There’s no denying that the Jeep is one of the most popular off-road vehicles in the U.S. From classic models like the Wrangler TJ to recent models like the JK and JT, the Jeep is designed for rugged terrain and backcountry driving.
With its iconic circular headlights and rear spare tire mount, the Jeep looks great in any environment, and has the four-wheel drive you need to get you there.
But if there’s one area where the Jeep comes up short, it’s lighting. The built-in factory headlights just aren’t powerful enough for remote areas and low lighting conditions.
If you’re heading off-road, then you’re going to want to boost your visibility with auxiliary lights that can replace or supplement the headlights that come with your Jeep.
Fortunately, there’s an entire industry devoted to aftermarket lighting kits for the Jeep, helping you get the upgrade you need with just a little DIY effort on your part.
From LED pod lights to halo headlights, let’s take a look at everything you need to know about choosing and installing custom headlights on your Jeep.
Why do you need to upgrade the lights on your Jeep?
First, why bother with upgrading your Jeep’s headlights? Aren’t the built-in factory lights good enough? The short answer is no. Older Jeeps have headlights made with halogen bulbs, which aren't as bright and powerful as modern LED headlights.
But even the newer models like the Sahara and Rubicon with LED projector headlights have some shortcomings. Don’t take our word for it: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the 2019 Jeep Wrangler headlights an overall rating of “Poor”.
For a vehicle that otherwise has a Good or Superior safety rating, you would think they could do something about those lights!
The good news is that this frees you up to get creative, so you can install lights that not improve the safety of your vehicle but add some visual flair to your Jeep’s exterior.
Upgrading your headlights is a must for off-road driving, especially if you plan to drive on any narrow trails or wide-open terrain at high-speed.
You can use a flood or spot beam to illuminate the path in front of you, and install rock lights and backup lights to increase visibility all around.
What lighting technology is available for Jeeps?
Before we go any further, let’s get one thing out of the way. Should you install halogen bulbs, LEDs, or something else altogether?
If you’re replacing built-in headlights, then halogen bulbs might seem like the easiest option. After all, models like the TJ come with halogen bulbs built-in, so you can just replace the lights with more powerful bulbs for a cheap, easy upgrade.
But since you can just as easily swap out your halogen bulbs for LEDs and plug them into the same housing, you might as well spring for LEDs.
LEDs cost more up-front, but they’ll save you money over the long term because they last for years and don’t need to be replaced unless they break.
Halogen bulbs use a lot of power, so they can drain your battery more quickly, and they have a color temperature of around 3000k, producing a yellowish glow. LEDs are more versatile, because they’re made of many tiny diodes that can turn on and off instantly, giving you more control over the placement and even the color of your lights.
There’s a third option that you’ll find available for some Jeeps: high intensity discharge, or HID lights. HID lights use Xenon gas to produce a bright, even glow that’s especially popular in the design of halo headlights.
HID headlights are harder to install, and they require a full conversion in order to work properly, so you can’t just use them in place of built-in halogen headlights. Aftermarket conversion kits do exist, but they can be hard to find, especially for the Wrangler TJ.
Finally, there are neon lights, which are primarily used for decorative purposes, such as for underglow lighting, because of their bright, vivid colors. They’re made of tubes filled with neon gas, so they’re pretty fragile, and don’t take well to off-road driving.
If you’re interested in the appearance of neon lights without the disadvantages, then you can purchase LED strip and tube lights that are designed to look just like neon.
Types of Jeep lights
Now that we’ve looked at some of the lighting technology behind Jeep headlights and other off-road lights, it’s time to decide where to install them. If you’re driving off-road, then you aren’t limited to street legal lighting, so you can feel free to get creative.
In addition to standard headlights and tail lights, you can choose from light bars, pod mounts, rock lights, and more, in a variety of styles and beam patterns.
We’ve already seen how you can replace your built-in headlights with more powerful halogen bulbs or with an aftermarket LED upgrade. What else do you need to know about headlights before deciding on a replacement kit for your Jeep?
Reflector vs projector
Most vehicle headlights are made with either a projector or reflector design. Reflector headlights have been the standard for decades, and you can recognize them by their open design with high output and a relatively dispersed beam pattern.
Projector headlights have a more modern appearance, with a lens that focuses the light to create a more even beam pattern. If your Jeep has reflector headlights built-in, then replacing them with projectors can be an easy way to improve the lighting quality.
Another option is the halo headlight, which has a distinctive ring-like pattern. This type of headlight uses a projector headlight design with either a halogen bulb or LEDs.
Halo headlights are popular on Jeeps, because they retain the classic round headlight design, while adding a unique visual element that makes your vehicle stand out.
Halo headlights can be connected to your running lights and turn signals to provide an all-in-one lighting unit. Some LED halos even come with multiple color options.
Jeep backup lights
Backup lights are another great addition to your Jeep. While bright reverse lights are a must for any vehicle, they’re especially important when driving off-road.
Whether you’re backing up down a narrow trail, or racing over bumpy terrain in the dark, backup lights provide additional illumination so you can see where you’re going, and so other cars or people in the area can see you too.
As with headlights, backup lights come in a few different styles, including aftermarket kits that replace your built-in tail lights, and auxiliary pod lights that can be installed in your bumper, your hitch, or elsewhere on the back of your vehicle.
LED pod lights and lightbars
LED lights come in an almost limitless variety. In addition to upgrading your headlights, you can boost your vehicle’s visibility with LED light bars and pods. These lights can be mounted on the bumper, roof, pillar or grille of your vehicle.
The most useful thing about pod lights is that they’re small and versatile, so it’s easy to adjust the angle or beam pattern, or even move them to another spot.
The simplest type of installation uses a bracket or cradle to mount one or more pods on the front bumper or pillar of your Jeep.
If you want a cleaner look, you can go for a flush mount installation instead. This usually involves drilling a space for the lights in your bumper, but it means there are fewer parts jutting out of the frame of your car that could snag on rocks or branches.
Pod lights are available in multiple beam patterns, including flood lights, spot lights, and combination beams, and produce anywhere from 1,000 lumens to 10,000 or more.
High-quality pod lights are durable and waterproof, and have a long life expectancy, but aren’t suitable for driving on paved roads.
Jeep rock lights
The last category of Jeep lights that we’ll look at includes rock lights and other types of underglow lighting. Rock lights are similar to LED pod lights, except they’re specifically designed for use on the underbelly of your car.
Rock lights are ideal for off-road areas with bumpy terrain and other roadside hazards. Because you can install them below your vehicle, and even tuck them into the wheel well, they illuminate the area around your tires that other lights don’t cover.
Rock lights are not only practical, they’re also popular for their visual appearance. Just like neon underglow lights and LED tube lights, rock lights are available in a variety of styles and colors, and some can even be controlled via Bluetooth.
The most advanced rock lights use RGB technology to produce multiple colors from a set of red, blue and green diodes, and can flash in sync to your music. They’re a great way to illuminate your campsite once you reach your destination!
Which Jeep lights should you choose?
Installing new Jeep lights can either be a one-time fix or a long-term project. Some Jeep owners are happy upgrading their headlights and tail lights, while others keep adding on new pod lights until they get the perfect fit.
Most of the kits that you’ll find on the market included detailed instructions on installing your lights, so it’s an easy DIY project, even if you’ve never done it before.
If you have any questions, or just want to double-check that a specific kit is compatible with your Jeep, give us a call at Inspired Engineering and we’ll help you out!