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Author Topic:   LED Trailer Lamps
renee posted 09-19-2009 05:12 PM ET (US)   Profile for renee   Send Email to renee  
I installed LED lamps on our trailer about eight months ago. I was in a hurry, and didn't really wire things very well. Now only some of the LED in the lamps light up. Is it likely that my inferior wiring has shorted some of the lamps, and now they need to be replaced? The lamps are submerged every launch.
jimh posted 09-19-2009 05:18 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Rather than speculate about the current condition of your LED lamps, just test them to see if they work. Use a 12-volt battery and apply voltage to each lamp assembly. If it works, it's good.

I cannot envision a wiring problem which would cause damage to the lamps themselves.

renee posted 09-19-2009 06:04 PM ET (US)     Profile for renee  Send Email to renee     
What else would cause this? It's happening on both sides.
Jefecinco posted 09-19-2009 06:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Early failure of some lamps within a cluster is normally associated with lower quality of the lamp clusters. If the issue is caused by wiring the expectation is that all the lamps within a cluster would be affected.

Butch

renee posted 09-19-2009 06:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for renee  Send Email to renee     
Out of several LED's only two will light on the right side, and almost all are lit on the left side. Unless bulbs have shorted, why would they fail this way?
renee posted 09-19-2009 06:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for renee  Send Email to renee     
Thanks Jefecinco. That is the only thing that makes sense to me. I'm going nuts trying to figure out what's going on. I replaced the side ambers today, and they work fine. I ran new wire to the tail lamps, and the above comments were the result. I do think that 8 months is a pretty short longevity. Do you have any suggestions for a good, submersible, LED lamp?
jimh posted 09-19-2009 07:54 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Yes, I agree, eight months is a short life span for those expensive LED lamps. I got about 16 years of use out of the incandescent lamps in my trailer lighting. I do not drive that often at night, and the lights are not illuminated that often. Also, I think miniature electric light bulbs were better made 16 years ago. Today's incandescent lamps are all made in China and last about two weeks.
jmorgan40 posted 09-20-2009 08:59 AM ET (US)     Profile for jmorgan40  Send Email to jmorgan40     
Renee,
I just had the same [failures] with my LED lamps. Only difference is that the Left lamp unit was just replaced with a different brand several months ago after I backed it into a curb and smashed it. We just returned from a trip to Florida last week. I noticed on a safety walk around on the return trip that the right tail lamp only had 3 LED's lit out of 12. I am guessing it was premature failure. Mine was installed about 3 years ago. I do notice that the replacement lamp on the left I installed several months ago is much brighter and made better.
jimh posted 09-20-2009 10:10 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
When the LED was initially developed, one of the benefits claimed was very long life span, almost infinite. It appears that the present LED trailer light products are not delivering on that promise. It must be frustrating to have three-quarters of the LED's in a lamp assembly burn out so soon after installation. And replacing the whole lamp assembly means re-wiring it, which sounds like more work that just putting in a new miniature incandescent electric light bulb.

I have been admiring the extra brightness and light output from the LED trailer lamp assemblies I have seen on the shelf at my local dealer, where there is a demonstration display in which you can power on the lamp. When you hit the switch you are almost blinded by the light coming from the LED lamp assembly. They are quite bright compared to the 7-watt incandescent lamp you normally have as the light source for tail lamps. On the other hand, the 7-watt incandescent lamp meets the DOT specifications for lighting, lasts a long time, and is very easy and inexpensive to replace, if necessary. These reports have me inclined to stick with my incandescent trailer lighting for a while longer.

Jefecinco posted 09-20-2009 11:44 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Renee,

I've enjoyed excellent performance with the LED tail lamps on my trailer. I installed them two years ago after the third failure of a set of so called waterproof tail lamps.

I do not disconnect the trailer lamps when launching and retrieving my Whaler. It is too inconvenient because the reverse brake lock out solenoid connection is part of the harness. The trailer is used in salt and brackish water.

I do not remember the brand of LED lamps but they were bought at Wal-Mart for $48.84 for the pair. The stock number was 004446497600.

If you replace your LED lamps it may be useful to place a little silicon sealant around the portion of the lamps where the wires penetrate the housing.

