LED lighting has become extremely popular these days, and not only are we seeing them in our homes, but just about every bulb in our cars has an LED replacement. Even some traffic lights are filled with thousands of these tiny red, amber, and green light-emitting diodes. There are some great advantages in using LEDs, one of which is their brightness – they can be seen in just about any level of sunlight. Another advantage is that they can burn for tens of thousands of hours, making them last much longer than their incandescent counterpart.

We already planned on new lamp assemblies, but LEDs will be much brighter than stock.

Dakota Digital has taken LED technology and applied it to a series of replacement tail lamps for many popular classic musclecars. But instead of replacing the incandescent bulb with a single LED style bulb, Dakota Digital uses dozens of surface-mount device (SMD) LEDs. These SMD LEDs are mounted on a circuit board to provide the necessary lighting for tail lamps, making them much brighter than ever before.

We installed their 1964-66 Mustang LED Replacement Tail Lamp kit (part #LAT-NR350) on Project Biting the Bullitt, and it was just about as simple as replacing the standard bulb. This installation requires no special tools, and can be installed by a novice mechanic. These replacement lamps are designed and constructed in-house at Dakota Digital, and are backed by a limited, lifetime warranty.

LED Lamp Technology

The stop lamp bulb (1156 or 1157) on a typical classic car consumes about 27 watts of power from your car’s electrical system. Multiply that by two for the pair of brake lights, and your brake lamps are consuming about as much power as one of your headlamps.

Dakota Digital LED Tail Lamps

Part # LAT-NR350 Includes:

  • 2 LED modules w/socket
  • 2 Clear diffuser lenses
  • 1 Adhesive stick

While it’s important that your brake lamps are bright, these bulbs draw a lot of power and also generate a bit of heat on old wires, as well as inside the lamp. To put a visual to the amount of power brake lamps consume, think about how your dash lights dim when you apply the brakes – the draw on the system is quite a bit.

Adding to the list of advantages for LEDs is their power consumption – they require very little power, which in turn doesn’t generate the type of heat that an incandescent bulb generates. In a 12-volt system, an LED requires a resistor to reduce the voltage; if you connect an LED directly to your battery without a resistor, the bulb will last approximately 2 seconds – if it lasts that long. LEDs draw less than one milliamp, whereas an incandescent bulb can draw a couple of amps.

Installing the modules is as simple as replacing a bulb.

But probably the biggest advantage of LED lamp technology is that they are instantaneous. When the brake is applied, all LEDs are lit immediately, and even with a weak battery they still display at full brightness. This is particularly important to the driver behind you.

Inside the tail lamp, the incandescent bulb not only produces light on the inside of the lens, but the bulb also reflects light off of the back of the housing. That light is projected onto the inside of the lens at a wider angle than a single LED bulb, thus flooding the lamp with light.

The real benefit of LED tail lamps is that they turn on faster and brighter than incandescent bulbs. At freeway speeds, that could give the driver behind you up to 40 more feet to stop. -Greg Karpe

The Dakota Digital kit we installed uses an LED module for each lamp with 48 individual high-power LEDs aimed at the inside of the entire tail lamp lens.

To install the modules, we simply removed the tail lamp bezel by removing the four mounting screws and removed the lens and gasket. We removed the single tail lamp bulb. The harness is plugged into the bulb receptacle just like a bulb would be. The new modules are held in place on the housing with adhesive strips provided by Dakota Digital. It’s important that the housing is clean and free of debris or surface imperfections and it should be replaced if it’s rusted or damaged.

With the module in place, the included diffuser is inserted into the back side of the lens and is held in place with adhesive strips provided by Dakota Digital. The factory gasket is installed, followed by the lens and the bezel, and the four screws are installed to secure the lens and bezel.

The Diffuser inside the lens helps to remove the 48 hot spots and flood the LEDs a little more.

We spoke to Product Specialist Greg Karpe about the benefits of LED tail lamps. He said, “The real benefit of LED tail lamps is that they turn on brighter and faster than incandescent bulbs. At freeway speeds, that could give the driver behind you up to 40 more feet to stop.”

With the lights turned on, we inspected both sides, then checked to make sure the turn signals worked as well as the brake lamps. With 48 LEDs lighting up behind the lens, there’s not doubt that the lights can be seen from any angle, even if you’re not directly behind the car.

To see all of the current LED replacement tail lamp applications currently available from Dakota Digital, you can find that information on their web site. They’ve been expanding their product line regularly, but if you don’t see your car on the list, don’t hesitate to drop them a line.