Jump to content

LED FTW!


Matt Harwood
 Share

Recommended Posts

Even though the big Buick has been laid up for months and isn't back on the road yet, I did spend some time working on the dash lights last weekend. I replaced the switch and did some wiring, but after they were working, they still seemed pretty dim. So I went looking for something better. I couldn't find a standard incandescent bulb that was brighter than the 1.5 candlepower units I already had, but I did find some 6-volt LEDs that would fit and were reportedly much stronger. And while I was browsing, I found they also sell a number of 6V LEDs that would be perfect for turn signals and taillights/brake lights. I ordered enough little bulbs for the dash and several bulbs for the taillights (a pair of two-element red LEDs for brake/taillights, a pair of white two-element LEDs in case the reds weren't bright enough, and a pair of red single-element LEDs for the turn signals).

 

Results were mixed. The dash lights were no brighter and maybe even dimmer, I suspect because the LEDs are directional so there was just a single hot spot and the rest of the gauge was dark. Dang. Put the incandescents back in.


But the taillights were a major win. The red LEDs are obviously the hot ticket, even with red lenses. You'd think that the white LEDs would be superior but you'd be wrong. Red works better because white light is composed of all the colors of the spectrum, so as it shines through the red lens, most of the lightwaves are blocked, diminishing the visible light. But with the red bulb, all the already red light passes through the red lens. I was initially concerned that there would just be a round red spot in the middle of the lens where the bulb was located, but it appears that the diffuser lens inside the light housing is doing its job, giving a nice uniform glow throughout the lens. The photos below show that it does look like a round spot, but to the naked eye, it looks very much like the standard bulb. I'm pleased with the results.


In the photos only the driver's side bulbs have been changed. As you can see, all the lights are notably brighter. Taillights are brighter, brake lights are MUCH brighter, and the turn signal is a lot more visible. I took a few photos with the shop lights on as well as shop lights off. Nice upgrade, right?

 

It's worth noting that on old cars like this, you can't use LEDs for all the turn signal lights because most flashers need some resistance to operate correctly. Besides, I like the warm yellow light of a regular bulb--the bright white LEDs don't look right on old cars. The blinkers on the Buick work just fine with LEDs in back and incandescents up front.

 

I bought all the bulbs through www.superbrightleds.com, and I don't have any connection to them, I just found them doing a Google search. They do have a lot of 6V bulbs for old cars. All the bulbs I bought for this project, including the dash bulbs I'm not going to use, cost about $45.

 

Money well spent, says I.

 

Taillights with ambient lights on:

Taillight2.jpg.85e8950eb23c57d2a9d0e19296252e52.jpg

 

Taillights in the dark:

Taillight1.jpg.41b47d7d716dae4de755505eac2dab45.jpg

 

Brake lights in the dark:

BrakeDark.jpg.5f834704656bfc2e971429ea445cddff.jpg

 

Left turn signal with LED:

LSignal.jpg.f861d44c110a60cdebef679a0ed40e8b.jpg

 

Right turn signal with standard incandescent bulb:

RSignal.jpg.31628be99cf7c92fd24333775059a655.jpg

 

I did install LEDs in the aftermarket gauges since they were hooked up but used 12V bulbs, which didn't work (obviously). The 6V LEDs work nicely here, although I'd prefer a more yellow light rather than the usual bright blue-white light of an LED. At least I can see the gauges now. The dash gauges aren't as bright as they might look in this photo--I can't see the needles when I'm driving. But they do photograph nicely, don't they?

Dashboard1.thumb.jpg.5602f86aeed3ea9405f7740b4d6d19c1.jpg

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm a purist, but you can't beat the safety factor using led bulbs. I'm disappointed to hear the dash bulbs don't work well. I have used these on several different applications, and the results have been terrific. Unless at Pebble Beach or single marque judging, I don't think the judging rules should deduct for them. The added safety factor for cars and humans far exceeds any negative aspect of modern technology. ? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've had a lot of feedback on the LED bulbs, so here are details on where I got them for those who asked:

 

www.SuperBrightLEDs.com (here are all their 6V applications: https://www.superbrightleds.com/search/led-products/6+volt/)

 

 

I have no affiliation with this company or their products, I'm just a satisfied customer. I found them through a Google search and they seem to have a selection of bulbs that cover most of the cars from the late '30s through the 12 volt era. You may have to experiment a bit, but the bulbs are reasonably priced so buying a few to see what happens won't break the bank.

 

Note that if you have red lenses, use red LEDs, don't outsmart yourself thinking that a white one will be brighter. It won't be. Red LEDs generate red light, it isn't white light turned red by paint or a coating. Since white light is made up of all the colors of the spectrum, your red taillight lens will block all the colors EXCEPT red, resulting in only 1/7 of the light passing through. 100% of the red LED's light will pass through, making a brighter result.

 

Also, LEDs are directional, so if you have a taillight like my '29 Cadillac where the brake/tail light also lights the license plate through a clear lens, it won't get much light and the light it does get will be red. Given the quality of the light and the improved visibility, I think that's an OK trade-off and I will be ordering LEDs for my Cadillac as well.