Butch

renee posted 09-20-2009 01:14 PM ET (US)     Profile for renee  Send Email to renee     
Thanks so much for all of the input. I really appreciate the stock number. I figured buying mine at Boater's World would yield a better product. I was wrong on that one! I'm off to Wal Mart. Tight lines my friends.
Buckda posted 09-21-2009 12:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
While I don't believe it is the case here, there has been some anecdotal reports about manufacturers of LED's (not specifically for trailer lighting purposes) engineering some "planned obselescence" into the design.

It is not difficult to understand why and how this might affect trailer lamps offered for retail sale to end customers.

As with most retail sale items, price is a major driving factor in whether a product moves off the shelves.

Given that each company has set needs for profit margins on their various products, it is easy to see how they could undertake a variety of manufacturing routes that might limit the longevity of LED lamps.

The first is a planful approach. As JimH mentions, LED's have a lot of potential to have a very, very long lifespan. But do you need infinite hours of illumination on a trailer lamp? No - there must be some kind of formula for how many miles are driven on recreational trailers each year, and accordingly, how many hours of illumination are required for that duty.

Also - the housing in which the LED is located plays a role in longevity - the presence of heat (poor thermal insulation) and water or other corroding factors (such as salt-water and briny road-wash from salt-treated roadways in the winter) all play a role and can limit the life of the LED.

Finally, another selling factor for LED's is brightness. It is easy to "overdrive" a LED to make it brighter - but that also reduces the longevity of the diode. I can see how a company might use a lower-rated diode and drive it with the 12V to make the product appear very bright - but also decreasing the life of the LED.

My opinion on the matter is that if you are using LED's on your boat trailer, it is important that you not be driven by cost alone in your purchase decision - look at the robustness of the design, and be sure to protect your investment by spending time and using the proper materials to make water-tight connections and maintaining the charging current and the connections from your tow vehicle.

Buckda posted 09-21-2009 12:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
One other thing - look for LED fixtures that have many LED's in them. The longest-lasting LED fixtures have many LED's - think of the LED taillights on Cadillacs, and the LED fixtures on traffic lights - lots of closely spaced LED's.

Some trailer LED fixtures have a cluster of 5 or 6 bulbs. Better to get one with 20 bulbs that are burning at lower voltage than 5 that are burning at higher voltage.

padrefigure posted 09-22-2009 09:41 AM ET (US)     Profile for padrefigure  Send Email to padrefigure     
While the argument for more LED's being more reliable than fewer LED's seems logical, it is not accurate. LED life is determined by the seal temperature of the diode. This is affected by the operating current and quality of the diode chip and ambient condition. Hot, wet, corrosive conditions are not kind to electrical circuits. With that said, I too have seen poor life from LED trailer lamps. I like the LED units because they are much brighter than the old incandescent lights and I conclude this makes them safer. I need keep a spare set in my shop and when several of the LED's fail, I swap out the units and return them for replacement under the warranty. I can do this in about 30 minutes, so it is not much different than any other routine maintenance item on a boat. I know LED's should last longer, but until they do, I will just keep swapping to take advantage of the better performance.
davej14 posted 09-22-2009 10:06 AM ET (US)     Profile for davej14  Send Email to davej14     
There are many design considerations when making an LED lighting fixture. First and foremost are to properly handle heat dissipation and drive current. If properly designed an LED will have a lifetime of 50,000 hours, defined as the point when the light output drops to 50% of its initial brightness. This is not as bad as it sounds since the human eye has a hard time distinguishing less than a 50% change.

Although LEDs are much more efficient than incandescent lamps, about 70% of their energy usage is dissipated in heat. Advances in technology continuously make smaller and less costly die possible. The design of a fixture that will keeping the LED chips operating below their maximum thermal limit becomes more problematic as the heat is concentrated in a smaller area.

Driving the high brightness chips properly requires an IC that will limit current based upon the temperature of the die. In the "old" days it was sufficient to put an LED string in series with a resistor to light them up. This is no longer the case.

The fixture design needs to keep moisture away from the LEDs. Surface mount packages are NOT hermetic and are not rated for operation in a condensing ambient condition. The conduction path to the chip is via a gold or aluminum wire about the diameter of a human hair. The current path can easily be compromised by moisture.

