LED Tail Lights – Yep or Naw

LED tail lights have been gaining in popularity for some years now. They are popular aftermarket add-ons as well as being factory equipment on some models. Here we’ll discuss what they are and what their benefits are. LED tail lights are tail lights for your car or truck that use light emitting diodes instead of the typical incandescent light bulbs. They are available as direct replacements for almost every vehicle on the road.

What is an LED?

The word LED is an acronym. The letters stand for Light Emitting Diode. A diode is a very small electrical device. Its job is to let current flow in only one direction through a circuit. It’s basically a one way valve for electricity. The electrical schematic symbol for a diode even looks like an arrow pointing in the direction that it allows electricity to flow.

Diodes that emit light when current flows through them were developed sometime in the early 1960’s. There weren’t a lot of uses for them in the beginning. One of the only things they were initially used for was in the remote controls of televisions and stereo systems.

LED tail light

Why should you get LED tail lights?

An LED tail light has many advantages over the standard bulb light. The 12 volt incandescent bulbs that are in almost every car tail light have many drawbacks.

– Longevity

One of the biggest advantages of going with an LED is that it will last a really long time. Light emitting diodes last a lot longer than a normal bulb can. A normal bulb is sealed where the glass meets the metal base. Because a normal bulb gets really hot when lit, then cools down when off, there is a lot of stress on this seal. The junction between the glass and the base has to deal with constant expansion and contraction every time the bulb lights and then goes out. This stress eventually causes the seal to fail and that results in the bulb “burning out”.

An LED does not have this issue. An LED makes almost no heat. This means that there is almost no thermal expansion when the LED is lit, and correspondingly, almost no shrinking when the LED is extinguished. Because there isn’t a lot of thermal stress on the LED case, it can last many times longer than an incandescent bulb.

– Efficiency

A normal automotive light bulb is not efficient. It will turn much of the electricity that it consumes into heat instead of light. It creates light by forcing electrical current to travel through a coiled piece of wire that has high resistance. The electricity heats the wire up so hot from the resistance that is glows. That’s how it creates light. It’s basically obstructing the flow of electrons so badly that they get a piece of metal glowing hot. Clearly this is not the most efficient way to create light with electricity.

An LED is highly efficient. LEDs create small gaps that electrons fall into or “fill”. When they fill these gaps they emit photons as visible light. Nearly 100% of the electricity consumed by an LED is converted into visible light. This is why an LED uses so much less electricity to create the same amount of light. It has nearly no losses to heat and resistance.

LED DRLs

Why does the factory use them?

There are two reasons that the big auto manufacturers use LED lighting. They look cool and they save gas.

Let’s face it, LED lights on a car look cool. Many high end car models now use some type of LED arrangement for their DRL or daytime running lights. Even the high end luxury brands are incorporating LED lights into interiors, DRLs, and tail lights. Once one company has success with a new design or look, the competitors are sure to be close behind. That’s what’s going on with LED automotive lighting right now. In 5 Years, most all manufacturers will be using LEDs for everything other than head lights.

LED lighting saves gas and increases MPG. One of the main loads on your engine is the alternator. The alternator charges your battery and provides the power to run all of the electrical devices while your engine is running. There is a device inside of your alternator called a regulator. This device makes the alternator harder or easier to turn based on how much electricity your vehicle needs at any given time.

It’s a little complicated, but it goes something like this,

If your vehicle needs a lot of electricity, the regulator senses this and makes the alternator harder to turn so it can generate the needed power. The engine now needs to burn more fuel to make more power to turn the alternator. When your electrical system needs less electrical current, the regulator makes the alternator easier to turn and your engine can turn it easily with less fuel.

This is why you can sometimes hear or feel your engine bog down for a second when you turn your headlights on. The regulator senses the current draw from the headlights and makes the alternator harder to turn so it can generate the extra electricity needed. This puts an extra load on the engine and it takes the engine a second to adjust and even itself back out.

LED lights use almost no power compared to regular lights. You can run 100’s of LEDs on less electricity than it takes to light one incandescent bulb. Less electricity required means that the alternator doesn’t need to work as hard and then in turn, the engine doesn’t need to burn as much fuel to turn it.

LED tail lights

Why are LED tail lights the future?

LED tail lights are going to become the standard style of tail lights in the near future. They save electricity, which also means saving gas and getting better MPG. They look cool, and they last a lot longer than a regular glass bulb. The only slight disadvantage is that they are currently slightly more expensive than regular bulbs. This will not be the case though in a few years when they are manufactured in bulk for the automotive industry. The economy of scale will drive their prices down and make them comparable with, or cheaper than traditional bulbs.

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