The Jeep TJ is a rugged vehicle that will get you almost anywhere you want to go. But while upgrading the Jeep’s built-in headlights is a must if you’re going to be doing any offroad driving, it’s important not to overlook your TJ’s tail lights.
Rear lights are useful for backing up down narrow trails and over dark terrain, and they also make your Jeep more visible to other drivers too. Modern LED tail lights can serve as brake lights, turn signals, and reverse lights all-in-one.
While aftermarket conversion kits are a dime-a-dozen, not all of them will be compatible with every Jeep Wrangler model. In this article, we’re going to look at which options are available for the Jeep TJ and how to choose the right one for your vehicle.
Why should you upgrade your tail lights?
The Jeep Wrangler TJ was introduced in 1996 produced until 2006. It’s one of the most iconic Jeep models, with classic round headlights and rectangular tail lights.
As with all Jeep models, there’s a wide variety of aftermarket kits available for the Jeep TJ. You can upgrade your tail lights to use the latest LED technology, and choose from round or square tail lights to match other auxiliary lights on your vehicle.
But why bother upgrading them in the first place? Why not just stick with your factory lights or install pod lights or a light bar?
First, because aftermarket tail lights are nearly always going to be brighter than those that come installed from the factory. In part, that’s because most backup light kits use LED technology, rather than the weaker, less energy-efficient halogen bulbs.
LED lights can produce up to 20,000 lumens on 220 watts of power, which is twice as much as a halogen bulb can produce on the same input. In addition, LEDs produce a color temperature of around 5000k, which is as close to daylight as you can get from street legal backup lights.
All told, this means that you’ll be able to see your surroundings better, especially when you’re backing up in tight spaces or driving at night over bumpy terrain. Also, LED light shows up better on backup cameras, providing more contrast on the screen.
LED backup lights won’t make up for additional rock lights and pod lights, but they can go a long way towards illuminating your surroundings.
The second benefit to aftermarket Jeep TJ tail lights is that they can make your vehicle more visible to other drivers. Just as they provide more illumination to you when you’re in the driver’s seat, they also make it easier for other drivers to see you in return.
This is especially important when you’re on narrow dirt roads or in open offroad areas with multiple vehicles. If you have to stop suddenly to avoid a fallen tree branch or an animal in the road, your brake lights will be there to alert other drivers. Likewise, your reverse lights will turn on when you begin to back up.
This is the same job that your built-in tail lights are designed to do, but LED tail lights do it better. Why? That’s because LEDs light up instantly – several milliseconds faster than halogen bulbs – which can make a big difference when driving at high speeds.
Also, LED lights last a lot longer – up to 50,000 hours – and are designed to withstand bumpy roads and adverse weather conditions, so you don’t have to worry about them burning out or breaking, which is always a concern with halogen bulbs.
They look better
Finally, some drivers choose to upgrade their Jeep TJ tail lights for aesthetic reasons and to match other auxiliary lights on the vehicle. Choosing your own aftermarket kit gives you more options, such as round, square, or rectangular tail lights.
You can choose whether you want a surface mount light that sits over your frame and requires minimal installation, or a flush mount, which may require some drilling, but is less likely to get snagged on any tree branches or other obstacles.
For the best results, always make sure that your aftermarket kit is designed for your specific Wrangler model, since not all Jeep tail light kits will work on the TJ.
Types of Jeep TJ tail lights
There are several different types of TJ tail lights that you can choose from, depending on whether you want to stick with the factory design, or try something different.
Each style has a slightly different installation process and amount of effort, so take that into account when choosing Jeep TJ tail lights. Let’s look at each type of tail light, from the easiest to hardest installation process:
OEM fit aftermarket kits
OEM kits are designed to be installed in place of your stock units without any required upgrade. This makes for an easy “plug and play” installation that’s as simple as taking out your factory lights and replacing them with the new ones.
With this option, you get to customize the look and feel of your Jeep while still keeping the built-in housing and wiring.
This is a good option if you want to stick with the factory standard rectangular tail light design. You’ll still get all of the benefits of upgrading to LEDs, including brighter lights and more durable construction designed for offroad driving.
Round tail light conversion kit
A round tail light conversion kit is a little harder to install, but it’s useful if you want to swap out the rectangular tail lights for round lights that match your headlights.
You’ll find both surface mount tail lights that sit comfortably over your frame, or flush mount tail lights that require a bit of drilling.
One benefit to this option is that they have a slimmer profile than the built-in lights, so they’re less likely to get snagged on branches or damaged while driving.
As with most LED tail lights, these can be configured to serve as brake lights, running lights, and turn signals once you connect them to your vehicle’s wiring.
Flush mount tail lights
Another option is to install flush mount tail lights in your bumper as a supplement to your existing tail lights, rather than as a replacement.
This option will require more drilling and wiring in order to install them, but will result in a very clean design that looks like it came that way from the factory.
Why choose flush mount tail lights? One reason is to provide more illumination lower to the ground, so you can light up areas that your built-in lights don’t cover.
Factory-installed lights typically point straight behind you, but with flush mount tail lights, you can angle them toward the ground or use them as auxiliary fog lights.
How to install Jeep TJ tail lights
The installation process will vary depending on whether you’ve purchased a plug and play kit, or if you plan to get creative.
In general, you can expect to follow these three steps:
Remove your factory tail lights
First, start by removing your built-in tail lights by unscrewing the front panel and taking off the entire housing unit, with the two bulbs still attached.
Pay close attention to the wiring. In the factory design, the reverse light is on top, which may not be the case in your replacement kit. Later, you’ll have to connect the right wire to the appropriate spot on your new lighting unit.
Install and wire your lights
Depending on which replacement kit you’ve chosen, this step can vary widely, and you may need a few tools on hand, including a drill and screwdriver.
If you decide on a flush mount installation, then you’ll have to drill a hole in the frame of your vehicle for the unit to sit, as seen in this YouTube video.
If you’ve chosen a surface mount installation, then you’ll simply be screwing your new tail lights in over the frame of your vehicle, as seen in this example.
Either way, you’ll need to connect the wires properly before you attach the new lights, so they turn on and off when they’re supposed to.
Secure your new lights in place
Surface mount lights can be screwed in directly, while flush mount lights usually have a mounting plate to hold them in place and cover up the hole in the frame.
You can also purchase light guards, which are basically metal frames that protect your lights from damage. You can find these in stainless steel, chrome, and other materials, providing you with extra protection and contributing to the rugged design.
Choose the right tail lights for your Jeep
Installing aftermarket lighting kits is a rite of passage for any new Jeep owner. But with so many options on the market, it can be hard to know which ones to pick. You should always double-check that the kit you choose will be compatible with your Wrangler TJ model to ensure an easy and stress-free installation process.Remember, you can always install additional auxiliary lights, such as rock lights and fog lights, for the most comprehensive offroad lighting. If you’re not sure where to start, you can browse the options at Inspired Engineering to get some ideas. Just give us a call if you have any questions or want to know more!