 

Finally, for those that have been having trouble with making LEDs work, it's probably a ground issue. LEDs are a go/no-go situation, they don't just get dim with a bad ground. If the ground is insufficient, they won't work. I've also had problems with other bulbs from other manufacturers in my Buick--a set I ordered on eBay didn't work. These did with no other changes. On cars like my Buick, the taillight housings are the ground and are grounded to the body. You can run a separate ground wire from one of the mounting screws to the frame or other good ground and it should fix the problem.


Hope this helps!

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 9/15/2017 at 10:48 PM, TerryB said:

The other thing to consider is the very low power requirement of LED bulbs.  Not much generator power will be needed to operate them.

 

Would people recommend lowering the charging rate if they switch over to LED?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

Someone recently asked me about dash lights and I figured I'd add this post here for those of you looking for LED information and maybe aren't watching my '41 Limited thread. I found another supplier with bulbs that fit the dash lights and it made a HUGE difference (left and center are LEDs, right is original incandescents--yeah, no kidding):

 

111918-2.thumb.jpg.0a7c9b8e4d4f5025060cbbb939a8650a.jpg

 

 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 9/14/2017 at 7:32 PM, Matt Harwood said:

Even though the big Buick has been laid up for months and isn't back on the road yet, I did spend some time working on the dash lights last weekend. I replaced the switch and did some wiring, but after they were working, they still seemed pretty dim. So I went looking for something better. I couldn't find a standard incandescent bulb that was brighter than the 1.5 candlepower units I already had, but I did find some 6-volt LEDs that would fit and were reportedly much stronger. And while I was browsing, I found they also sell a number of 6V LEDs that would be perfect for turn signals and taillights/brake lights. I ordered enough little bulbs for the dash and several bulbs for the taillights (a pair of two-element red LEDs for brake/taillights, a pair of white two-element LEDs in case the reds weren't bright enough, and a pair of red single-element LEDs for the turn signals).

 

Results were mixed. The dash lights were no brighter and maybe even dimmer, I suspect because the LEDs are directional so there was just a single hot spot and the rest of the gauge was dark. Dang. Put the incandescents back in.


But the taillights were a major win. The red LEDs are obviously the hot ticket, even with red lenses. You'd think that the white LEDs would be superior but you'd be wrong. Red works better because white light is composed of all the colors of the spectrum, so as it shines through the red lens, most of the lightwaves are blocked, diminishing the visible light. But with the red bulb, all the already red light passes through the red lens. I was initially concerned that there would just be a round red spot in the middle of the lens where the bulb was located, but it appears that the diffuser lens inside the light housing is doing its job, giving a nice uniform glow throughout the lens. The photos below show that it does look like a round spot, but to the naked eye, it looks very much like the standard bulb. I'm pleased with the results.


In the photos only the driver's side bulbs have been changed. As you can see, all the lights are notably brighter. Taillights are brighter, brake lights are MUCH brighter, and the turn signal is a lot more visible. I took a few photos with the shop lights on as well as shop lights off. Nice upgrade, right?

 

It's worth noting that on old cars like this, you can't use LEDs for all the turn signal lights because most flashers need some resistance to operate correctly. Besides, I like the warm yellow light of a regular bulb--the bright white LEDs don't look right on old cars. The blinkers on the Buick work just fine with LEDs in back and incandescents up front.

 

I bought all the bulbs through www.superbrightleds.com, and I don't have any connection to them, I just found them doing a Google search. They do have a lot of 6V bulbs for old cars. All the bulbs I bought for this project, including the dash bulbs I'm not going to use, cost about $45.

 

Money well spent, says I.

 

Taillights with ambient lights on:

Taillight2.jpg.85e8950eb23c57d2a9d0e19296252e52.jpg

 

Taillights in the dark:

Taillight1.jpg.41b47d7d716dae4de755505eac2dab45.jpg

 

Brake lights in the dark:

BrakeDark.jpg.5f834704656bfc2e971429ea445cddff.jpg

 

Left turn signal with LED:

LSignal.jpg.f861d44c110a60cdebef679a0ed40e8b.jpg

 

Right turn signal with standard incandescent bulb:

RSignal.jpg.31628be99cf7c92fd24333775059a655.jpg

 

I did install LEDs in the aftermarket gauges since they were hooked up but used 12V bulbs, which didn't work (obviously). The 6V LEDs work nicely here, although I'd prefer a more yellow light rather than the usual bright blue-white light of an LED. At least I can see the gauges now. The dash gauges aren't as bright as they might look in this photo--I can't see the needles when I'm driving. But they do photograph nicely, don't they?

Dashboard1.thumb.jpg.5602f86aeed3ea9405f7740b4d6d19c1.jpg

Two questions. Do you think when the car was new that the dash lights were as bright as the Led's now?

                             Do you thing that because the brake lights are now so bright that they will cause the lens to fade prematurely ?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 minutes ago, Pfeil said:

Two questions. Do you think when the car was new that the dash lights were as bright as the Led's now?

                             Do you thing that because the brake lights are now so bright that they will cause the lens to fade prematurely ?