The main advantage of LEDs in the automobile market are a savings in weight, energy efficiency and turn on time. While the first two are obvious, the nearly instant "on" aspect of an LED will provide some benefit for accident avoidance when milliseconds matter. The point source nature of the individual LEDs are also more visible than the general lighting of a single incandescent bulb.

The quantity of LEDs in a fixture has nothing to do with its reliability. In fact, a case could be made that more connections equates to lower reliability.

As with all things in life, you mostly get what you pay for.

17 bodega posted 09-22-2009 10:52 AM ET (US)     Profile for 17 bodega  Send Email to 17 bodega     
I bought some West Marine brand LED lamps a while back which did the same thing. Upon dunking the lampss while still plugged in (accidentally) some of the individual LED's didn't light up. Unlike your report, I had used shrink tubing and tinned marine grade wire.

I have since gone back light bulbs and use DRY LAUNCH tail lights for my trailer. So far I love them, even though they are brand new. I stil use the LED marker lights on the fenders and they seem to be working ok.

hauptjm posted 09-28-2009 11:05 PM ET (US)     Profile for hauptjm    
From my experience, I wouldn't use anything but LED's. My one-month-old, shiny, new trailer with LED lamps spent almost 30 days under salt water in front of my home in New Orleans after Katrina hit. When the waters receded, I hooked up my trailer and drove away with every lamp operating perfectly. Fast forward to today (four years later) and they all still work fine.

Another interesting point: my hubs are the oil-bath type, not traditional grease/bearing buddy type. They too saturated for this same period under salt water and have since traveled well over 2,000 miles to various destinations and have operated flawlessly. Another must on whatever trailer I will own in the future.

jimh posted 09-29-2009 08:40 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
It seems from these reports that the life expectancy of an LED trailer lamp is quite variable. In order to help differentiate the LED trailer lamps which have a long life from the LED trailer lamps which have a short life, it would be useful to know the brand name of the LED trailer lamps.
Jefecinco posted 10-01-2009 10:12 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Jim,

Based on your recommendation I've been able to get some better identification of the LED tail lamps with which I've had such good luck. As mentioned, they were purchased at WalMart about two years ago.

They are manufactured by Peterson Manufacturing Company which has a good web site. The URL is:

pmlightsco.com/products.cfm?cId=1&fId=62

The lights I installed are the model 941 in the picture. They have a limited lifetime warranty and are rated for 100,000 hours.

Butch

hauptjm posted 10-01-2009 06:09 PM ET (US)     Profile for hauptjm    
Butch,

I'll have to check mine as well, but I'm impressed with the PM brand lights. They are the OEM lighting for Harley-Davidson, Caterpillar and John Deere.

swist posted 10-10-2009 08:40 AM ET (US)     Profile for swist  Send Email to swist     
Most commonly-available off-the-shelf trailer electrical components don't have a history of good quality. In particular those "complete wiring kits" usually have substandard wire, really bad connectors, and cheaply constructed fixtures. I suspect most trailer electrical components get replaced a lot.

Just because the lamp technology is changed from incandescent to LED, I don't see any reason why this would cause these things to get built better. They already charge more for the LED versions, and while you would think there would be a market for robust trailer electrical components, I've always had trouble finding them.

jimh posted 10-10-2009 09:38 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
In my normal everyday driving I have noticed that virtually all new vehicles are now equipped with tail lamps that use LEDs. On this basis I have concluded that the technology of making a tail lamp from an LED must have evolved to the point where the life expectancy will be greater than eight months, that is, the life span of the LED tail lamps mentioned in the initial discussion here. Automobile manufacturers would not be using LED tail lamps unless they had proven themselves to be durable and have a life span similar to the incandescent lamps previously used, which, as I noted earlier, can last for decades in the sort of infrequent use given a boat trailer.

However, based on the narratives given here, it appears that the LED tail lamp assemblies sold as after market kits for re-fit on boat trailers may not be as well designed as those used on OEM automobile tail lamps. The durability of the LED lamp assemblies following immersion in water may be the weak link.

Light output from a light-emitting diode (LED) is generally proportional to current flow through the diode. I suspect that the life span of the diode is also inversely proportional to current flow. LED tail lamp assemblies which are very bright and are emitting light at high intensities may not have a life span as long as other LED devices which operate at lower current.

