — neither of which are DOT legal by the way — would provide me more light, but it would not be light where I need it most. Lightbars may work for hooning it across the deserts of Baja, but they don’t make sense on street-driven vehicles.


Authors note: Although ECOA has had a relationship with Rigid Industries in the past, these lights were purchased and are not part of any sort of active partnership agreement. I just like the lights that much. Also, no affiliation with any other company mentioned in this article is expressed or implied. Lastly, huge thanks to Jim for his help and use of the “Toolbox” garage.