Changing Incandescent Tail Lights for LED Tail Lights

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We have had some intermittent issues with the passenger side tail light on our 2017 Rockwood Mini Lite 2014S.

Without much reason, or warning, it just sometimes fails.  Luckily, the truck is smart enough to report this issue to us so we can deal with it before getting on the highway, or at the very least, know we have no functional passenger side tail light.  Not having tail lights, is of course very dangerous, and even worse, makes passing folks (and well… turning to the right) pretty darn challenging.

I have tried some basic maintenance such as, cleaning the bulb clip, trying a new bulb, blasting the interior of the light enclosure with compressed air. I have also inspected and cleaned the 7-pin connector from the trailer to the truck.  None of these seems to fix it permanently, but just “messing with it” in general seems to somehow get it working again.

Some of the drawbacks of the original incandescent tail lights :

  • they aren’t all that bright really, I mean, they work but they could be brighter
  • the bulbs burn out, so you have to have some spares around.  Luckily they are pretty darn easy to find at any hardware store and most truck stops and big gas stations.  Our tail lights take a #1157 bulb.
  • the tail lights that came with our trailer were not really sealed at all.
  • apparently these lights can run HOT, the driver’s side light actually melted the plastic housing

Theoretical benefits of the LED tail lights

  • the LED bulbs are less likely to burn out (our new tail lights have a Lifetime LED warranty.).
  • according to the reviews I have read on Amazon and etrailer.com, they are much brighter than the incandescent version
  • they should be maintenance free since we don’t have to worry about a bulb breaking or coming loose, bouncing around in the back end of our trailer
  • naturally LED bulbs use less power and run cooler than incandescent bulbs

Why not just replace the incandescent bulb with a quality LED ?

That is a reasonable question.  From what I could find, a good quality LED bulb that would work in our tail light was at least $15, and going as high as $25 for a high quality bulb from E-Trailer. Interesting side note from Michael at E-Trailer :

First, what a lot of people do not know about LED lights is that if you are using them behind a red lens then the LED bulb needs to be red as well. Otherwise you will end up with a dim pink light when using white LEDs.

LED bulb # P241157R-360 is a pair of red LEDs so they would work well behind a red lens. When used as stop, tail, turn bulbs behind a red lens they are DOT compliant.

So… for about the same price as a replacement bulb, I could get a whole new tail light assembly and the LED lights. So I decided to go with the following :

Optronics RVSTLB61P Red LED Tail Light

this model has the license plate holder and light

Optronics RVSTLB60P Red LED Tail Light

this is the “other” side without the plate holder

These lights are the exact same size as our originals, and even the screw holes are a perfect match.  The new lights do not come with screws and they do not have a foam or rubber backing to make a better seal against the trailer.  We decided to re-purpose the foam seal on the original lights as it fit the new tail lights just fine.

Here is a picture of the driver’s side tail light removed from the trailer :

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As you can see in the picture below, there is a foam pad to help seal the tail light to the trailer, but they aren’t otherwise sealed at all from dust and water.  It was pretty messy in there !

Side note, it doesn’t matter what side of the trailer has the license plate.  I actually tried to google this for Colorado and other states.  There is no real info on this because it doesn’t matter.  Our plate happens to be on the passenger side for the simple reason that our ladder is on the drivers side, and there isn’t enough room for the plate on that side.  I would say that the “standard” is that the plate is on the drivers side from what I have seen.

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our original tail lights, the “standard” light : 8 5/8″ wide, 5 ” tall, 2 1/4″ deep

Here is the connection for the Drivers side tail light.  The connections at the bottom that connect to the light are :

  • White : ground
  • Black :  running lights
  • Green : stop and turn

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Due to the intermittent operation of the passenger side light, I decided to NOT rewire any of the factory installed wire nuts.  The reason :  I want to eliminate the variables as to what the problem may have been with the original tail light.  This way, if after installing the new light, we have future failures, we’ll know its not the light, but rather some shoddy wiring within the trailer.

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the passenger side wiring after chopping off the old tail light

Therefore, I just used some butt connectors on both tail lights, chopping the old tail lights near the wire connectors on the tail lights themselves.  The connectors looked something like this :

After crimping the connections, I used a heat gun to shrink the tubing around the connections.  Being waterproof wasn’t really important since they would be pushed inside the existing hole in the trailer, however it seems that the shrink tubing helps keep the connection point stable and avoid accidental disconnection due to bending of the wire.

I tried this fancy wire stripper for the first time on this little job.  This thing worked great although with very small gauge stranded wire, you have to be a little gentle or you will rip out a strand or two.   This tool makes it easy to consistently strip wires of variable gauge.  I wish I had known about this type of tool on previous jobs.

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note the corrosion on the original screws, i replaced these with some deeper thread stainless steel screws on the new tail lights.

Here is the new passenger side tail light.  One issue with the new light is that, due to the driver’s side being the “normal” side for the license plate, the wires pop through the plastic housing on the left (if looking at the tail light red lens).  The pre-drilled hole on our trailer though, is on the right side.

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For this reason, I removed the LED element (just two screws, sitting on 2 additional dummy posts) and flipped the wires over to the other side.

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I then drilled a new hole on the right side of the assembly

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this allowed the wires to pass through more directly into the pre-drilled hole on the trailer.  Since the plastic was a bit rough, I did my best to de-bur it, applied some electrical tape and placed a short section of sheathing, just in case the wires might have abrasion along the new rough cut.

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Naturally, prior to connecting both lights, I did a test connection to be sure the tail light was functional.  In the shot below you can see the separate LED light that shines downward onto the license plate.  Note the LEDs are red, so that when shining through the red lens they appear red and not pink (as noted in the post previously when reading a post from E-Trailer)

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this photo is taken a bit off-center, so really the LEDs don’t look all that bright in the daylight, but they appear to be much brighter than the incandescent.

After testing both new lights, I applied a bead of silicone around the plastic housing that sits against the trailer.  This should help reduce the amount of water and dust that get behind the light.  Of course, the red lens just “snaps” on, so there is going to be a bit of dust inside the lens eventually.

On both tail lights, 3 out of 4 screws were badly corroded, as well as completely stripped out.  I’d guess that they were over-tightened the first time at the factory.  After all, its just a thin piece of fiberglass on top of foam insulation.  I replaced all the corroded screws with new deeper thread screws that had better bite, and put some silicone into each screw hole before tightening them down.

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I haven’t used the tail lights on a trip yet, and I haven’t even seen them in the dark . I will report back to let you know how these have performed and if it was worth doing the upgrade.

Here is a random hack I learned from Ray from Love your RV.  I found it again over at letscampmore.com

Stick the fuse into two adjacent slots at a time until the running lights come on. That’s it! If you are plugged into an electrical pole, you will not draw from the battery with this mod. If you are not plugged in, you will draw from the battery.

note that the “notch” of the 7 pin is at the top.

this is handy for testing purposes OR could be useful if you have reason to leave your running lights on when your 7 pin is not connected to the trailer.  A reason for Ray was when camping on a busy forest service road where there were lots of off-road vehicles traveling at high speed (so just to be more visible).

I could see where it might be handy to help a friend find you at a very dark or very busy camping site.  Since most folks don’t do this, your trailer would stand out with its running lights on.  Naturally, also…. this is pretty annoying light pollution if you have neighbors, so use this tip wisely.

 

 

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