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LED Conversions
Dale Maggio

So you want to convert those energy guzzling running lamps of yours to the new LED’s? It’s a fairly easy process, but do your homework before you start spending bucks. This article will help.

Lets get two items out of the way so we can explain things more clearly. The first is your voltage supply. We call it 12VDC. That means 12 Volts Direct Current. DC means that the current flows in one direction only, from Negative to Positive. But we actually run on a slightly higher voltage, 12.6. 

However, I am going to reference everything in this article to 12VDC. This will give us consistent numbers and give us a slight safety factor. Your final install will pull a little less current.

The second is how lights are identified. As you know, all bulbs have standard numbering. You can go into any parts store and ask for a 1157 lamp for your taillight. It doesn’t matter what company makes the lamp, you will always get a 2-filiment tail/stop light lamp rated at 5/20 watts. The same is true with truck lighting fixtures. You can go into any parts house and ask for a model 44 (which is that 4" standard round fixture you see on most trailers) and it will be the same fixture, no matter who makes it. I point this out because this article does not deal with the LED conversion lamps. It deals with the sealed units that replace an entire fixture.

That being said, The Cruisers running lights are a Bargeman or Reflectolite 278. These two fixtures are so exactly similar, I believe they were manufactured by the same company and marketed by different companies. The 278 is a fairly cheesy fixture, but it is cheap and that is why the RV builders use it. It’s 2 worst problems are that it is poorly sealed from the elements and it’s very sad wiring connections. The spring clips they use are quick-and-dirty to install, but the road grime quickly corrodes them and makes for a poor connection. There is no direct LED replacement for the 278 nor is it a trucking industry standard number.

The only reasonable fixture to replace the 278 is the Model 19. The 19 is made by all the major lighting companies: Grote, Trucklite, Petersen, etc. The Model 19 is physically the same size and uses the same mounting hole dimensions as the 278, so no new holes need to be drilled. It has the same “footprint” as the 278 but the domed lens is a more rounded shape. There are 7 amber running lights in the top front and 2 amber running lights on the front sides of the Cruisers. Adding the 7 rear red fixtures brings the total fixtures up to 16. If you plan on adding more, count them in. The 278 uses a #57 lamp rated at 3 watts. This lamp bench tested at .26 amps current draw, just about right for a 3watt rated lamp. This totals out to 4.16 amps required to drive the running lamps.

Before I delve into the requirements of the Model 19, let me explain something about LED fixture manufacture. There is no standard. One manufacturer may put only one led in a fixture, while another may put 4. There is a proposal called the “PC Standard” before the Department Of Transportation, but it has not been accepted yet. The PC Standard calls for a minimum of 4 LEDs in the red model 19s and a minimum of 6 in the amber Model 19s. LED’s are, by nature, coherent. That means they are very thin pencil beams of light, like a laser. To get a wider beam spread, they must have a dispersing lens in front of them. The PC Standard requires a 180-degree beam spread from all models of running lights. To date only Trucklite is manufacturing to the PC Standard, although it may change depending on what the DOTies say.

I will also mention that LEDs are diodes; as their name implies. They are one-way valves for electricity. That means you have to hook them up with proper polarity or they won’t work. OK, Dale, what’s polarity? Simply the Positive has to go to the positive and the negative has to go to the negative. You can’t switch them like ordinary light bulbs. To date, only Petersen Piranha series have a circuitry that allows hook up in either way.

OK, back to the Model 19. The red Trucklite (model 19037R) pulls .061 amps on the bench test. It has 4 LEDs and is PC Standard compatible. The amber Petersen (model PM161) pulls .047 amps on the bench test. Multiplied by the 16 fixtures on the Cruiser, this comes out to .98 and .75 amps total respectively. This will significantly reduce the load on your battery and your system. It is not a cure-all. Remember, many other things come on with your running lights, a lamp in every dash gauge, radio, a/c controls, license lamp, etc.

When mounting LEDs, do a sample install with one fixture first. I highly recommend buying the mounting kit. This way you get the snap-in mount and the pigtail connector. When purchasing replacements for your Model 19s, it will just be a snap (pun intended). Twist the wires together and test it for polarity. If it doesn’t light, reverse the wire. Check each lamp fixture before you move on to the next. Use good butt crimps for solid connection and stuff them back into the Cruiser’s body to protect them from the elements. Every manufacturer’s pig-tail connector pops into the snap frame so they become one integral unit.

Pricing. I bought in bulk. I bought the Petersen’s first as I was just learning about this stuff. From my local auto parts store, I bought 10 amber fixtures for about $16.50 ea. When I installed the Petersens’ I was disappointed at the beam spread. Standing directly in front of the vehicle was OK, but as soon as I moved slightly off to one side, they appeared very dim. As I learned more about the PC Standard, I bought the red ones from Trucklite. My vendor was a favorite truck supply house in San Jose, Universal Fleet Supply. Surprisingly they cost less, about $15.00 per fixture. The trick here is to buy in bulk: the units that come in simple plastic bags. Don’t buy the carded units; the packaging is what costs more. I have sent a copy of this to the people at UFS, so if you want to call them and tell them you are with the Aero Cruiser club, they will know what you are talking about. I would also like to add that it is wise to have a good truck supply house, besides your auto parts store. Truck supply houses have heavy-duty switches, truck seats, plugs and many, many other items we can use.

My e-mail is below; feel free to ask any questions. I will try and be at Chula Vista, but it depends on my work schedule. I have also included some references.

Universal Fleet Supply. Kurt or Dave 1733 Rogers Av, San Jose, CA 408/436-6060 bulk pack # 10937R and 19037A next to Trucklite, one of the biggest suppliers their fixtures are kinda cheesy but some very innovative LED stuff raw LEDs and some interesting fixtures.

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