Last updated on April 15th, 2021 at 10:47 pm

Lighting an older or vintage RV with LED lights used to be expensive and difficult. Often, the results were less than ideal. Many of the older LED conversions result in dim lighting that causes weird distortions to the colors of things, a particular annoyance when cooking.

Technology has come a long way in the last several years. Today, the average RVer can replace the tacky, ugly incandescent under cabinet lights with LED strips on a budget. There are many pluses to using LED lighting in a motorhome, but selecting the right product and installing it correctly is essential.

Lighting It Up With Less

The biggest reason to run LED lights in an RV is to reduce the amount of power used, thereby extending the time between running the generator. LED lights require far less wattage to illuminate than any other light. They last tremendously longer too. Some LED strips are rated for 25,000 hours. LEDs are tiny diodes rather than bulbs.

LED light strips are constructed from flexible circuit board and come in a roll that’s cut-to-fit. The diodes are wired directly into the flexible strip. Indicators show where to cut the strip. All that is needed is scissors.

Installation is easy and can be done by the average person. All it takes is a little know-how, the right parts, and about an afternoon of time.

Not all LED lights are created the same though, and picking the right lights can be daunting. Price points range from very little to OMG, and it can be quite difficult to uncover the difference between brands.

Buying Tips

There are a few main things to look at when considering LED strip lights for your RV. RV owners should consider how much light they currently have and how they want to improve it. A good understanding of the wiring in an RV is helpful, as is a proper wiring diagram. Most incandescent lights are advertised by wattage, while LEDs are typically advertised by lumens.

Good quality LED light strips will have a white circuit board strip. Avoid brands that do not apply this coating. The light emitted will be inferior and is likely to cause weird, unpredictable effects, such as muted colors. The white coating helps to reflect the emitted light and gives it a cleaner color.

Look for LED strips that have a high number of diodes per foot. Many of the strips on the market advertise 30 LEDs per foot. While this will work, the light will be inconsistent and will show bright and dark spots.

Of course, more diodes per foot means more money. The diodes are the most expensive part of the strip light to manufacture. The newest light strips on the market feature an astounding 120 diodes per foot. These strips produce the most pure, unbroken light source and often look the best in motorhomes where the light is largely confined.

There are lots of different styles and colors of LED strip lights on the market today. Some are cool or warm white, others are red/green/blue. Some are even remote control. For most automotive use, a waterproof LED strip is recommended.

LED strip lights for RVs will require a 12 volt DC dimming switch specifically intended to handle LED lights. These usually run around $35. Some of the newer LED strip light systems are also networkable so they can be controlled by a cell phone, tablet, or other wireless device. These systems can even be wired to turn on and off at certain times of day and can change the lighting based on the music. Of course, this only works when you have an internet signal, so some of those boondocking trips are likely to be sans light show.

Simple Installation Instructions

Tools

  • Voltmeter
  • Scissors
  • Wire Cutters
  • Twist-type Wiring Caps
  • Measuring Tape
  • Screwdrivers and other hand tools per vehicle requirements

Supplies

Your choice of LED strip lights like THESE from Waveform Lighting
Strip light-to-wiring connectors like THESE on Amazon

Steps for Installing

Make sure the power is disconnected and the switch is off before working on electrical systems.

Remove the incandescent light lens and bulb. Remove the ballast cover exposing the internal wiring and the ballast.

Reconnect power and switch the light on. Using the voltmeter, identify which wire is the 12 volt positive. It is typically a white or red wire. Once you have identified the proper wire, switch off and disconnect the power for safety.

Cut the wires from the ballast, leaving several inches free if possible. Strip the ends of the wires.
Measure the length of strip LED lighting you are going to use and cut at the appropriate marks. The connector will snap onto the end of the strip light. Twist the 12 volt positive wire running to the old light onto the power lead from the connector and secure with a twist-type terminal connector. It is good practice to wrap these terminal connectors in electrical tape to prevent them from vibrating loose. Alternatively, for a more secure connection, use a soldering iron to connect the wires and wrap in shrink wrap or electrical tape.

The remaining wire will connect to the ground wire that ran to the old light. Similarly, use a terminal connector or solder the wires securely together.

It is a good idea to replace the switch with one intended for LED lighting. Adding a dimmer is easy and cheap. The switch will usually include wiring instructions.

Reconnect the power and make sure the lights work. If they do, great. If not, check the connections to make sure they are tight. Loose power wires are dangerous and can cause fires, while loose grounds cause electrical gremlins.

Replace the ballast cover after tucking the wiring out of the way. Make sure wires are not crimped or crushed when reinstalling the ballast cover.

Most LED light strips have a self-adhesive backing. In most light housings, this tape will work fine to hold the lightweight strip in place. LED lights produce far less heat than incandescent lights, but the adhesive will eventually fail. Double-sided foam tape is a great way to get LED strip lights to stick without being completely permanent.

Running more than one strip in a housing is ideal for getting more light. To run more than one strip, simply connect the leads from the connectors together, then the RV wiring.

Final Thoughts

RVs are easy places to use LED lighting. The low power demands and excellent light coverage are significant improvements over the old style incandescent. Lower temperature and less draw significantly improve an older motorhome.

LED strip lighting is very versatile. It can be used along borders, under counters, along the edge of steps, and many other places. The strip kits in colors can add a sense of adventure to even a basic trip. Waterproof strip lighting can be used outside and is an excellent touch to metal steps.

LED lights can be installed in virtually any vehicle easily. Make sure to check local laws before using LED strip lights in a moving car or truck. Using strip lights to illuminate the curves of a vehicles interior is a great way to get attention at those evening car shows, though.