By on March 28, 2017

2000 Dodge Durango, Image: FCA

TTAC Commentator flipper35 writes:

I have a 2000 Dodge Durango (wrote about the brakes on it before, all is good with them) and the lights are not the greatest. After replacing the passenger side due to a deer ramming its butt into it, its headlights no longer match. I’ve looked on several Mopar forums and there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on which lights are good — but they can all agree on what is crap.

So, I am willing to spend $300 on a proper headlight upgrade if that’s what it takes. I see a few conversions where you bake the headlights at low temp to release the glue and then put bi-xenon with the flappy shield in with the ballasts and wiring kit. They sound reasonable but there are some other projector-style lights out there that would be less work if they are focused and aligned properly. I’m mechanically inclined but with family and other projects I would rather spend less time on these and more time on replacing stuff like the worn grommets on the electric seat adjustment screws and such. (At 190,000 miles, it needs front suspension bushings, too.)

(UPDATE: This Article was corrected in a newer post.)

Sajeev answers:

While a 2000 Dodge Durango isn’t the easiest application for headlight upgrades, there are options aside from the non-DOT legal, light-up-every-rooftop-in-your-neighborhood kits found online. Your Durango’s 9007 headlights can easily follow the path of my 1988 Cougar’s 9004 upgrade, which was a stunning improvement. Hence my recommendation:

  1. Install new headlight assemblies (i.e. with perfect lenses and reflective coatings inside) of the DOT-legal variety. Surprisingly, these units are both legal and have the “crystal” complex projector look of newer vehicles. Very nice, and only $140-ish of your $300 budget.
  2. Upgrade your 9007 bulbs to a superior model that’s still DOT legal. I recommend the GE Nighthawk Platinum series, but Philips X-tremeVision has good options, too. Either will be $30-ish via Amazon/eBay.
  3. Last bit is the toughest: Install headlight relays with larger gauge wires for maximum bulb output. Note the sixth reply on this post. I ponied up the cash for Daniel Stern’s relay kit and used leftover wire from Home Depot. All the good quality stuff should be $100-ish total, then budget several hours for installation.

Adding it up? You’re under the $300 budget, the headlight’s beam will be significantly fatter/brighter, and it’s all DOT legal.

The headlight assemblies in my hyperlink are my favorite as they don’t mess with the original stylists’ vision but add some flare via complex reflector projectors. While it’ll never impress the showboating crowd, it’s worth the cash and you’ll enjoy looking back at your handiwork every time you walk away from your Durango in a parking lot.

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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44 Comments on “Piston Slap: Crystal Clear Thoughts on Headlight Upgrades...”

  • avatar

    Just dont burn my retina- huh buddy?

    If you give me the High beams on low treatment, I ll shoot you back my high beams—- for a long time. Jag off.

    Join me brothers !

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      I agree, it can’t be that hard to find a junkyard Durango headlight. Blue headlights are obnoxious.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t want blue headlights, I want good headlights. I want lights that work like the new OEM lights on say a new Durango or Ram.

        With the current lights the drivers side is fogged over enough I would like to replace it. If I am replacing one anyway, I would like to replace both and have them match. If I am replacing them I would like to improve on the 18 year old technology.

        Trust me, I don’t want to be “that guy” coming at you, but our 2014 car is an order of magnitude better in terms of illuminating the road and not the other drivers.

    • 0 avatar

      “Just dont burn my retina- huh buddy”

      Tell that to the various truckasauruses driving about with Xenon blue hyperspace grade headlights.

      • 0 avatar

        Those are most likely illegal (non-DOT compliant) HID retrofits that you are seeing.

        • 0 avatar

          There are few things in this world that really bother me, but those aftermarket headlights are up there. I hit people using those with my very bright brights, because blindness goes both ways.

          • 0 avatar

            Just a thought: I used to hit folks with hi-beams if theirs were “looking” like they were on high. A friend suggested an alternate approach – turn your lights completely off. Instead of two drivers being blinded and, perhaps, causing an accident, you get your point across just the same. I don’t expect much agreement with this approach, but it works well for me.

  • avatar

    Sadly, all of those solutions won’t compare to a modern projector setup. Easiest bet will be to get a set of aftermarket clear lens reflector headlights, and throw in some Morimoto Mini H1 7.0 projectors:

    You can get an HID kit for them, or throw in some regular H7 halogen bulbs.

