Light’em Up: Why You Should Consider LED Taillights

Over the years, we’ve built countless vehicles to improve handling and braking while adding more horsepower. However, one thing that I never paid much attention to is the lighting. I mean, after all, the factory lighting should be good enough, right?

A few weeks back, my son came over at night and picked up my 1991 LS-swapped Suburban to cruise around with his friends. As he pulled out of the driveway, I noticed the taillights were very dim, like most square body trucks. As you can imagine, this can be a hazard while driving around town in traffic. So, it was time for an upgrade.

Dakota Digital’s LED kit uses the factory 1973-91 GM square body Suburbans, Blazers, and trucks tail light housing and lens, making them easy to install and maintaining the factory look.

Since we like everything about the old square body, minus its illumination, we certainly didn’t want to purchase taillights that would alter the vehicle’s looks. Sure, futuristic taillights can look cool on some cars and trucks, but it’s not a look we want. Fortunately, Dakota Digital offers LED kits for 1973-91 GM square body Suburbans, Blazers, and trucks. And unlike some other LEDs on the market, the Dakota Digital taillights use factory housings, and the installation is a snap.

The LED Advantage

You may be thinking that LED taillights are brighter than bulbs, and you would be correct. In fact, in recent years, quality, consistency, and longevity have been increasing significantly. As a result, LEDs cannot only provide a substantial brightness increase over traditional incandescent bulbs; they help your vehicle become more visible on the road with more than just brightness.

LEDs are brighter and react much faster than an OEM bulb. Plus, the illumination is not as dependent on battery voltage.

We reached out to Scott Johnson of Dakota Digital to get more information on its LED taillights. “Because LEDs are very efficient, they will draw less current from the electrical supply, converting less energy to wasted heat.” Johnson continues, “They also turn on and off more rapidly than a traditional bulb, which quickly warms up a filament to full brightness, then fades off when power is removed. This added lighting speed can translate to several feet of stopping distance to a vehicle behind you when driving at highway speeds.”

The LED boards plug into the factory socket making the installation process a breeze. You don't have to worry about cutting and splicing wires or dealing with electrical terminals.

Another advantage to LED tail lights is that they won’t have hot spots (brighter in the center than the outsides) when adequately engineered. Instead, they will light up the lens with more consistent light for enhanced visibility. And Dakota Digital designed its LEDs to hold uniform brightness from 8- 18-volts. “This design was intentional, ensuring that there is no variance at different states of charge, or depending upon which accessories in the vehicle are on or off,” Johnson explains.

Installing Dakota Digital LED Taillights

First, we removed the four screws out of the lenses and removed the bulbs. Dakota Digital recommends cleaning the housing at this point and replacing the lenses if they are in bad shape. Ours looked good, so we continued with the installation process.

Once we had the lens and bulb out, a test fit was in order. Next, we plugged in the taillights (PN: LAT-NR340) and verified that the lights worked correctly. This is a great time to check turn signals, hazards, and brake lights before continuing. After the lights checked out, it was time to finish the assembly process.

We first cleaned up the housings after removing the bulb with the lens removed. Next, we used the supplied primer to promote adhesion before removing the tape and sticking the LED onto the housing.

Since we did clean the housings and lenses with soap and water, we let them dry before reassembly. Dakota Digital recommends the use of a single-use primer, which is included. Next, the primer is applied to the outside edge of the housing where the LED module attaches. It will need to dry for at least five minutes before removing the backing from the tape.

After the primer dried, we checked to ensure the bulb base was secure in the socket. Next, we removed the tape’s backing and carefully placed the LED assembly onto the housing. We then used the four screws to reinstall the lens before repeating the process on the other side of the vehicle.

It’s always good to check that things are functioning correctly before reassembly. After verifying the parking lights, turn signals, and brakes worked, we were ready to reinstall the lens.

With both taillights replaced and secured, we check them for turn signals and brakes lights for good measure. The OEM flashers should work fine if you’re replacing just the taillight bulbs with LEDs. However, if, for some reason, they do not, a heavy-duty electronic flasher from your local parts store should do the trick. In addition, if you replace the front and rear bulbs with LEDs, you will need a no-load flasher (PN LAT-NLF).

You have to look hard at the taillight to see the LED board behind the lens when not illuminated. However, when the brakes are applied, you can undoubtedly tell these are not the factory bulbs.

From the rear, our Suburban still has the factory look we like. However, when the brakes are applied, you can see a big difference during the day and night, making our Suburban more evident in traffic. And another great thing about LEDs, they last a long time. Johnson says, “All Dakota Digital LED taillight systems offer a Limited Lifetime Warranty – we simply don’t expect them to burn out during the vehicle’s life.”

The light on the left is the LED, and the factory bulb is on the right. Even though this picture doesn’t do a great job showing how brighter the LED is, take out word for it when we tell you it is a lot more intense. You can get the idea of how bright they are when comparing the lens flare. The left is much larger and more intense than the OEM on the right.

For more information on this product and others, check out Dakota Digital’s website.

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Brian Havins

A gearhead for life, Brian is obsessed with all things fast. Banging gears, turning wrenches, and praying while spraying are just a few of his favorite things.
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