Switching car bulbs over to LEDs

Whether you are a member of the proletariat or frugal minded or a frugal minded member of the proletariat, a car can be a tremendous convenience in all aspects of life. Many in our shoes who drive, drives an old car with the hope of keeping it around until one can buy something newer and better. In my case, I’ve never daily driven a car that wasn’t at least 12 years old. On average the cars that I’ve daily driven were about 17 years old. And I have only driven Toyota Corollas (four!), except for three instances, because although they were bland they were that good in all the things they really matter: decent ride, ease of maintenance, fuel economy, good depreciation, reliability, safety, and a wide selection of parts. The Mazda we had was found lacking in some of those areas. But nothing good lasts forever, and even Toyota OEM light bulbs burn out.

Since the start of the year, I have progressively replaced all of my Corolla’s light bulbs with LEDs, typically with higher end Sylvania ZEVOs. So far, I have converted to LEDs: the instrument cluster, the dome light, trunk light, plate lights, all rearward lights. Still needing replacement: HVAC light, shifter light, headlights, the turn lights, and tiny lights in the ignition, ash tray, and the cigarette lighter (though I don’t smoke).

Some of my friends and co-workers have critiqued this project, on the grounds of cost. However, IMHO the benefits outweight the initial cost.


  1. Reliability: LEDs last much (much) longer than incandescent light bulbs, are more resistant to shock damage, and use less energy. ZEVOs are guaranteed to last a lifetime, at least the life of the car.
  2. Safety #1: As LEDs are brighter than incandescent light bulbs, they are safer than incandescent as they can be more clearly seen in most driving conditions. As quality LEDs can also be dimmed, just like incandescents, brightness-induced eye strain can be mitigated.
  3. Safety #2: As the rated lifespans for LED bulbs are vastly higher than that of incandescents, it is very unlikely that an LED indicator light will suddenly go out and then mask an active check engine light or other indicator light from the driver.
  4. Instant On: LED bulbs light up almost instantly, communicating to the driver and other drivers the status of his or her car.
  5. Brightness: As LEDs are typically brighter than incandescent bulbs, they more clearly and cleanly impart the status of a car to other drivers at ranges beyond that of incandescents.
  6. Psychology: A driver who is aware that his or her car lights will not burn out as they are LED bulbs, is a more confident driver even when driving an older vehicle.
  7. Energy: LED bulbs use very little energy. They will not realistically drain a car battery. They will even function in a car with high electrical loads (subwoofers) or perhaps one with a weak alternator. Electrical loads were already not an issue with my car, as I had already added one of the most powerful car batteries available, the MotoMaster AGM, but as I am looking at a Pioneer amp, a sub, rear deck speakers, and perhaps a Phaser cannon for my roof a big energy reserve helps.
  8. Replacement cost: Zero, especially when buying retail bulbs with lifetime guarantees from a big manufacturer like Sylvania.
  9. Knowledge: Learn how to replace a car part, acquire car knowledge, and gain self-confidence!
  10. It’s the Future: LEDs are the future and you better get in line.
  11. Cool Factor: I have LEDs and you don’t.


  1. Cost: Quality, retail automotive LED bulbs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs. However, the more expensive the retail LED bulb, the better the heat sink, the longer the bulb life, and the better the warranty.
  2. Limited Selection: Currently, retail LED car bulbs do not exist for each and every type of car bulb. As they are no LED dual beam headlights for my car, I bought Sylvania XtraVisions. As they are no retail bulb 74 LEDs, I bought a handful of homemade LEDs from a Chinese dealer for $3 a pair (about as much as a discounted pair of incandescent 74LLs). The homemade LEDs aren’t as bright or as attractive looking as the ZEVOs, but they do the job.
  3. Obsolete Vehicle #1: Older cars and the lenses for their signal lights were not designed for LED bulbs and their limitations, e.g. narrow, focused beam.
  4. Obsolete Vehicle #2: Older cars that were not designed with the light electrical load of LED bulbs in mind may also demonstrate hyperflashing, wherein LED bulbs flash too quickly.
  5. Obsolete Vehicle #3: Also, LED lights that won’t flash or LED bulbs that won’t completely turn off even when the car is off due to load resistance issues.
  6. Safety: LED headlights are known to blind other drivers, as they are very bright, focused light beams. This can be mitigated with proper headlight adjustment and by not driving with hi-beams on all the time.
  7. Low Heat: LED bulbs can’t be used to melt snow and ice off of a headlight or taillight lens as they generate very little heat.