    Another option is the Optima Bi-LED projector… I’m not a fan of the 5000K color, but it’s as plug and play as it gets, with a decent (though slightly narrow) beam pattern, and no worries about bulbs forever:

    Both of those should work fine in a 9007 headlight hole… you may need to bore it out to the full 20mm but I bet you could just twist them in.

    Everything else will have crappy output (i.e. Ebay projector headlights or clear lens style headlights) or be too expensive + PITA to get installed (OEM projector retrofit)

    I’ve been a headlight freak for some time…. actually I was disappointed by the output in my G37 after the retrofit I did in my Civic. But that retrofit was a real adventure to say the least. I’d keep it simple with one of the two options listed.

    • 0 avatar

      Sporty, those Morimoto units were the ones that to do properly in a Durango you have to bake at low temp, separate the unit, put the Morimoto unit in and re-bake the assembly again. I have seen the light output from those and it is really good, focused and not blinding, very similar to the new stuff. It is also time I don’t have.

      There was a guy on one of the forums selling the units complete. Was a guy.

    • 0 avatar

      My Ranger has absolutely terrible headlamps. not fogged or anything, just poor design. the beams they throw are ragged and junky, even with the high beams on. I’d like to replace them with proper projectors, but the only ones I can find are hideously ugly with those moronic “halo” [email protected] things surrounding the lenses. it’d be nice if I could find something that isn’t evidently designed to appeal to a 17-year-old dimp.

      • 0 avatar

        Since you mentioned it, I put the GE Nighthawk Plats in my 2011 Ranger and it made a HUGE difference, and my original bulbs weren’t in bad shape at all. When you compare them back-to-back, the difference in bulb design is shocking.

      • 0 avatar
        Click REPLY to reload page

        Speaking of moronic halos, I saw a new Jeep yesterday. The driver had his left turn signal on, just under the headlight, and the halo around the headlight was blinking a pale orange, too. It looked like a wiring problem, but most likely came that way from the factory. It make the Jeep look rather… silly.

    • 0 avatar

      …and no worries about bulbs forever. Not so much. LEDs last much longer than conventional bulbs in theory, but in practice they have disappointingly high failure rates unless they have good material quality and excellent heat dissipation.

  • avatar

    Which lens restoring kits have you all had the best experiences with?

    Toothpaste never worked for me and the Turtle Wax kit I bought didn’t seem to be aggressive enough. Darn Highlander has lived it’s life outside and yellowed headlights are driving me nuts.

    • 0 avatar

      I think a fine-grit wet sanding followed by polishing compound is a both more effective and cheaper than the “kits” that you see in stores. My other thing is to wax the plastic lenses when I wax the rest of the car. I’d like to think that gives me a bit of UV protection. Thankfully both of my current cars have glass headlights, the way it ought to be. My wife’s ’12 Camry is starting to show the first signs of some deterioration of the headlight lenses.

    • 0 avatar

      I use a Porter Cable random orbital sander with a foam pad. You just have to be really, really careful.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I have tried a couple of the off the shelf restore kits, none have worked for me.

      The issue with my Suburban is, from what I can tell, the lens is cloudy on the inside not the outside. I would need to remove and somehow take apart the entire lens which I do not believe is possible.

      • 0 avatar

        Why not just get a whole new headlight assembly?

        • 0 avatar

          Just hand-sand. Takes minutes and it’s too easy to melt the lens with a sander. You can clear-coat them after, but I’d just wax and walk away.

        • 0 avatar

          ‘Cause we’re not rich. New ones sparkle too much anyway. They look out of place, on a less than “showroom” car. You’ll end up sanding them anyway to match the rest of the car.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged Miata Man

        There’s a $20 3M kit on Amazon (39084 Headlight Restoration Kit) that’s worked well for me.

        FWIW, I’ve never tried an off-the-shelf headlight restore kit (even Turtle Wax, which was the least effective I’ve seen) that HASN’T worked… eventually. They just require a lot of patience, and the time and willingness to repeat the (sanding) steps as needed to achieve the desired results.