 

I can't imagine that the dash lights would have been brighter in 1941 than they are today (with incandescent bulbs). My wiring harness is new, the grounds are good, and the bulbs are the same 1.5 candlepower units that they used originally. It's not like the bulbs are wearing out or going dim. Could the plastic somehow be less conducive to light than it was back then? Maybe, but I doubt it. I think they were probably pretty dim. There was also probably less light pollution in 1941, so it perhaps wasn't as much of an issue for drivers before the war. And while my eyes aren't that bad, I do sometimes struggle to see print in low-light conditions, so they might have looked dimmer to me than to other drivers. It's worth noting that the bottom photo in my first post that you quoted (showing the dashboard) uses original-style incandescents--that was before I changed them to LEDs. However, that photo was taken at 11 PM in my garage with the door closed, so those were also ideal conditions. Mostly I wanted that photo to show the blue-white LEDs in the accessory gauges.

 

So to make a long answer longer, I think the gauge lights were probably dim and the brighter LEDs are a big help for me personally. For some, perhaps they'll be too bright, but I'm not complaining!

 

As for the brightness of the rear lights fading the taillights, I doubt it. One, it's red light being emitted by the LEDs, not white, and two, fading is typically a function of UV rays and heat more than simply just the light from the bulbs passing through. The sun is a much bigger enemy to old plastic than any light bulb could be, and our cars spend a lot of time out in the sun. I think it's a non-issue--I doubt any of us will live long enough to see a limited-use old car's taillight lenses fade from an LED bulb.

 

Hope this helps!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 minutes ago, Matt Harwood said:

 

I can't imagine that the dash lights would have been brighter in 1941 than they are today (with incandescent bulbs). My wiring harness is new, the grounds are good, and the bulbs are the same 1.5 candlepower units that they used originally. It's not like the bulbs are wearing out or going dim. Could the plastic somehow be less conducive to light than it was back then? Maybe, but I doubt it. I think they were probably pretty dim. There was also probably less light pollution in 1941, so it perhaps wasn't as much of an issue for drivers before the war. And while my eyes aren't that bad, I do sometimes struggle to see print in low-light conditions, so they might have looked dimmer to me than to other drivers. It's worth noting that the bottom photo in my first post that you quoted (showing the dashboard) uses original-style incandescents--that was before I changed them to LEDs. However, that photo was taken at 11 PM in my garage with the door closed, so those were also ideal conditions. Mostly I wanted that photo to show the blue-white LEDs in the accessory gauges.

 

So to make a long answer longer, I think the gauge lights were probably dim and the brighter LEDs are a big help for me personally. For some, perhaps they'll be too bright, but I'm not complaining!

 

As for the brightness of the rear lights fading the taillights, I doubt it. One, it's red light being emitted by the LEDs, not white, and two, fading is typically a function of UV rays and heat more than simply just the light from the bulbs passing through. The sun is a much bigger enemy to old plastic than any light bulb could be, and our cars spend a lot of time out in the sun. I think it's a non-issue--I doubt any of us will live long enough to see a limited-use old car's taillight lenses fade from an LED bulb.

 

Hope this helps!

Yes, thank you!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was common years ago to run dashlights extremely dim, to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark, and get the most out of your vision (and your headlights).

 

I would expect the dashlights on any car too old to have a dimmer to be very dim indeed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You might also find that LEDs don't emit much UV light. I know there is a company here in Tauranga that specialises in LEDs emitting no UV, for museums and art galleries. But whether that is a general property of LEDs, I don't know.

 

Update (it only took a couple of minutes). This web site says they emit no UV:

http://www.ledlights.org/FAQ/Do-LED-Lights-Emit-UV.html

 

Basically, LEDs emit blue light and the colour is determined by the phosphors coating them. They are usually called "monochromatic".

 

Other web sites say the same thing. So no UV fading of your plastic lenses or discolouring of your clear lenses due to UV from LEDs. You need to look to the big yella spiky ball in the sky for the origin of that deterioration.

Edited by Spinneyhill (see edit history)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have converted my 53 Buick Special to all LED bulbs except for the sealed beam headlights generally along the lines described by Matt above.  I modified a transistor hobby circuit to make a flasher to replace the old flasher.   This will work for both front and rear direction lights.  Because of the way most GM cars run the direction signal circuits I figured out how to get my flasher to work on the Buick without any wiring changes.   I am thinking of writing an article for the Buick Bugle to describe the conversion.  The current draw from these LEDS are minimal and they provide much more visibility.  For the dash lights I use the warm white LEDS as they look original but brighter.  

Joe

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

First Born:

Thanks for your kind comment and encouragement.   I want to do a little more testing and then I will start writing the article for the Bugle. 

This conversion is nearly a “must do” for those still running a generator.  In the past, when I was stopped at a traffic light with the turn signals on the ammeter was well over into discharge.  Now the needle barely moves.   The dash gauges are now easy to read at night.   I also went to LEDs for the glove box, trunk, dome light and high beam indicator.   In every case there is much better illumination with about 10% of the current draw.   Well worth the effort. 

Joe

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...