Interior lighting in cars has come a long way from the mundane white dome light. LED lighting has opened up a host of ways for designers to create a sophisticated ambiance. You’ll find it incorporated into footwells, doors and the dashboard, often with a range of driver-selectable colors.
But what if you can’t afford a new luxury or near-luxury vehicle? Is there a way to add customizable LED lighting to the car you drive now?
Well yes there is. That’s the purpose of LED light strips. Here we’ll explain what these are and what they do. We’ll address the features to look for and then we’ll review one of the more popular LED strips on the market, the 72 LED kit from Minger.
- An LED light strip primer
- When you want it
- How to choose
- Minger 72 LED car strip light review
An LED light strip primer
LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, to give them their full name, are more like transistors than regular lightbulbs. Made from specially-engineered silicon, they give out light when electricity is applied.
Depending on the characteristics of the silicon that light will be a specific color. So you can have red LEDs, green LEDs and so on. The one color you can’t have is white. That’s because white light is made up of all the colors. White LEDs are actually blue LEDs with a special coating that gives off white light.
LED’s have several advantages over the old incandescent lightbulbs: they’re smaller, use less energy, don’t get very hot, are more-or-less immune to vibration and last a very long time. And as manufacturing volumes have grown, they’ve become very inexpensive.
An LED light strip consists of a number of LEDS mounted on a circuit board. Typically this is placed inside a housing to protect it from damage. The light strip kits used in car interiors are made up of several individual strips wired in series. That means there's only one electrical connection to make. Alternatively, you can buy single strips, each of which then needs wiring in to the vehicle’s electrical system.
Two products similar to LED light strips are LED tubes or tube lighting and LED tape. The tubes are flexible so can be bent to whatever shape you need. LED tube lighting is generally more expensive than strip, and may not give out as much light.
LED tape is used for undercabinet lighting. It’s easily applied but has no protection so should only be used where it won’t be exposed to knocks.
When you want it
LED strip lighting will give the interior of your car a unique appearance – at night of course! Footwells bathed in a soft glow add a touch of luxury and let you express your personality and mood. While you could, theoretically at least, put a colored bulb in the dome light housing, with LEDs you’re free to choose whatever color you want and change it at will.
Some car enthusiasts will want to use LEDs to light up the engine bay or create a glow under their vehicle. Both are possible but it’s important to buy lighting products that are designed for those applications. Any lights fitted to the underside of your car must be well protected against water. Those going under the hood should resist elevated temperatures.
How to choose
Having decided you’d like to add LED strip lights to your car, there are four main points to consider:
- Ease of installation
- Color options
- Type of controller
Ease of installation
LED strip lights need a12V electrical supply. For most products that means running wires from the fusebox to each strip. (Or if the strips are wired in series, to the first strip.) You’ll also need to provide a ground. This isn’t a difficult job if you’re familiar with vehicle electrical systems. If you’re not, or you don’t want to make the installation permanent, look for the type that plug in to the electrical outlet. (That’s what we used to call the cigarette lighter.)
You should also consider where and how the strips will be fixed in place. Most people will want one per footwell. In that case fit the front strips under the dashboard and the ones for the back under the front seats. Double-sided tape makes it easy to secure the strips in place and avoids the need to drill holes. Alternatively, you may wish to use zip or cable ties.
Don’t forget that you’ll want to tuck the wires away out of sight. That usually entails loosening or removing some of the plastic trim and/or carpet along the bottom of the doors and between the seats.
As the point is to customize the nighttime appearance of your car, look for strips with a wide range of colors. Look also for the ability to mix or blend those colors so you can create any shade you want.
Type of controller
Many strip light kits come with a controller that lets you create different effects. Some even “listen” to your music and respond by synchronizing how the lights pulse or change color. Three types of controller are used: hardwired into the connecting cables, remote, (which, like a TV remote, needs a battery,) or cellphone app. This last type uses a Bluetooth connection.
There are three aspects to this: the size of the LED strips, the number of LEDs in the strips, and the length of wire between each strip.
Longer strips need more space so will pose more of a challenge to mount. Against that though, longer strips have room for more LED’s and more LEDs means brighter light. Wire length is important too, because longer gives you more mounting flexibility.
Minger 72 LED car strip light review
The Minger car LED strip light kit is designed for easy installation with no wiring needed. It provides a huge range of possible colors and several effects including music synchronization.
The kit consists of four LED strip lights, each containing 18 LEDs for a total of 72. The seven colors can be mixed and blended to produce a virtually limitless range of shades. Unlike more expensive strip light kits, there’s no separate remote or app. Instead, the lights are worked from a controller incorporated into the wiring.
One of the great features of this unit is the ability to control the lights via an app on your phone. With the app, you can remotely change the color, brightness and mode.
Note that this is an update to their earlier 48 LED strip kit.
Each LED strip is just under 12” long. (The previous version had strips 8.7” long.) Wire length between each LED strip is 5’3”, 2’3” and 5’3”. That allows a front-to-back, then across and back-to-front installation.
The strips include green, blue, amber (yellow), light blue, red, white and purple LEDs. The controller allows mixing and blending to create 16 million possible combinations. Usefully, the controller remembers the setting you’d established last time. That means no fiddling around to get it back to how you like it each time you start your car.
One point to note about the colors: all four strips will display the same. It’s not possible to set a different color on each strip.
The controller for these lights provides three functions: mode and brightness, on-off and looping. It also has a high-sensitivity microphone that “listens” to your music and pulses the lights to match. (Or that’s what the product description says. Some users were less than impressed with this aspect.)
As it’s wired-in to the kit there’s no need for batteries. You’re also not draining your cellphone battery with a Bluetooth-connected app.
Unlike other kits that need wiring-in, the Minger 72 LED kit plugs straight into the 12V electrical outlet, (a.k.a. cigarette lighter.) Usefully, the plug includes an indicator light, a power switch and a fuse.
The LED strips are secured in place with double-sided adhesive tape. That means no drilling and easy removal if or when you decide to sell the car.
To install these lights just position them where you want them. (Under the front seats is a suggested location.) Hide the wire behind the carpet or plastic trim and plug it into the electrical outlet. Use the double-sided tape to fix the strips in place and you’re good to go.
Once you have them plugged in, simply press the red button on the cigarette outlet, and hit the power button on the controller. Here's a few of the colors we tested out in our car to give you an idea of what they'll look like. Please excuse any poor wiring as this was done for demonstration purposes only!
LED strip lights are a great way to dress up the interior of your car. The soft glow adds a touch of class and lets you express your personality. There are a lot of options on the market and price and performance vary considerably. The 72 LED Minger strip lights are an inexpensive solution and easy to install, but use the information in this review to find the right LED light strips for you.
If you're interested in buying one of the products, check out the comparison below of prices from the leading vendors:
1 new from $17.99
You can also find our list of Best OBD2 Scanners here: https://www.caraudionow.com/best-obd2-scanners-and-readers/