Custom, Aftermarket, LED, HID, an Old School Halogens!
A must have on any vehicle for both code and safety, tail lights are an integral part of your truck’s style and function. Whether you’re using a turn signal to indicate you’re merging into traffic or putting on the brakes to show you’re slowing down, these babies help you communicate exactly what is going on and what you’re intentions are.
To that end, they are also some of the most commonly watched parts of your truck. Other driver’s will be always looks at these lights, and they will especially stand out if you’re driving around at night. So there’s no reason to not get the style or pattern of tail light you want to make your vehicle look sweet, while still getting great function out of your tail lights.
Let’s run through some popular options and styles that you should consider before buying some tail lights in this guide.
A Quick Guide to Buying Replacement Tail Lights
When you’re looking at tail lights, there are a few options you should consider.
Here’s what we would look at in the order we’d consider it:
Style / Look
Housing Color and Lens Color
Some of these are obvious. For instance, unless if you want to go full custom and cut up your vehicle’s body to professionally install some very unique tail lights, you’re gonna want to check your vehicle fitment and make sure you get something that won’t require any drilling or cutting.
Each their own, of course. If you want to go cutting into your vehicle, I’m not gonna stop you. But most of our customers are looking for OEM replacements due to damage or burnt out bulbs or just to change out that stock style tail light with something that will fit perfectly where the original tail light went.
We get that, and we hear you. I feel the exact same way.
So start by putting in your year, make, and model by going to Vehicle Search above. This is probably the best way to go about picking lights for your ride. From there, you should only see tail lights that will fit your particular ride.
But before you do that, let me run through some of the other things you might want to consider besides fitment.
For me, personally, this is the next most important feature. But let me put a caveat on this: if you just care about what it looks like and the tail light you want with the look or style you just gotta have only comes in one bulb option, just go for it. That’s not to say bulb type isn’t important, cause it is. But if the look is what is most important to you, then just pick the tail light that you think will look the best on your truck or Jeep. At the end of the day, so many aftermarket parts are about looks and style. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t pick the look you want. And you don’t need to justify a damn thing to me. If you like the look of it, that’s enough.
Now if you do need to explain some cost or something to your wife, by all means, read on, cause I’m going to tell you why the most popular aftermarket bulbs currently on the market are also the most affordable long term. You’re welcome!
Old School Halogens
So these are probably what came stock in most vehicles in the past and unfortunately many vehicles still today. Halogens are the filament style bulbs that you’re used to, well, I guess only if you’re at least as old as I am. These used to be for instance the only kinds of light bulbs you’d have in your house--the old school screw in bulbs for lamps and fixtures.
These babies light up by pushing power through resistors and producing heat and light. The main issue with these though is that they burn out quickly, and that’s largely due to the way they operate.
Halogen lamps are a type of incandescent bulb that is so old school they are really only used in cars these days in America. Fun times! Halogens work by passing electricity through a tungsten filament that then heats up very hot--we’re talking thousands of degrees here--and emits both heat and light. The heat releases a bit of tungsten vapor that reacts to the halogen group gas that’s inside the bulb. This reaction causes a bit of the vapor to condense back onto the filament, slowing down the burning out process.
Nevertheless, over time, as more and more of the original tungsten becomes a gas, the filament will eventually break, leaving you with a burnt out light.
Again, this is a basic function of the design of the lamp itself, meaning this design is subpar and old school. A benefit though of halogens is they still tend to be cheaper than some of the other styles of bulbs out there, though they also tend to last the shortest amount of time, so in the long run, they don’t tend to save you any money because you’ll end up having to replace them so often. Sigh.
Secondly, these babies get freakin’ hot!
We’re talking upwards of 4,000 degrees F here on the inside where the tungsten filament is. This makes the outside of the bulb still very hot as well. So when you go to replace one of these bulbs with a better one, please--let me restate and emphasize that: PLEASE!--be very very careful that you don’t burn yourself.
Been there. Screwed that up. Several times.
Furthermore, since they get so hot, that means a lot of the energy (read electricity) that is being pulled from your battery to make that light is actually escaping as heat instead of just light. So these bad boys draw more power and waste more of it as well when compared to just about every other kind of bulb on the market. We are talking about wasting upwards of 90% of the energy put into them to make light. 90%!? That’s ridiculous loss.
This is largely why we’ve all been pressured to switch to more energy efficient bulbs compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs in our homes because they put off less wasted heat and use less energy too.
So hopefully you’re picking up what I’m putting down here. Unless you have to have a bulb today and the only thing you can find is a halogen, then don’t even bother. This category is old school for a reason, and we’ve got way better options to choose from on down the road here.
