By on October 26, 2018

Mopar LED 7-inch round headlights Jeep JK, Image: MoparTTAC Commentator Anchorman33 writes:

Sajeev,

I’ve read with great interest your columns on aftermarket HID conversions for various cars that have composite headlights. I have a similar, related question that hopefully has enough daylight (pun intended) between those responses and this question that it’s worth your time to answer.

I’ve recently married into a Jeep family. It’s a 2016 Wrangler Unlimited Sport that’s basically stock… for now. Eventually it will be getting the typical steps, wheels and tires and some cosmetic alterations. For now, it’s used as a daily driver and rarely sees terrain much rougher than a poorly maintained dirt road. It’s fine and my new wife loves it. The biggest problem is the headlights. When we go out, I typically drive and it’s getting to the point I dread taking her vehicle if there’s a chance the sun will set before we go home. As noted basically everywhere, the headlights are atrocious and border on dangerous.

I’ve done some research into the LED drop in replacements, both OEM and aftermarket and prices range from about $100 a pair to about $800 a pair. I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, but I don’t want to make the problem worse with either blinding lights for oncoming traffic or units that fail every six months.

  • How would you recommend balancing the price/performance metric?
  • Is there a particular set of specs or features I should be keying in on?

I’ve noticed a few with anti-flicker features and most seem to be putting out the “DOT approved” intensity of light for low and high beams.

Sajeev answers:

After dabbling with cheap LEDs from eBay/China, I’m confident you get what you pay for. That said, the cheap crap works great when neither a beam nor flash is needed: interior, side marker, CHMSL, license plates, cornering lights, etc. They are a godsend for brittle wiring harnesses baked over decades… another story for another day. 

Regarding Jeep JK Wrangler LED headlight upgrades: I shouldn’t can’t recommend a specific LED product, so let’s survey the current–this WILL become outdated–landscape, putting these into five categories:

  1. Terrible LED bulbs: there are eleventy billion of these for sale across the Internet, most have inferior light output than the factory bulb (beam shape, output, blinding, lack of focus, etc) and likely won’t take the heat without losing output. The really old designs will be bulky (poorly engineered cooling fan, heat sinks, etc) causing fitment issues on some vehicles.
  2. Halogen-mimicking LED bulbs I’m still skeptical until an OEM-worthy manufacturer makes these (EDIT: Philips makes some, but they are not street legal?) , designs with LED chips claiming to match the OEM bulb’s filament geometry exist. Some have a rotating head to situate the LEDs exactly as the factory halogen bulb sits in the factory housing: YouTubers suggest these designs are not blindy (technical term) in some applications, but at well over $100, that’s a lot of cash for such a risk.
  3. Copycat 7″ Round LED Reflector & Projector Assemblies: these are knock offs of an established LED light manufacturer (GE, JW Speaker, etc) and their inferior wiring, heat sinks, bulbs, lenses, housings/projectors suggest inferior beams, heat management issues, and questionable durability. Look for the newest design not the cheapest, as copycats get better at benchmarking as time progresses. Or not?
  4. LED Reflector Assemblies: these are the GE Nighthawk LEDs of the world. You’re gonna be out several hundred, but they are a known quantity with the benefits and pitfallsof LED assemblies. The reflector design is generally inferior to projector LEDs, hence the following level.
  5. LED Projector Assemblies: Mopar and JW Speaker make a beautiful set, odds are the former is made by the latter. You’re spending well over $700 but the OEM seal of approval (and the YouTube videos, ‘natch) prove you are buying the best.

But we are neglecting one of the better options: higher-efficiency halogen bulbs. Yes, really!

Their lifespan is shorter than OEM bulbs but examine their glassy bits back-to-back: the extra capsule dimensions makes it clear you’ll get more light.

After using several, I’m consistently impressed with the increased output for such a modest asking price: consider the Osram Night Breaker (or Night Breaker Laser), GE Nighthawk (or Nighthawk Platinum) and Philips Xtreme Power (or Xtreme Vision). Given your financial apprehensions, I’d do an Osram/GE/Philips Halogen upgrade first, and make sure everything’s aligned as per previous Piston Slap.

Weren’t expecting that answer, were ya?

*Pitfalls?  Expect LEDs to never run warm enough to melt ice from your headlight assemblies, which might be a problem where you live.  The good manufacturers offer lense upgrades with heating elements (self contained), but you gotta pay! 

[Image: Mopar]

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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34 Comments on “Piston Slap: JK-ing Around With LED Headlight Upgrades?...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    “but designs with LED chips *claiming to match* the OEM bulb’s filament geometry exist.”

    FTFY

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    As a driver that may have to share the road with you, don’t screw around. Pay extra to get the stuff that will make you less of a road hazard.

    • 0 avatar
      Lockstops

      My suggestion is to look into trading the car for a newer one at this point in time. Instead of spending money on the headlights you’ll effectively be able to use that cost in your vehicle trade budget. You have to get a new(er) vehicle at some point, so why not look into whether or not now would be a good time to do that.

