LED Tail Lights

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Aug 20, 2007
Prescott, AZ
Hi All,

I just replaced the "shoebox" bulky ugly tail lights on my 544 Volvo with 40 Ford Chevrons. The original car setup had separate brake and turn signals; I bought a trailer light converter that works well. The look is much better, however they are very dim.
I bought the aftermarket 40 Ford reproductions from Speedway Motors, I think. The lenses are real glass, not plastic. The glass is thick and not real transparent. The bulbs are the standard 1157.

I replaced them temporarily with some halogen bulbs. That made a big difference. Measured the current draw using a bench power supply set at 12.9 volts. The halogen brake light bulb filament draws 3.5 amps and dissipates 50 watts of heat! Obviously with both brake lights on the seven amps is too much for the wiring and stock stop light switch, and even the turn signal using only one bulb would be too much for the turn signal flasher and column turn signal switch. This is a 60 plus year old car with original wires!

I have three options. Leave the stock wiring and revert back to the standard 1157 bulbs, and risk getting rear ended because of inadequate illumination. Or run a big power wire from the battery to the back of the car and use relays to run the lights. This would lessen the strain on the stock electrical components. Or go to LED bulbs.

Wifey sez to go back to the stock tail lights. She wants to ride around in the car and doesn’t appreciate my creative mods. Hey, I’ve seen lots of 544 Volvos made into hot rods, but they all have them ugly stock lights. This is a CUSTOM car, not a hot rod. Plus I cut it up so much there ain’t no going back.

I haven’t heard much feedback on the LED bulbs. Are they reliable? Do they put out much more light than the stock bulbs? Some real world numbers, such as lumens, would be helpful. Anybody have experience using them?


John in Prescott, AZ
I've got LED's in my front signal lights on a '36 Ford pick-up, and on the rear tail/stop lights on a '56 Ford car. They are much brighter, [they haven't burned out yet so I don't know how long they will last], but you will have to change your flasher because the LED's don't draw enough current to heat up the old bi-metal strip switch that flashes. The new LED flasher will plug into the existing harness, but there will be an extra ground wire to bolt to the dash.
Go for it. Good luck.
I agree with Mercury Mac. Go with the LED bulbs with the LED flasher that has the ground wire.

If your using OEM light housings (front or rear), you really need to be sure the inside of the housing (that surrounds the bulb) has a good, smooth painted (or reflective) surface. A white painted surface metal around the bulb is very reflective and will brighten up the lights compared to old dingy, dark, or rusted surfaces.
LED lights can be found in all varieties these days. Experiment around with different types and you'll find something that'll work for you. Polarity has to be right and if you're using a standard flasher, leave one incandescent bulb somewhere in the circuit to let the flasher work.
Speaking of the thick glass lenses used in the older vehicles, could thinner plastic lenses stand up to the heat from the bulb, or was that not a factor in using glass instead of plastic, and why so thick?

Then the deal about having a proper reflector. My 46 Plymouth just pokes the tail light bulb through from the inside of the trunk, and there is no reflector of any kind, just the painted surface. My 46 is a light green, but I also have a BLACK 49 P15, and so imagine how well that black paint would do as a reflector. (I got the 49 as a parts car, and neither is currently road-worthy. I would at least put a piece of heavy aluminum foil in there, like from a disposable pie pan.)

LEDs. Is there a way to use LEDs so that they don't LOOK like LEDs - all a bunch of pokie little lights?
What I use are Projector type led's. No need for the reflective surface.
The led flasher needs to be a non polarized. This is the one I use

CEC Industries EF32RLNP Flasher​


iBrightstar Newest 9-30V Super Bright Low Power 1157 2057 2357 7528 BAY15D LED Bulbs with Projector Replacement for Back Up Reverse Lights or Tail Brake Lights, Xenon White(6500K)​

You can but LED bulbs that fit into the old incandescent bulb fixtures, just the bulb itself that replaces the 1157 bulbs. I have not personally used them, but I know a few guys that do, and they tell me they last longer then the old 1157 bulbs did. Those do not have the dot LED look.

I have some original 48 Plymouth taillights here, the bubs fit into a housing, with a separate glass lens and a chrome surrounding. The inside of that housing was originally painted, what was left appears to be silver paint anyway. I bought a pair of plastic LED replacement lights (got the plastic "chrome" trim and are sealed) they fit into the original light holes. They were not cheap, but they also don't have that led look to them, not that I cared too much. They are bright enough to see the brake lights on a sunny day from the length of my 88' long driveway.

The original glass was thick so it was more sturdy. Thin glass was pretty fragile, thick glass was tough. LED's don't put off much heat at all.
Some of my workmates changed their tail/brake lights over to LEDs on their trailers and their trucks. They lasted well and were very bright, but they didn't get very warm, so when the snow was swirling around the back of the rigs it would stick to everything, and the new lights would not melt the snow off themselves. Consequently, these guys had to wipe their rear lights off, often or nobody would see them.
We had leds in all our trailers. One of the companies that made them came out with some that were heated so the ice and snow would melt off them. Never bothered me since I didn’t run snow country very often.

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