How to fit LED lighting to your car legally

Posted on February 7th, 2017 by Rob Marshall


In our last blog on the topic, we looked at why LED conversion bulbs are both illegal and dangerous, when fitted to vehicle exterior lamps. Here are the most common questions on the topic, fielded by GEM’s Technical Department:


1. New cars are fitted with LED lamps, why can I not install LED bulbs in my car’s lights to improve the looks and illumination?
New cars are fitted with LED lamps, which have been tested and pass Whole Vehicle Type Approval. Under British Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations, LEDs are not mentioned, because they were not invented, when the legislation was penned in 1989, meaning that they are not permitted at all. However, new cars fitted with LED lights are allowed to be used in the UK, because the lamps pass European / UNECE technical standards (although some of these latest LED lamps seem more dazzling to me than ever before).
Nonetheless, the ‘bulbs’ on those newer cars thus equipped, at the time of writing, cannot be renewed. If an LED module fails, the whole lamp has to be replaced.
Not only do conversion bulbs fail to comply with the aforementioned European technical standards but also fitting them ensures that your lamp will not perform as designed and will prejudice the Whole Vehicle Type Approval of your vehicle.


2. My car has passed its MoT Test with an LED bulb fitted, surely this makes them safe and legal?
The MoT is a minimum safety standard that does not permit dismantling to be carried-out during the examination. It does not, generally, enforce Type Approval. Therefore, it is possible to have an unroadworthy car that has just passed its MoT Test.


3. I fitted LED bulbs to my car and the lamp output is far brighter, and therefore safer, than the old Halogen bulb.
We took advice from automotive lighting specialists on this issue, who advised GEM that a lamp is not made safer automatically by being brighter. As halogen lamp optics are not designed to work with an LED bulb, some parts of the output pattern will be brighter and other parts will be dimmer. The other issue involves light scatter, which will dazzle oncoming motorists, which the driver may confuse as offering superior vision. Regardless of these technical issues, however, it still remains an offence to use LED conversion bulbs within an exterior lamp on the road.


4. Are there any instances in which I can use an LED conversion bulb?
Despite being illegal to sell, for the reasons highlighted earlier, you can use an LED conversion bulb in an interior lamp, provided that it is not focussed onto the road.


5. I wish to incorporate LED lighting to my car’s exterior. How can I do this legally?
The only way is to use a complete lamp unit that has been tested and wears a Type Approval Mark from an approved maker, such as Ring Automotive.
However, GEM has come across complete LED lamps that do not wear any form of Type Approval Mark and such kits admit in the very fine print on the packaging that they are not for road use. Buy with care.
Any modification, however, must be declared to your insurance company.


6. I drive a classic car and the headlights are very dim, compared to modern vehicles. Is there an exception for classic vehicles? Due to its age, my car does not have to comply with Type Approval.
Sadly, there are no exceptions for older cars.
Yet, it is correct that British Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989 specifies dates before which lamps and light sources do not have to be Type Approved. However, newly manufactured bulbs must comply with the current regulations, regardless of the age of vehicle to which they are fitted.
The DfT advised GEM that, as LEDs are not mentioned in the UK regulations, this means that they are not permitted, unless they comply with European legislation, which they cannot. The DfT also advises that:
“There are also requirements for minimum power for certain lamps… LEDs… would be unlikely to meet these requirements.”

(Information correct as of January 2017)