And now, Part Four of the DIY cosmetic mods series.
LED light bar under glass: Unique and V.Cool LED style enhancement.
This one is not easy to find, but is very cheap to buy and a 5-minute install for most applications. Full article coming up about this in the future.
— Why? Brings a Bentley or Audi A7 look to any car, better safety, makes car look impossibly low and wide at night.
— Cost: this LED set from a junkyard Cadillac Catera cost me $2.50. Two dollars, and 50 cents. Total.
— CAVEAT — You must find a DIY junkyard, go there, find a Cadillac STS or other, then, rip the thing out yourself. Basically, you break the red plastic exterior shell. You only want the LED circuit-boards AND THE LENSES! Lenses are critical to avoid the pick-up-truck LED dots look.
— Applications: these light bars can work with any car: sedan, SUV, wagon — anything. Because you can custom-configure the shape and layout of your light sticks as needed for your car.
Here it is on an old pal’s WRX.
How To Build Your Own DIY LED Light Bar Under Rear Glass:
FINDING A JUNKYARD
1. Locate a nearby junkyard that allows you to pull your own parts. These are often called “Pull-A-Part” or “Pick and Pull” type of junkyards. I strongly suggest calling ahead to make sure:
a) The auto salvage yard still exists and is open to the public
b) Their policy on pulling parts: most respectable junkyards want to pull parts for you, but this easily quadruples the cost of whatever you want to buy, and means you have to deal with some extremely careless individuals to actually find the parts you want.
c) Third option: some of the classier (relative term..) yards will let you go back into the yard with one of their guys. From there, you and he can remove parts together.
2. How to find one? LKQ is a big chain of DIY junkyards, but their prices are set nationally are are often outrageous versus independent yards.
3. Bring Tools, dress crappy, wear boots and be careful. These are seriously dangerous places and almost always located in absolute middle of no-where-lands. A few guys die every year at these places when makeshift car jacks (usually lifted on axles and sat on old steel wheels) fail and they are crushed to death under whatever heap of car they were working on.
FINDING THE CADILLAC LIGHTBARS
1. These bars are the best available, in my opinion, because they are pretty high-tech. What looks like a solid bar of light on the trunk of the Cadillac STS, for example, is actually just four skinny circuit-board-looking LED sticks.
2. Which is best? Avoid the completely sealed units like the first-gen SRX and the first-gen Escalade. You want:
— 2002-2009 Cadillac STS (first and best choice, due to nearly all of these cars being in junkyards already.)
— 1993-2001 Cadillac STS (good, but these parts are already 20-years-old and often glow more orange than red when outside their plastic casing.
— 1999-2003? Cadillac Catera: in a pinch, these will work too. But are harder to remove cleanly. This is my current setup, using all four short sticks from the Catera versus just three of the four total STS sticks.
REMOVING THE LED STICKS
1. These are Junkyard cars, so nobody expects precision labor to get anything off that you need.
2. With that in mind, you should bring:
— Flathead screw-drivers of various sizes
— Eye protection / glasses
3. Find the donor Cadillac you want. The below photos depict the removal from the a 2004 (or so) STS
4. Carefully but with strength: start forcing the red plastic lamp exterior away from trunk panel. (Fiberglass also pried away in below photos.
5. Breaking the red plastic is mandatory, but do not be too rough or you will break the mini clear lenses inside. You need these.
6. Pry apart as much of the red plastic case as possible until you can see the green circuit-boards inside. These un-clip gently from their housings using a smaller flathead screwdriver. Gently!
7. Keep doing this until you have freed all the LED boards.
8. Snip wiring ***with as much extra length of wire as possible.**
9. Carefully make sure the mini plastic clear lenses are attached to circuit boards still.
10. Carefully place the boards, with lenses attached, into a shopping bag. The “light bar” is actually four or five boards, depending on the donor car, and these fold up like matchsticks.
PAYING AT THE DOOR:
1. The way Pick N Pull Junkyards work is that you are charged on the way out for what you want. The register people may or may not have any idea what these things are. Simply explain they are light bulbs for the top rear brake light.
2. Cost: Ranges from about $20 at the high end to as low as $2.50 at the low end.
3. SAVINGS: if you buy the entire unit from Ebay or whatever, expect to pay $200 or more, and still be forced to break these apart to get the sircuitboard LED sticks out.
4. Why not just use the SRX or Escalade ones? It will never fit correctly under your car’s glass. Exterior mounting will **always** look extremely, hideously ghetto-fabulous.
INSTALLING ON YOUR CAR:
PARTS NEEDED: Scissors, electrical tape, 3M Heavy Duty double stick tape (the grey, all-weather kind), and a small flat=head to unsnap any interior panels as needed for wiring.
1. Identify where your current top brake light is, this lamp is known as the CHMSL (center high-mounted stop lamp.) Either splice in extra wiring to there, or snip the wiring to this lamp ahead of mounting your new light bar sticks.
2. Identify where the LED bars will be mounted and what angle will make the lenses point directly behind the car and a **horizontal angle**. This is critical to avoid an LED “dots” look.
3. Wire the existing CHMSL to LED brake light bars before mounting to make sure they work and that the positive/negative leads line up. These wires are blue and brown, so a bit mysterious versus general red/black. Plus, who knows what color wires your car will have. Probably two black ones.
4. It works! Yay!
5. Do a few 1-inch tabs of 3M HD DoubleStick tape to test fitment and determine how many of the STS’s four light bars will fit under your glass. For my Subaru, it was 3 bars in a pinch.
6. Very snug fit.
7. Stand well back from the car with brake lights on to see how the light looks. It should be a solid bar of light with no dots showing. For the SUbaru’s horizontal mount to be right, they are stuck inside the tailgate onto the tan plastic of the tailgate interior trim.
8. These do not really need to be pressed at the edge of the the glass. They are SMD LEDs are are bright as heck — even from a few inches back.
9. Adjust mounting position slightly to make sure it is a pure horizontal line of light. It takes some tweaks to find the right “shape” inside to deliver a flat “bar” outside.
10. Apply a continuous line of double-stick tape to the light-bar lens pieces, and stick into final position. This tape is strong, so that’s why fitment testing is critical.
Optional: Line the inside of the bars with a dark piece of tape to limit light spill into cabin. *not* actually recommended: this traps condensation and will shorter LED sticks lifespan. Overall, these were designed to never get wet. But my first STS set lasted four years even while soaked often and trunk slammed probably 10x per week.
Tell Your Friends about this article, or do not and say it cost you $1000 at a custom shop. =]
Okay! Hopefully you feel less trashy about your own car since seeing all my awful modifications over the years =]
But if you go for some of these ideas, please share your results!
Stay tuned for five more of my trashy DIY car mods in more articles today.
Next Segments coming in a few weeks?
— DIY LED High-Beams…
— DIY Comfort/Quietness Upgrades…
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.