        I’ve restored headlights on 5-6 cars, most recently on the Miata. It took me about the same amount of time to mask off the headlights as it did to actually sand and polish each lens.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      What I do for plastic headlight restoration;

      1. Mask around headlight assembly.

      2. Using a soft cloth and using a hand grit paint rubbing compound (polish). In a circular motion rub the headlight lens until the oxidisation and shallow crazing is removed.

      This can take 10 to 20 minutes.

      3. Using automotive silicon (pressure pack) spray and wipe off excess silicon.

      4. Remove masking tape.

      The silicon will most likely need redoing every couple of months in the summer and last throughout the winter.

    • 0 avatar

      I got good results from the Meguiars Perfect Clarity product on my mom’s old Buick. It consists of a rubbing compound and then a spray on coating. The end product was not perfect, but it was very good. If I’d had one of their D-A tools or more patience I suspect the end results could have been better. I spent about 20 minutes on each lens.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    This is a timely piece.

    I have been considering swapping out the OEM headlights on my Suburban, which is just about 10 yrs in service, as they are ‘cloudy’. I can’t think of a better term for what happens to the lens.

    I looked online and found some LED replacements. This is the first I am reading about the possibility of non DOT legal lights. Naively, that is is news to me. Will the after market lights state they are non DOT, or is it more likely the ones the are will clearly indicate legal status? I have yet to really dig deep into this, so I am unaware. On the Suburban, the whole front plastic bumper cover has to come off, so I am in no rush to tackle this project until it is warm outside.

  • avatar

    I place a headlight protective film on my headlights. They will not yellow and they also help prevent breakage from debris. They are cut to fit your car and are invisible when installed correctly. For my upper driving lights, I used a yellow tint.

  • avatar

    Non-OEM headlights are inherently trashy.

    Either polish up your existing assemblies or find junkyard replacements in good shape.

    Do not under any circumstances make a project out of putting projector/HID/LED/whatever headlights on a ~200k mile ~20 year old Dodge.

    • 0 avatar

      But if the factory headlight design is crap (bad beam pattern, no cutoff, hot spots, etc.), you’d want to do something about it. The headlights on my wife’s ’08 Sienna are terrible, even after polishing – they don’t seem to have any kind of beam pattern, and you can barely tell they’re on. The ones on my ’13 Tacoma are great, with a nice beam pattern, clear cutoff, and even brightness, without hot spots. It all depends on how they were engineered.

      The good thing about the days of sealed beams was that they were a standard size, and you could pull them out and replace them with something properly designed and engineered, like a set of Cibies.

      • 0 avatar

        If I’d been living with the factory headlight design for 17 years and 190k miles I’d polish the lenses and continue living with it until the car went to the crusher.

        One of my cars is MY2000 with middling headlights for the era. They’re good enough to spot objects at night and not drive off the road; so I’ve not made a project out of making them better than OEM and I seriously doubt I ever will.

    • 0 avatar

      “Either polish up your existing assemblies or find junkyard replacements in good shape.”

      Provided the inner reflective stuff is in perfect shape. If not, go aftermarket.

  • avatar

    Just wire the relays behind the headlights. Skip the expensive kit. Use the factory leads to trigger the relays, unless the originals are toast. If so the parking light can trigger, you just won’t be able to use the parking lights separately.

  • avatar

    I am not going to polish the existing and I see no reason to get junkyard replacements when I can get the OEM new for $120. Aside from a little surface rust the vehicle is in good shape and is worth a little investment. Aside from a broken tensioner pulley, which was a replacement from Rock Auto and only had 20k miles on it, the vehicle has never left us stranded.

    I have done the relay kit on the Cobra replica and it does make a difference getting the power directly from the system.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    After reading your story I think you have two problems to address, possibly three.

    The first problem to resolve is the protection of your lights. This is simple. A bullbar. Deer appear to be about the size of roos and wallabies and bullbars do save lots of money by offering protection for most medium size animal impacts.

    Now, second, lights. Your bullbar offers the best stable mount for driving and spot lights. These are wired via a relay through your high beams and a on/off switch in the car.

    I have read many articles (off road) regarding the attributes and pit falls of LED, HID, Quartz, etc.

    The third consideration, your eyes/vision. I have traveled in vehicles with LEDs, HIDs and halogen lighting. I found the halogen offered the best light (as opposed to the brightest). Halogen are not the most economical with current.

