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LED Tail Light ProTip

12/8/2016
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The devil is in the details. That’s never been more true than it is when building a car. In this installment I cover one of those details that’s often overlooked. LED lights.

Do you know what I love about modern LED lighting? I love how much visibility and safety it brings to the little, tiny tail lights we have on our cars. Do you know what I hate about LED tail lights? The way they look when they’re not lit up. They’re more orange-red than the original glass lenses were. The plastic finish is a little too dull as well. But the biggest thing, the most obvious, is seeing the individual diodes behind the lens. That makes me crazy. A part that should only attract attention to itself when lit, suddenly becomes a focal point of its own. Not in my garage.

Do you see the difference in those two lenses? I know I do and it bugs me when I see it because it takes you out of the overall vehicle appearance and forces your focus to a small area of the car that doesn’t deserve it.

But don’t worry, I have a cheap and easy fix. Duplicolor makes a paint called “Metalcast”. It’s designed to be used as a transparent color coat on top of a metallic surface. The idea is for it to look like an anodized finish. I’ve begun to use it like candy paint in a spray can. It comes in five or six colors and retails for about $8 per can.

The beautiful part of this paint is that it is very transparent and you can layer it until you get just the right color.

Remove your LED lenses from the housings and wrap the wires and socket plug with masking tape or aluminum foil. Then use fine Scotch-Brite to scuff the surface slightly so the paint has a mechanical bond as well as the chemical bond when the paint etches into the surface.

I usually use about five coats to achieve the correct density of red to make the lens look just like a glass one. After the red paint dries, I coat the surface with polyurethane clear to add shine and durability. Don’t worry, they are still bright as can be and are actually a more arresting color of red when illuminated.

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