Tom Hemphill posted 10-10-2009 08:51 PM ET (US)     Profile for Tom Hemphill    
After two seasons, my Optronics LED trailer lights have burnt out LEDs. Each tail light has 12 LEDs; nine are burnt out on one and three on the other. The manufacturer claims that their LED lighting products are covered under a lifetime warranty, so I'll need to investigate that further.
Jefecinco posted 10-11-2009 10:42 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Tom,

What is the seasonal usage of your trailer? Unless it's very high you're certainly not getting your money's worth from the Optronics.

If they fail to honor the lifetime warranty I recommend you consider Peterson for your replacements. I posted a link to the web site in this thread a few posts ago (10-01 @ 6:09 PM).

I hope you have a good result with Optronics.

Butch

Jefecinco posted 10-11-2009 10:44 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Tom,

Correction to the above: I posted a URL to the Peterson web site not a link. Sorry.

Butch

Tom Hemphill posted 10-16-2009 05:39 PM ET (US)     Profile for Tom Hemphill    
In the past two years, my Optronics LED trailer lights haven't worked very hard. I would estimate 20 hours of use each year. More freshwater use than saltwater, but for waterproof lights, it shouldn't make a difference.

By calling the toll-free phone number given on the Optronics web site, I was able to request replacements due to LED failures. They asked me to send them the defective lights, or photographs showing the problem. I chose to e-mail photos, and they promptly replied to say replacements had been ordered and should arrive next week.

Tom Hemphill posted 10-25-2009 07:36 AM ET (US)     Profile for Tom Hemphill    
My Optronics trailer tail lights were replaced under warranty. The replacements arrived Friday and I installed them Saturday. I disassembled the old ones and saw that the LEDs are mounted on a printed circuit board which is entirely encapsulated in what looks like clear resin. I don't see any evidence of water intrusion or corrosion.
Jefecinco posted 10-25-2009 11:05 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Tom,

That's an interesting result that the PC board appeared to be good. If your new lamps are working properly I have to conclude that Optronics must have received a bad batch of LEDs.

I suspect that your replacements will provide satisfactory service. Now that I've been using LED trailer lights for two plus years I'll never go back to incandescent bulbs. My LED lights have been literally "install and forget" items.

Butch

Scott Grey posted 10-28-2009 05:23 PM ET (US)     Profile for Scott Grey  Send Email to Scott Grey     
Replace existing bulbs or L.E.D.'s with L.E.D. guide post lights. I have had all the different types and the guide type work the best because they are not in the water. I have had these for 2 years now without a hitch. Hope this helps.
simonmeridew posted 11-01-2009 08:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for simonmeridew  Send Email to simonmeridew     
Based on my experience with LED trailer lights they are very susceptible to moisture intrusion due to cracking of very weak cases. The installation directions even indicated not to "overtighten" whatever that is with no torque figures provided, the mounting nuts. Any overtighting will differentially shift or cant the case which will crack the thin cheap plastic. I have put brand new LED lights on my trailer, driven 900 miles to North Carolina through heavy rain and had most of the LEDs out and water splashing around inside the case when I got there.

I'll ask the same question I asked somewhat hypothetically several years ago on this forum. Why do trailer lights fail predictably and quickly, LED and incandescent, but with other vehicles like cars, suvs,tractor trailers, lights do not fail with regularity. The answer back then mentioned salt water,and mounted low to the ground and vibration as reasons.

I think the DOT which approves trailer and vehicle lights must have different regulations for passenger vehicles, and trailers, and they allow shoddy fixtures and poorly protected and easily corroded connections to be sold and installed in trailers.

just my opinion
simonmeridew

Jefecinco posted 11-02-2009 08:47 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Simon,

If your LED tail lights have water inside after driving in rain they are of very inferior quality.

Good LED tail lights such as those made in the USA by Peterson Manufacturing (mentioned earlier in the thread) in my experience are of excellent quality and last a good while.

The boat trailer lights from Peterson cost about $50 a pair. Peterson lights are used on trucks, trailers, farm tractors, motorcycles and who knows what else.

I imagine the DOT requirements are the same but I have not read them. I doubt DOT specs discuss robustness of construction or required durability. More likely they speak to visibility distances under different conditions and colors of lenses or bulbs.

Butch

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