      Most probably you won’t only get better headlights but vastly superior overall safety, comfort, and depending on what you choose even running costs. A good warranty might also be on offer, even for a used car, potentially saving you money.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Whatever you do please spend the money to get something good that WON’T blind other drivers. Thank you

    • 0 avatar
      duncanator

      I recently purchased an 01 Wrangler and the previous owner had replaced the headlights with JW SPeaker LED headlights. I could tell right away that they were not aligned properly, they were beaming straight out, so I took it to a California official lamp adjusting station. You’re welcome :)

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Thank you Lie2me. I am blinded every day by these bozos with their eBay light kits. I sometimes have to choose who to slip in front of based on their headlights. This is a major growing hazard. LED lighting has many attributes but ignorance in the science of lighting is making them an issue – both mobile and stationary…

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        The thing is I know they’re illegal and dangerous, but you never hear about them being ticketed or prosecuted. Their headlights must annoy cops as much as other drivers. I hear about tinted glass more then these headlights

  • avatar

    What they said. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, and all that. I miss the ability to toss sealed beams and insert H4 lights, which I assume you can’t do here.
    Suggestion 1- Is there a euro market light you can install ? Jeep sells very well in europe, so maybe you can find a bolt in E code, or….
    Suggestion 2- on a separate switch and relay, a set of driving lights with 55 watt bulbs. This gives you a high-high beam, which you can use when you are alone. I had a set on a car which had meh headlights which weren’t easily changed out, and on a jeep, they’ll look good and be easy to install.

    Whatever you install, AIM THEM.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      I did this as a Piston Slap a while ago. I marked out the driveway and garage door to make sure the new lights were aligned as the OEM and actually lowered them about a degree. Still got berated for putting in a non-OEM set of lights even though they were aimed properly.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        In Ye Olden Days, shops had aiming machines for sealed beams (this is why lots of old sealed beams had aiming lugs molded into the lenses, for aligning with the aiming machine. Nowadays you have to draw a diagram, make sure you’re level, a specified distance from the markings (good luck finding a level driveway with 25 feet between you and the door!), and meet other criteria spelled out in the owners or service manual.

    • 0 avatar
      pdog_phatpat

      Bonus points for having a Beastie Boys line in there.

  • avatar
    macnab

    I have a ’99 Chev Lumina with lenses that were getting discolored. A few years ago I bought a Sylvania kit on Amazon for $20 that makes you sandpaper the surface then put a coat of clear goo on them. I changed the halogen bulbs to brighter ones. Now they’re brighter but I’d still like more.

    There are cars on the road here which pass inspection and have lights that are so yellow and opaque that they must be useless. I don’t know why the Gov doesn’t think there’s a problem.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    I have just added some LED bulbs to my wife’s 2006 Pilot. Before these LED bulbs, I tried them all. GE NightHawks, pretty much all the Sylvania line and others. I would like to mention that the 2006 Pilot has “projector type” housing for the low beam. A few months back I was looking around Amazon and did some research. I found some cheap LEDs without the heat dispensing fans. By cheap I mean $38 for a pair. They have three small LEDs on each “bulb” fixture. The install was plug and play and took about 2 minutes. She has been using them for about 3-4 months now and work great. Because of the bulb housing they don’t blind and more or any less than my old GE hallogens I took out. The light is much whiter but intensity and distance is the same. On pitch black roads these LEDs are much better. Are they as good as my OEMs on the Corolla? Of course not, but that Corolla has some of the best lights in the business as per CR.
    From my understanding, all Jeep/Chrysler/Dodge vehicles requires some additional resistors since the car will give error codes. Just find a pair of LED bulbs that are decently priced and have good reviews. Mine have 4,5 stars out of 3200 reviewers. Are some reviews fake? Sure. All 3,000? Probably not.
    Try the under $ 100 or less first. Of those are not good enough than buy the whole housing $ 1,000 units as per the article. Just don’t buy douchebags LED bars. I feel like taking those out with a sling shot.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Something else I forgot to mention. If you do decide to go with some more intense than stock hallogens, do understand that they last half as long or less than stock hallogens. If your car has the low beam as DRLs, even less. I know everyone on this site knows, but as a reminder, use nitrile gloves when installing (and touching) the hallogens bulbs. Otherwise, they will burn out in no time and your $ 50 gone in smoke.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      True. I put some Philips X-tremeVision low beams in my wife’s ’08 Sienna, and they’ve helped (and aimed the bulbs up some), but the headlamps’ design is poor. The DRLs are on the high beams, so no issue there, but yeah, I need to order another bulb and stick it in the glovebox. It only takes a minute to change one.

      My ’13 Tacoma? The headlight design is great, with a definite cutoff on low beam, good beam pattern, and no hot spots. They’re fine with stock bulbs.

