Traditional incandescent light bulbs have been in use for well over 100 years. One of them, at Livermore, California’s Fire Station 6, has been in use for 114 years straight – over one million hours. But lately it’s lights out for the old bulbs. Not only are they being phased out of home use, they’re becoming less and less common in cars as well. Alternatives to halogen bulbs are appearing all over the car, from HID headlights to LEDs to freaking laser beams attached to their heads.
Advances in LED technology have made them extremely popular for automotive use. Though more expensive than halogen bulbs, they last many times longer, and turn on and off much more quickly. This is particularly eye catching for turn signals, and gives other drivers a fraction of a second more warning of your intentions. There are reasons why all of those flashing lights on the police car pulling you over are LEDs. They also look more modern and allow a nearly unlimited variety of design choices – the wraparound parking lights on the front of my BRZ, for instance, or the “race track” tail lights on the Dodge Charger. You can even choose your interior lighting color in some cars, such as the 2015 Ford Mustang and its optional MyColor system, thanks to LEDs.
Though much of my BRZ’s exterior lighting is LED, the stock turn signals are the old fashioned halogen bulbs. They’re effective enough, but seem a bit of an anachronism among the slick LED lighting elsewhere. I decided to upgrade my turn signals to LED bulbs.
(Full disclosure: SuperBrightLEDs.com sold me four turn signal bulbs and two reverse bulbs as an ordinary customer, just like anyone else. I didn’t ask for nor receive any special discounts or freebies because I write stuff on the internet.)
These days you can get LED bulbs to replace pretty much any standard type of halogen bulb out there, from sidemarkers to headlights and anything in between. I had many choices of LED turn signal bulbs available, at various prices and brightnesses. I chose product code 7440-A45-T, with 45 surface mount LEDs in an amber color. Even though I tinted my tail lights red, I wanted amber bulbs back there anyway in case I ever decide to remove the tint. On a whim, I also bought a pair of WLED-WHP6 bulbs for my reverse lights. The stock bulbs are pretty dim, and since I’m now backing in and out of parking spaces in darkness after work, I went for it.
As with any vehicle that isn’t designed to run LED turn signal bulbs, you need to take extra measures to prevent “hyperflashing,” where the signals flash twice as fast as they should, as if a halogen bulb was burnt out. SuperBrightLEDs.com sells resistor kits that you can splice into the turn signal circuits to prevent this. I had already bought a TapTurn turn signal module, which, among its numerous features, supports LED bulbs just fine with no need for extra resistors.
Installation was simple plug and play, just like the stock bulbs. Thanks to already having the TapTurn module, no further modification was necessary. They just worked, simple as that.
The LED bulbs eliminate the large amber bulb inside the turn signal lens, which makes the lens shiny and chrome when the bulb is off. This matches the rest of the headlight housing, and looks cleaner than stock. I used to buy special halogen bulbs that were amber with a translucent mirror coating to achieve the same effect on my older cars, but this looks so much better.
It functions much better, too. The bulbs themselves are about as bright as stock, but the light shines from the lens much more evenly, likely because light is emitted from 45 different points of the LED bulb rather than a single filament. It’s perfectly visible in bright sunlight, and I can see it clearly reflected off of cars in front of me when I’m stopped close to them. Plus the instant on/off flashing is far more eye catching, visible, and upscale looking than the stock bulb.
I’ve tinted my stock tail lights red, including the turn signals, because I personally don’t care for the “import tuner” Altezza look. Though I prefer amber rear turn signals, the shape of the lens and contours of the housing wouldn’t let me leave it clear without looking funny, so I bit the bullet and tinted the whole thing. I didn’t change the amber bulbs, but the turn signal shined red through the tint. The color of the bulb didn’t seem to matter at all.
Imagine my surprise when I swapped in the amber LED bulbs in the back and the signal shined bright amber, despite the tint. It’s the best of both worlds. I get the cleaner look of the all red lens, as well as the clarity of the amber turn signal instead of red. Though it is identical to the bulbs used in front, the design of the rear lens makes it much brighter than stock. The difference is far more dramatic than in front, and well worth the investment.
I’m not quite as impressed by the LED reverse bulbs, but they’re decent. The color is certainly a more pure white, rather than the yellowish tint of the standard bulbs, but they don’t seem any brighter than stock. For the price, it’s no big deal, and they do look cool. Rear visibility isn’t great out the back of the BRZ anyway, and the reverse lights are way down low, so that may be why I don’t see a benefit. My backup camera automatically adjusts to the available light level, so I wouldn’t see extra brightness on the screen, either.
Overall, I’m quite happy with bringing my lighting into the 21st century. I’m not quite ready to splurge on replacing my sidemarkers, license plate bulbs, or interior light, since there wouldn’t be any significant benefit like there is for the turn signals. But when the stock bulbs finally do burn out, they’ll be getting LED replacements.
Thanks for this review! I’ve been looking for someone who’s done the LED turn signal bulbs; it’s not a small investment, yet, and my e39 has 11 incandescent bulbs around the exterior, not counting puddle or license plate lights, plus another dozen or so inside. It sounds like you had a good experience with this company; def. checking them out now.
Glad to help! LED bulbs would be a great way to give an early E39 a more updated look, as the later E39s came with some from the factory.
I have an 03 530i, with the LED taillights, but I moved to LED angel eyes up front, and re-coded the computer to blink the angel eyes with the turn signal. The LED’s crisp on/off vs the incandescent bleeding is an eyesore, so I wanted to upgrade from that point. As far as LEDs from the factory, the tails were the only lights that did. I love they way they look; its a fresh and modern look, even 12 years after it went out of production.
I think the E39 is one of the best looking BMWs ever. So you’re upgrading for the same reason I did – mixing incandescents and LEDs doesn’t look as cool as all LEDs. Good luck!
Thanks! I think so, too, and it was just put on a list of the 10 best looking cars under $10k (num 7). http://thegarage.jalopnik.com/ten-of-the-most-beautiful-cars-you-can-buy-on-ebay-for-1739218360 I’m loving the content here, great job!
Thanks! I’ve had an E39 540i on my list for a while, even before I saw that article. It could be a potential RFD project car someday.
Awesome! The communities are very active on Bimmerfest and Bimmerforums, so you’re in good hands. 🙂 A few things to look out for: make sure the timing chain tensioners are at least mentioned and preferably have record of replacement, or budget about $2k to get them done; about every 125k miles or so. Headlights will run you $1500 for two, so make sure they’re in good working condition. Buy manual; the autoboxes are terrible. There’s a reason I’m ditching my auto this spring for a manual… If you need any other advice on e39s, please don’t hesitate to contact me through Bimmerfest, under the same name! 🙂
I’ll definitely keep you in mind! Thanks for the advice!