    The condition (particularly age) of your eyes can affect how much glare is generated. LEDS and HIDs generate glare. The quality if the light from LEDs and HIDs allow you to sometimes “miss” seeing an animal.

    From what I’ve read halogen offers light quality similar to sunlight. The spectrum from LED and HID light is not as broad.

    I hope this helps.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a proper bull bar on my Ramcharger when a deer decided to commit suicide. It saved the truck from any damage, but even with the number of deer in Wisconsin this was only the second one I hit and it was around a blind corner into a heard of deer.

      We can’t use off road lights on the road in Wisconsin.

      My eyes don’t give me any problems with glare. The largest problem is lack of light and the beams aren’t focused. With our new car you have a very defined beam on the garage door. With the truck, you have a lit garage door where it doesn’t need lit.

  • avatar

    I would call theretrofitsource and see if one of their universal bixenon projector kits will fit in the oem housings without much modification.

    I’ve done motorcycle conversions, some of the housings come apart very easily after some time in an oven, but others won’t separate without destruction. All depends on the type of sealant used.

  • avatar

    I recently replaced the headlights on the wife’s ’04 Accord. They were yellow and awful looking. I had tried the Meguiars kit and then the sandpaper treatment. It helped for a while and they sort of went back to yellow and crappy.

    I’ve made friends with the parts guy at our local Honda dealer who told me where that dealer outsources collision repair and sent me there to get some reasonably priced assemblies (non-OEM). I think I spent about $160 for the pair. Put them on the car with some GE Nighthawk bulbs. Lights are much brighter, whiter, and provide really good visibility.

    One gripe though, the beam patterns from both sides is slanted, high on the right side to low on the left (as seen from the driver’s seat, reflected on the garage door). I’m not sure if this is intentional to avoid blinding oncoming traffic or just poor design but I don’t dig it.

  • avatar

    Sylvania makes a really great kit that polishes and seals the headlights like new.

    It’s around $30, probably lasts 2-3 years before they look not so new, and takes about 30 minutes, But way cheaper than buying new headlamps.

    on my car, it would something crazy like $1,500 to replace.

  • avatar

    The 3M Kit was the only one I found that actually worked on my old Volvo’s headlights. OEM replacements were $800 (without the bulbs)! Cheapest aftermarket lense were still $400. Ummm hell no! Forget any paste – it is not strong enough to remove the oxidized surface layer that clouds the lights.

    However once I saw what the “kit” was I realized all you really need is various levels of sandpaper ending up at with very fine 3000 grit. I used a small orbital sander (a drill is impossible to control) and wet sanded my lenses. The water keeps the plastic cool and washes away the gunk. What really helps is if you can physically remove the lenses from the vehicle. If that is not an option then you better apply LOTS of masking / painters tape to avoid damaging the surrounding paint. For the last stage I used cutting compound to polish and buff them out. Basically its like doing body work: use rough sandpaper to cut thru the hazed, yellow, UV damaged plastic then work finer and finer to remove all the tiny scratches introduced in the step before. Keep doing this until you get a perfectly clear finish. Protecting them with wax or clear covers will extend their life but the UV rays will dull them again over time as nothing can stop that huge star floating in the sky.

    On my ’02 Dakota I just bought tasteful aftermarket lenses which reused the factory bulbs and other connectors. I get compliments on them because I bought matching rear lenses so it looks kind of OEM.

    As for the silly blue bulbs: just find lights that under 7,000 K (Kelvin). Natural, pure white, noon daylight is around 5,000 K. Lower Kelvin values are “warm” or yellowish light, while higher values are “cool” or blueish light. This rule also applies for ANY bulb you encounter… even at home or the office. 5,000 K may seem a bit cool (at first) for most home applications but it really works well in the kitchen or bathroom. Personally many people prefer a warmer look in a living room or dining room setting. FYI I am a professional in color management and many “color” problems are actually lighting environment related.

    • 0 avatar

      We have Cree 5000k LED in our kitchen. They seemed really bright at first for the lumens but they are actually easy on the eyes. In the house we don’t use any warm colors, but ones close to natural daylight.

      For the truck I would probably prefer the same. Our car is in that range.

      I think the biggest problem is the OEM has a very diffused lens and not very bright bulbs.

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