  • avatar

    I replaced the sealed halogen bulbs with the GE nighthawk LED’s in my ’92 Toyota Pickup. They were worth every penny as the difference was drastic and the quality of light output was amazing. So much so that I feel they were just as good if not better than the new projector style headlights in my 2017 Tacoma. (which are not restricted to the 50’s era H6054 bulb housing.)

    Once again, you get what you pay for.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I’ve seen enough of these bare LED “headlights”. Sure, they’re bright (blinding), but, beam pattern? Cutoff? LOL, they don’t have that.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank the “Jeepers” crowd for keeping inexpensive sealed beam 7 in round headlights available for those of us who own 1st generation Mustangs.

    (We now resume your regular programming)

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Once in a while, you get a LED unit that leaks the PWM noise back into 12V, and it can affect radios. It happens to all brands. So, buy from a store with a good return policy. Quadratec has own brand LED lights that work okay.

    I agree that bulb replacement might be all you need. Precisely as Sajeev explained in unnecessary length.

    Either way, be extraordinarily careful when disconnecting the lights. The locking tabs on the connectors are extremely fragile, and the broken connector is going to remain on the jeep, not on the replaced light.

    P.S. Lights on JK have no adjustment whatsoever. It is what it is when you mount the housing into the frame.

    P.P.S. A factory LED option for JK exists, BTW. There was one year just before the switch to JL when they were available on Saharas. So you can buy at a dealership if you want.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “Halogen-mimicking LED bulbs: I’m still skeptical until an OEM-worthy manufacturer (Philips, Sylvania, etc) makes these, but designs with LED chips claiming to match the OEM bulb’s filament geometry exist. Some have a rotating head to situate the LEDs exactly as the factory halogen bulb sits in the factory housing: YouTubers suggest these designs are not blindy (technical term) in some applications, but at well over $100, that’s a lot of cash for such a risk.”

    Philips makes an LED kit (the “X-TREME ULTINON LED BULB”), but they’re not cheap ($219.99 for a kit to fit my Tacoma), and they advertise on the ToyotaNation forums. The thing is, the headlights on the second-gen Tacomas are so well designed that you’re wasting money by upgrading, unless you just want something brighter.

    • 0 avatar

      Those appear to be fog light only?

      No matter, I don’t know how I missed those. Editing now. Thanks!

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        Your link is foglight only, but I found headlight bulbs on their page as well. This tickles my curiosity since I like you were skeptical of bulbs that the big brands didn’t make. I love some of the websites that talk about crappy Chinese bulbs, but their LED Headlight 5000 Industries bulbs are quality, and don’t have any of the drawbacks.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    i followed edmunds.com long-term 2012 wrangler sport build. i remembered their complaints about headlights. their old articles are hard to search but they are there.

    installing new headlights:

    https://www.edmunds.com/jeep/wrangler/2012/long-term-road-test/2012-jeep-wrangler-installing-new-headlights.html

    results:

    https://www.edmunds.com/jeep/wrangler/2012/long-term-road-test/2012-jeep-wrangler-sport-new-headlights.html

  • avatar
    binksman

    Truck-lite makes a 7″ round LED headlight. Last I checked you can get a pair for $400. I have one on my motorcycle. I wouldn’t hesitate to put it on a Jeep, car, or truck. I’ve been very happy with the output, and I can use my headlight to light up campgrounds until I get set up without worrying about running my tiny motorcycle battery dead.

    An extra benefit is that the Truck-lite LEDs are made in the USA in western NY, and that particular headlight is approved by the DOD for use on military vehicles (my uncle works there- they were very excited when they developed it).

    The only downside of the LED headlights I’ve experienced (and this applies to all of them) is that there isn’t much heat thrown forward so snow does not readily melt off the glass.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    +1 on the recommendation for upgraded halogen bulbs here. The Philips Xtreme White or whatever the hell they’re called are amazing. My old Saturn SL2’s low beams were frighteningly bad. Simply swapping in a set of those absolutely transformed the lights–they became more than good enough. It’s been years since I had that car, but I kept it years longer than I would have without decent lights. Most people don’t put nearly as many hours on their headlights as they think–yes, the bulb life is much shorter with those exotic gas formulations or whatever it is they’re doing inside that magic glass envelope, but you’re still talking years, not months. Can’t recommend them enough. And I can’t recommend crappy aftermarket LED or xenon kits to anyone (see Candlepower’s website for an exhaustive explanation of why not).

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    One other source of less than stellar light output is the lamps often receive lower voltage than what the electrical system can provide. This is typically from resistance in the light switch, wiring, etc. A company called SUVLights offers a relay kit where the headlights are powered directly from the battery; the headlight switch just closes the relay contacts. A volt and a half loss is a significant percentage when you are looking at 14 or so volts as a max…

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Aftermarket or OEM, I am finding all LED and LED projectors to be dangerously blinding to me. Acura/Honda seems to be the worst.

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