The lack of good factory lighting for our favorite off-road rig has opened up an entire aftermarket segment, dedicated to just headlights. In this tech guide, we’ll discuss the different Jeep Wrangler headlight upgrades and offer some pros and cons for each option.
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Lighting can really change the attitude of your Jeep, but more importantly how well you can see at night or during rough weather. There's a variety of lighting solutions, so you can get exactly what you need for your exact situation. We’ll also detail how to adjust your new headlights.
Halogen Wrangler Headlights
Although the factory headlights use halogen lighting and offer poor results, there are many brighter headlights for your Jeep Wrangler in the halogen configuration. These aftermarket halogen options offer a significant improvement over the stock lights. The main difference with these lights, when compared to the factory headlights, is the reflector and lens of the actual headlight. In addition, the bulb itself often produces a better quality of light. The combination of an improved reflector, more focused lens and brighter bulb will offer a huge improvement over the factory lights. These are also the most inexpensive Jeep headlight upgrade option available. In addition, they make replacements easier and less expensive if you ever damage the lens while on the trail. They still require a bulb that will need replacement and a level of maintenance, but often this is still a low expense and offers the opportunity to experiment with the light temperature/color in order to find the right combination that works for you.
Aftermarket Halogen Headlight Versus Stock Wrangler Headlight
Projection Wrangler Headlights
For years HID lighting has been a significant upgrade to factory lighting. The spherical projectors are able to provide an intense amount of light in a very focused lighting pattern, resulting in great overall lighting. Recently, these projector housings have moved more towards an LED type of light source which is proving to be more efficient and with less maintenance. The housings are still a departure from the reflective design found in halogen lighting, but offer a great improvement with the overall lighting pattern by providing a sharp cut-off horizon. These lights are also easier to adjust, as the cut-off point is sharper than the blob of light that’s produced with halogen lighting.
Close Up of a Projector LED Headlight
LED Wrangler Headlights
LED lighting is among the newest form of technology available, and recent headlight options utilize a reflection design to project the bright white light. The lights work by clustering together a series of LEDs in a pattern to unify the lighting output. The curved and ridged back of the housing then reflects the light forward. A polycarbonate lens cover allows the light to be even more focused in its projection while offering a good amount of protection. The result is a bright and sharp lighting pattern. In addition, the light temperature/color is very pleasing on the eyes and helps clearly illuminate the road ahead without tiring your vision during long drives.
Some of the major drawbacks with LED lighting is the need for a harness adapter. This sometimes results in flickering as the power current draw isn’t a steady voltage. New anti-flicker harness adapters tend to solve the problem, but it’s an important point to be aware of. In addition, LED lighting has a low power draw which in turn means little to no heat build-up. This then means during snowy/icy conditions, the lens cover could be obstructed and affect the performance. Some manufacturers are solving this problem with a vented backing which allows heat from the engine compartment to enter the light housing and heat the face of the light to facilitate the melting of snow/ice.
VIDEO: LED Headlights Review for JK & TJ Jeeps
Comparing the Light Technology
Each variant of aftermarket Jeep headlight technology offers a series of pros and cons. Below is a list highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of each in order to help you with your decision.
Halogen Headlight Pros:
- Inexpensive initial expense
- Inexpensive replacement cost if one is damaged
- Often can purchase individually
- Direct plug/play with the factory harness
- Produce enough heat to melt snow/ice during the winter
Halogen Headlight Cons:
- Unfocused pool of light
- Poor color intensity/temperature
Projection Headlight Pros:
- Crisp focused light
- Easier to align
- Produce enough heat to melt snow/ice during winter
Projection Headlight Cons:
- Expensive bulb replacement
- Often have to be purchased as a pair
- Require wiring harness adapters
- Large demand for power
LED Headlight Pros:
- Low power consumption
- Crisp focus of light
- Easier to align
- Durable construction
- Longer lifespan
LED Headlight Cons:
- Minimal heat build-up to melt snow/ice
- Expensive replacement cost if damaged
- Often have to be purchased as a pair
- Require wiring harness adapters
Halogen on the Left; LED on the Right
Jeep Wrangler Headlight Replacement: How to
Replacing the headlights is a little different across all generations of Jeep. Starting with the JK, you'll need to remove the grille face (six clips) with a flat edge screwdriver. Be careful pulling the grille because you may break the bottom clips if you're too forceful. Once you have the grille off, you'll need a T15 torx bit for the four headlight bezel screws. Then you'll have full access to the JK's headlight.