Xenon HIDs (High Intensity Discharge lights)
While this is clearly an upgrade as far as technology is concerned, these are still incandescent bulbs. This means that as far as how they work, they pretty much work the same as the halogens. In fact, the only real difference between the two mechanically is that HIDs are filled with Xenon gas instead of a halogen group gas.
Now this isn’t to downplay all the benefits of Xenon over halogen. The main reason why people like Xenon HIDs or sometimes called just HIDs in general is because they are brighter than traditional Halogen bulbs.
In fact, let’s not water this down--these are most likely the brightest bulbs you’re gonna get on the market today. The reason has to do with--you guessed it--the design. While HIDs work the same way as Halogens in that electricity is passed through a tungsten filament and the Xenon gas helps repair or recycle the tungsten gas back to the filament as it wears down, these bulbs also put out more light because of what happens when you excite the electrons of a Xenon gas atom--they emit light!
This is one of the reasons why Xenon gas makes for such a great option to fill the bulb. And since the Xenon gas puts out light, you need less electricity to heat up the tungsten than in a more traditional halogen bulb. Less energy in though doesn’t mean this baby isn’t brighter than the halogens still, cause that energy is doing double duty--lighting up both tungsten filament and Xenon gas--thus giving you more light than a traditional bulb halogen.
Xenon HIDs also produce less heat, largely because that tungsten doesn’t have to heat up as much to put off the light. Talk about a win-win. In fact, the only real downside to these babies is that Xenon gas is rather expensive so HIDs tend to cost more than your traditional halogen bulbs. However, when you compare the life span of an HID over a Halogen, you’ll find that the Xenon lasts up to 5 times longer and again is still brighter than the old school bulbs / lamps.
Alright, so why does it seem like I’m about to talk smack on these great lights?
Cause these still aren’t the best lights on the market, not even for tail light specific applications, not even by a long shot.
Welcome to the future of lighting technology:
LED Tail Lights
Just get these. Trust me.
If you have the option, do it. You won’t regret it.
These babies last the longest and give you great color options, plus they emit the least amount of heat energy. And when we say longer, we don’t just mean no measly double the length. No, no, no. These babies last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. Some LED’s can last up to 45,000 hours of use. For most vehicle’s that’s going to be up to if not more than the actual vehicle’s lifespan, especially since your brake lights and turn signals aren’t always on. These lights only come on when you need them.
This means that while LED tail lights are the most expensive typically on the market today, they are also the longest lasting by a massive margin. So over time they are by far the most cost effective lights currently available. And these lights waste the least amount of light via heat energy partial due to the way they work.
LED stands for Light Emitting Diodes. These tiny semiconductors emit light when electricity is passed through them at a highly efficient rate and last just as long as a standard transistor. And they are available in a plethora of colors too. Of course for tail lights you probably want to stick with white and red, but you can always check your local State laws just in case.
At the end of the day, if you can swing the upfront cost on these babies, there really is no reason not to go with the LED version if it is available in the style you like.
So once you decide that the bulb type you want is LED, then you’re moving on to style or the look of the tail light.
Style and Look
We’ve briefly mentioned this already, but basically you want to go with the kind that you think looks the best. Enough said. If you like the look and think it will look good, then you’re good to go. Again, we recommend LEDs, but if the style you love isn’t available as LED, then you just might have to bite the bullet and go all in anyway.
Finally, you should consider the lens color and housing color.
For us, this pretty much comes down to silver or chrome housing against black housing. Again, this is personal preference. If you’re truck is mostly decked out in chrome, then that’s probably the way to go. But if you’ve rocking that matte black--guess what--we recommend black housing.
At this point you may also see options for lense color. You might see options like clear, smoked, red, and even two tone or two color options of any of the above. Most of these are self explanatory. The clear will let the natural light from the bulb or LED shine through, which is probably white. Red will make the light look crimson red--the color of the night and stop signs. Smoked might be the only one that requires a bit of explanation, but it makes sense when you think about it. This is a tinted slightly black or dark shaded lense which filters the light a bit but still lets a good amount of it shine through. A lot of customers who like black housing and matte black accessories really enjoy this color feature.
Picking your Tail Lights
At the end of the day, we hope you find the perfect tail lights for your vehicle. If you have any questions whatsoever, please don’t hesitate to call or hit us up via live chat. Even if we don’t have what you’re looking for listed on our website just yet, that doesn’t mean we can’t get the lights you need. So if you let one of our customer service reps know that you want a LED tail light with a black housing and smoked lenses, we will find you many options to check out so that you can get the tail lights you want at a great price.
Thanks again for shopping at Midwest Aftermarket.