The Jeep Wrangler TJ is one of the most iconic off-road vehicles. It was first introduced in 1996, and features the famous round headlights that have become a hallmark of the Jeep brand. Still, those built-in factory headlights just aren’t strong enough for off-road driving, especially at night and in other low-visibility environments.
So what should you do if you want to upgrade your Jeep TJ headlights without giving up the look and feel of that classic Jeep design? Fortunately, there are plenty of TJ headlight kits in our store that allow you to replace your front lights with higher-output alternatives. Just remember to select H4 as the electrical connection at purchase.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of your options -- both LEDs and halogen bulbs -- as well as how to install them yourself.
Why upgrade your Jeep TJ headlights?
The Jeep TJ may be designed for off-road driving, but its built-in headlights aren’t. Many drivers complain about the low output and amber color that these headlights produce.
When the Jeep TJ first entered production, halogen bulbs were the standard for vehicle headlights, and LED lights weren’t widely available for cars and trucks yet.
Now, Jeep TJ lights come in a range of different styles, including kits that take the place of your built-in headlights, and auxiliary driving lights that supplement them.
By replacing your built-in headlights with an aftermarket kit, you can choose the type of headlight that’s best suited to your situation, whether that’s street legal halo headlights, or powerful LED units designed just for off-road driving.
Not only will you have better lighting on off-road trails, but your Jeep will be more visible to other nearby vehicles -- and will look cooler too.
Types of Jeep TJ headlights
The original Jeep TJ headlights were sealed beam headlights, which means the entire unit -- the bulb and reflectors -- came as a single component. If the bulb burned out or broke, the entire unit needed to be replaced.
Modern headlights come with a bit more flexibility, both in bulb type and style.
Your first option is to stick with traditional halogen technology and upgrade to a unit with a better bulb and reflector. With this approach, you’ll retain the 3000k color temperature of the stock headlights, but will see an improvement in the output and quality of light.
This is the cheapest and easiest replacement option, but it will have the least impact on your overall lighting quality. After all, it’s still halogen, which uses a lot of battery power, and the bulb will need to be replaced if it breaks or burns out.
One perk of halogen headlights, though, is that they create so much heat, they can melt snow off of the front of your vehicle in the winter, keeping the lens clear.
Another option is to install HID, or high intensity discharge, headlights. These lights are made using Xenon gas, and come factory-installed on some types of vehicles. They’re brighter than halogen, and have a more focused beam pattern that’s useful for lighting up peripheral objects. They’re also sometimes used in halo headlights.
However, you can’t install HID headlights into the built-in housing, so you’ll need to do a complete conversion of the headlight unit if you want it to work properly. If you don’t, the HID bulb will create a lot of glare, and won’t be street legal.
Although aftermarket retrofit kits are available, it can be hard to find them for the TJ, so most drivers opt for an LED upgrade instead.
The next option, which is quickly becoming the go-to solution for Jeep TJ headlights, is to use LED technology. Not only are LED headlights brighter and easier to control than halogen bulbs, they also use far less energy and produce more lumens. Plus, they can produce a color temperature of around 5000k, which is closer to natural daylight.
LED headlights are made up of individual diodes with a long life expectancy -- up to 5 years or more -- so you don’t have to worry about them running out on you.
LED headlights for Jeeps come in a variety of styles, so you aren’t limited to standard driving lights. The most common are reflector style, which is closest in appearance to the stock headlights, and projector style, which has a more even beam pattern.
You can also choose halo headlights and color shift lights. Keep in mind that lights that flash or change colors will look great off-road, but they won’t be street legal.
LEDs are more expensive than halogen lights, but are produced with a polycarbonate lens, giving you a more focused beam of light in a durable housing unit.
One downside to LED headlights is that they don’t produce enough heat to melt ice and snow from the lens. This isn’t an issue in warmer climates, but can be a problem if you plan to drive in snowy conditions. Some units are designed in such a way that engine heat is allowed into the unit to melt any snow obstructing the lights.
Another option is to install auxiliary headlights on your Jeep to supplement your built-in headlights. For example, HID and LED driving lights are designed to boost visibility by complementing the built-in headlights rather than replacing them.
These lights can be mounted on the front grill, bumper, or windshield pillars, and can be controlled separately from your built-in headlights.
Depending on your state’s laws, you may need to cover them up when driving on paved roads, but they can be as bright as you want when driving in off-road areas.
How do you install Jeep TJ headlights?
Installing your Jeep TJ headlights is a straightforward process, especially if you’re using compatible headlights that fit in the existing housing unit.
Most kits come with all of the instructions and wiring you’ll need, and with a few tools of your own, you’ll be able to install your headlines in less than an hour.
Always follow the instructions that come with your specific kit, but as a general rule, you can expect to follow these basic steps:
1. Remove the built-in headlights
First, take the existing headlights out of their housing. On the TJ, you only need to take the ring and bezel off of the headlights, which have four screws each. Then, unplug the lights from the wiring harness, and clean out the housing unit.
(This approach only works for the TJ; to replace lights on the JK, you’ll need to remove the grill using a screwdriver in order to access the headlights.)2
2. Attach the new headlights
If you’re replacing the lights with new halogen bulbs, you’ll simply re-attach them to the wiring harness and screw the ring back into place.
If you’re installing new LED lights in your TJ, it’s just as easy: connect them to the wiring harness using the plug on the back of the light and screw them in.
One thing worth noting is that the TJ requires an H4 electrical connection, while the JK requires an H13 adapter for plugging in the lights.
We won’t get into HID conversion kits here, because they’re more difficult to install and less common than LEDs. In most cases, LEDs will be the better choice.
3. Adjust the headlights
Once you’ve installed your headlights, you’re going to need to adjust them. This makes sure you’re getting the most effective beam possible without blinding other drivers.
Find a driveway or another flat surface with at least 35 feet of space that’s facing a wall or garage door. Park your Jeep close to the wall and leave the headlights on. Use tape to mark the shape of a cross or a T in the center of each beam where it hits the wall.
Back the Jeep up so that it’s 25 feet away from the wall and see where the beam lands now. The low beams should be below the center line of each cross, and the high beams should be right in the center of each cross. If you’re having trouble, try covering up one headlight at a time so you can see each beam clearly.
Then, use the notches in the headlight bezel to adjust the headlights. You’ll need a tiny screwdriver such as a Torx T15 to turn the adjusters. One of the bolts adjusts the light vertically and the other adjusts it horizontally.
It’s a little tedious, but keep trying until you get it to line up right. Once the beams are lined up properly, you’re ready to take your Jeep on the road!
What are the best Jeep TJ headlights for your vehicle?
Headlight technology has come a long way since the Jeep TJ was first introduced, and luckily for Jeep owners, the market has kept up with it. You’ll find a wide range of lights designed specifically for the TJ, and for its follow-up, the Wrangler JK.
The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing an aftermarket kit is to make sure that it’s compatible with your vehicle. This will ensure that you retain the look and feel of the circular Jeep TJ headlights while improving visibility and safety.
You can browse the lights at Inspired Engineering to find out what options are available for your Jeep. If you have any questions, just give us a call and we’ll help you out!