Replacing the TJ's headlights is rather similar, but instead of removing the grille face, you'll need to remove the headlight ring and bezel. Each has four screws, and once removed, you can unclip the wiring harness and replace the sealed beam light.
Replacing the YJ's headlights is as simple as removing the bezel and unclipping the unit from the wiring harness.
Overall doing a Jeep headlight replacement yourself is a straight forward task, that beginners can do in about an hour or less.
Jeep Headlight Adjustment Process
Try to find an area with level ground that has a flat wall and over 35 feet of clear space. Most long driveways could work but you have to be conscious of any level changes. Make sure your Jeep has at least ½ tank of gas and properly filled with its average cargo weight. You want to setup an average height the Jeep will most often be in. Gas and cargo weight affect the overall riding height. You will need the following items:
- Measuring tape (Good for at least 25 feet)
- Painters tape
- T15 Torx bit
Once you have your supplies and found a good spot, pull the Jeep up to the wall as close as possible and mark the following (Note: use the painters tape to temporarily mark these measurements, and if the wall isn’t yours please get permission from the owner before proceeding).
JK with Halogen Headlights
Mark the Center of Your Jeep
You can use things like the tow hooks or the bumper width as a frame of reference. Find the center point of the Jeep. Then using the level, try to accurately pinpoint that location on the wall and mark it with a piece of tape (Writing the word CENTER on the tape helps).
Mark the Center of Your Headlights
Next, try to mark the center axis of each light. This can be difficult to translate onto the wall. Use the level and take a measurement, so you can gauge the approximate location. Use the CENTER tape on the wall as a frame of reference to ensure the locations are properly centered. Once the location is pinpointed, mark the left light’s center with an LC and the RC for the right side.
Bring the Jeep 25 Feet Back
Once the center axis points of the Jeep and lights are marked, pull the Jeep back 25 feet from the wall. Make sure to keep the Jeep as straight as possible when going in reverse. This will ensure the lights are still properly in line with the markings on the wall. The Jeep should be positioned so the lights themselves are 25 feet from the wall, not the front bumper.
Connect the Center Points
On the wall connect the LC and RC points with a horizontal piece of tape. Using the measuring tape, ensure the line is level and straight. This horizontal line should be at the center of your Jeep’s headlights. Depending on the ride height of your Jeep, the line will be lower or higher. For my lifted Jeep, this line was 42.5 inches high.
Mark the Ideal Height
A standard height light level is about 36 inches. This average height will ensure your Jeep lights are properly aimed vertically and not blinding cars in front of you. You can measure down from your stock point or from the ground up. Mark the 36 inch point with another horizontal line across. Then extend your LC, CENTER, and RC lines down. Use the level for an accurate and straight line down.
Adjust Your Lights
Unfortunately, Jeep lights can only be adjusted vertically. There is no adjustment for the horizontal side-to-side projection. The vertical adjustment screw can be seen behind the small indentation along the sidewall of the light cutout on the grill. The small adjustment bolt can be turned with a T15 torx. Turning the adjustment bolt to the LEFT LOWERS the light beam. RIGHT RAISES the light beam. With the ideal light height marked on the wall, we need to adjust the height of the light projected by the headlights. We need to concentrate the majority of the light at or below the 36 inch horizontal line.
First, cover one light with a thick blanket to block most of the light (NOTE: If your lights give off heat, covering them with a blanket for a long period of time could cause damage). Turning the adjustment bolt to the LEFT will lower the light beam. Ideally, you want the majority of the light concentration under the 36 inch mark on the wall. Once one side is complete, you can cover that light and work on the other side. Once both sides are done, you can expose both lights and make sure that they are even with each other and that the main concentration of light is under the 36 inch mark.
If done properly, your Wrangler's headlights should not pass the trunk line of an average sedan when you are behind them. This will ensure you are not blinding the cars in front of you or the ones coming towards you in the opposite direction.
Fitment includes: JL, JK, TJ, YJ, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, Laredo, Sport, Islander, S, Sahara, Renegade, SE, X, Rubicon, Unlimited, Sport-S