26 May 2023
Safer night and daytime driving with added style – Alisdair Cusick show how LED headlamps can transform your Defender
Need to know
Time: 1 hour
Cost: See below
Difficulty: 2 out of 5
Models: All early Ninetys and One Tens and Defenders.
Tools needed: Screwdrivers, electrical crimping tools, impact gun (used, but not essential), soldering iron, electrical tape.
Parts & costs: ORE4x4 LED headlight, LTPRZ-HL7-2, £444
(get 10 per cent off this price with ‘LRM’ code); mobile centre light surround, 407HLRSSKIT, £29.94; ORE offer ready-made connector looms, see ore4x4.co.uk for options.
• Use the right tool, for the right job
• Always be fire-safe in the workshop
• Never take risks with vehicle wiring
• Get an expert to do the job, if in any doubt
Thanks to: Chris McCormack at ORE4x4, and Ian Baughan and IRB Developments for their help with this feature. Visit ore4x4.co.uk or irbdevelopments.com.
Enthusiasts have been modifying the lighting on Land Rovers since 1948, but it’s only recently that LED technology has not only transformed the performance of headlights, but has also enabled the lights to become a distinctive design feature. LED headlights are now a common upgrade for Defenders, allowing older vehicles to benefit from the latest technology seen on modern Land Rovers. Old H4 lights with typically corroded reflectors and stone-chipped lenses are often replaced by modern LED units which, in comparison, have a similar laser-like quality to the beam pattern of a new Range Rover. They offer a whiter, brighter light than H4 filament bulbs, but with hammer-tough lenses. Yes, ORE’s Chris McCormack has indeed demonstrated hitting the lenses of these headlights with a hammer.
Here, Ian Baughan of IRB Developments is fitting LED headlamps (incorporating marker lights) to LRM editor Pat’s Defender 110 and shows us what’s involved. The first job when working on a vehicle’s electrical system is to disconnect the battery but, as we’ll be needing to locate a power supply during this job, we will need to temporarily reconnect it.
Marker lights and their wiring
Marker (position) lights
The headlights we’re fitting have an additional inverted U-shaped element which can be wired as a marker lamp on each side of the truck. The element is in the style of a daytime running light (DRL), though it won’t be wired as such because of the legislation surrounding DRLs. As marker lights, these elements can be wired as the owner chooses, either to be switched on continuously, or wired to switch off when sidelights or headlights turn on.
Connecting marker lights
These lights, from ORE4x4, are designated as marker lights in respect of those elements, so we can wire ours to the owner’s choice today.
One option is to make a loom so it plugs into a sidelight circuit, and illuminates the markers with the sidelights. Vehicles up to 1994 use bullet connectors here, whereas 1994-on use Econoseal, so connectors can be bought to piggyback a joint, though ORE offers links to ready-made looms.
Alternatively, to illuminate continuously, we need to tap into an ignition feed somewhere. This way, whenever the ignition is on, the marker elements will be lit. In this case, the first step is to source an ignition live feed, working off the wiring colours for the vehicle model. There are also looms available to help simplify this, linking to cigar lighter connectors for example, or you could just source a feed and solder in a joint. This is what Ian does in our case, locating an unused connector for the battery back-up siren (BBUS). Our vehicle doesn’t have a BBUS, but it does have the redundant connector for it, so we can tap into this for an ignition feed. If your car does have a BBUS, then you must source an alternative feed – tapping into the BBUS may affect the charging of the siren, or be an unacceptable modification of the security system, negating its Thatcham approval rating.
Beam test: For comparison, here’s dipped beam of the existing filament lights (projected onto the workshop roller door). The beam pattern is defined, but the light is yellow.
Strip job: Release the two headlight panel screws on each side, then sidelight and indicator screws. The smaller lights will withdraw forwards, leaving light panel loose.
Nearside first: The sidelights and indicators are unplugged from the loom and the panel lifted off. These lights, also, can be upgraded to LED units: it’s a simple plug-in swap.
Common error: The headlight has three screws around the edge. These two are for beam adjustment, and shouldn’t be touched. Taking them out just makes the job harder.
The one: This is the screw holding the headlight in. When removed, the headlight can be withdrawn with its surround as one. The connector will just pull off the back.
Marker light decision: A decision needs to be made on how the marker lights will illuminate. This dictates which loom feed we use, so they power on as the driver wishes.
Find power: Use a multimeter to confirm an ignition live feed between the sidelight and BBUS connector, then make a note of the wire to use on the BBUS.
Custom loom: Make a loom with a female spade at each end and conduit slipped over to add protection, plus an extra unsleeved wire for the BBUS feed.
Thread it in: Thread the unsleeved wire feed into the BBUS connector grommet. This keeps the wiring watertight, just like the factory loom joints. Best practice, neat job.
Mid-point splice: Tap into the BBUS ignition live feed using a mid-point splice joint. First, strip back the insulation on the factory cable, exposing the wires inside.
Twist, then solder: After stripping the insulation off the end of the LED loom feed, twist the wire tight around the BBUS wire. That joint is now already mechanically strong.
Solid joint: Now solder that joint. Soldering and twisting the wires makes it as strong as possible. A joint well worth practicing, it is neat, simple and very strong.
Insulate: Now wrap quality insulation tape around the solder joint and the connector grommet over the plug, and add more tape after that for a job done well.
The other side: The other headlight is removed, and the custom loom fed across to that side of the car. It’s routed thoughtfully, and cable-tied to a solid mount.
End result: On each side we have sidelight and headlight connectors, but with an extra female spade terminal, which is the ignition live to power the marker light element.
New bezels: New stainless bezels are fitted to the lights (two larger tabs to the right and bottom). Then the three securing tabs are fitted to hold the light in.
Connecting up: Spade terminals for marker elements are connected, and headlight connectors plugged in. The new headlights are fitted to the two beam adjustment pins.
Common error: The bezel does not fit under the adjustment pin like this; instead, it slides into the slot around the head of the pin, so it can be adjusted.
Fit, repeat: The light is rotated to engage the adjustment screws, then secured in place using the lower right bezel fixing. Same process is repeated for the nearside light.
Good job, made better: As LRM likes to do, new headlight surrounds go on to refresh the tired originals. The sidelight and indicators are connected to loom, and fitted into position.
Test, test, test: All light combinations tested: marker lights, dip and full beam, indicators, sidelights and hazards. Any problems will typically be earth issues.
Job completed: The end result is a refreshed front end, with a modern upgrade to the Defender’s lighting. Stylish, but crucially with much better performance thrown in, too.
Acid test: Compared to picture 1, earlier, the new lights give a whiter colour and sharper beam. An MoT station will align the beam accurately, but it is possible at home.
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