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Old 08-28-2016, 04:29 PM   #1
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Dim Headlight Issue Resolved with Relays

Since we bought our vintage RV 4 years ago, we've suffered through the difficulties of dim headlights, flaming hot light switches, melted connectors, and headlights that decide to go out at the most inopportune times... Until now.

I'm sure lots of people have heard about the relay cure for dim headlights, but there doesn't seem to be many posts here on the forums regarding the fix... so I figured I'd throw this out there for anyone interested.

In short, on many old rigs with sealed beam headlights, the factory wiring harness just isn't heavy enough, and the voltage drop between the battery, through the headlight switch, and on to the lights is just simply too much. On our rig, I measured around 14.2 volts at the alternator... but with the headlights on, the voltage AT THE HEADLIGHT was only around 11 volts. This voltage drop is enough to effectively cut the light output of each bulb by 1/2.

The relay fix is pretty simple. Wire the headlights direct to a set of relays... and use the existing headlight wiring to control those relays. Voltage for the headlights is now supplied through the relays direct from the battery, so you bypass all of the thin 14 or 16 gage wiring and corroded connectors in the dash which simply cannot transfer the necessary current. That wiring now only has to carry the parking lights and the coils in the relays.

The result... is brighter lights, cool light switches, and reliable headlights. I won't go into a ton of detail on our install... Instead, I'll just post the link to the guy we purchased the relay kit from:
Daniel Stern Lighting

This guy loves talking about vehicle lights... he is very knowledgeable, and his website is loaded with helpful information. He doesn't have a "shopping cart" on his website, so he does all of his business kind of old fashioned through email.

Being familiar with relays and wiring, I could have easily laid this all out myself without ordering a kit from him, but he did offer some items that I really couldn't seem to source anywhere... namely the new ceramic sockets for the sealed beam bulbs with which to start building your wiring harness between the bulbs and the relays.

At any rate... the relay kit was a success, and we now have 14 volts at the headlights. According to the chart on Daniel Stern's website, 11 volts to 14 volts will more than double the lumen output of each bulb. I don't have a light meter with which to measure the actual output, but I can tell you the difference is astounding.

The picture below shows where I tied the relays into the chassis battery... it's a terminal on the firewall that is fed directly from the battery with a 4 gage wire with almost zero voltage drop. It's nothing fancy... but it certainly is effective. The wires to the headlights were replaced with all 12awg... and I soldered all of the terminals in the connectors. I know there is some debate as to whether a crimped connection is better than a soldered one, but because of the style crimps on these connectors I opted to crimp and solder both. The three relays are to control the 3 different filaments across the 1A1 and 2A1 headlight assemblies.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the outcome. It's a cheap upgrade, and now not only can I see at night, but I don't worry about the dash catching fire from the super heated light switch.

-cheers



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Old 08-28-2016, 04:36 PM   #2
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Did the exact same job on my 94 Southwind last week.
Couple of hours work and what a difference. My lights were flashing on and off after about three minutes. They're constant now and twice as bright as before, well worth doing !!
I used two relays on my set up, both with dual 87 terminals.
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Old 08-29-2016, 01:13 AM   #3
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I did the same to my '76 Caddy along with switching to h4/H1 bulb housings and the light output is like night and day. I also used a two relay setup.

I found the Daniel Stern Lighting several years ago and he has some great information on lighting.
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Old 08-29-2016, 10:21 AM   #4
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thanks piker
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Old 08-29-2016, 01:09 PM   #5
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Nice write up. This is my next project. I do a good bit of night driving and my dim headlights are aggravating.
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Old 08-29-2016, 01:20 PM   #6
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While my RV is not vintage yet. Putting relays in made a big difference in brightness of headlights.


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Old 09-24-2016, 03:15 PM   #7
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Sorry for the thread revival, but I am pondering this right now, my 96 Winnebago is on a Freightliner chassis and I am having a problem with the old style pull & turn truck headlight switch getting warm, I replaced it last year due to it overheating and cutting out (built in thermal breaker) and have since worried about it getting hot. I haven't had an issue with the new switch yet, but the headlights are not the brightest anyway.

My question is the power feed wires that run too the switch are fairly beefy and I am thinking about using one of them to power the relay/headlights (while using the power wire fro the switch to signal the relay) but diverting the load around the switch for the low beams to reduce it's resistance and allowing more voltage to the headlight itself. I know every thing I read in the context of cars and trucks (and gas coaches) they discuss running a new big wire to the relay location to feed more voltage to the headlight itself, but on Freightliner it's already heavy, cant I just re-use that?
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Old 09-24-2016, 04:52 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vectraguy View Post
I know every thing I read in the context of cars and trucks (and gas coaches) they discuss running a new big wire to the relay location to feed more voltage to the headlight itself, but on Freightliner it's already heavy, cant I just re-use that?
I think the question is "how heavy is it" and what is the voltage drop? If you turn your headlights on and check the voltage on the wire you're talking about right at the switch (back-probe the switch) you will have a good idea of whether it's heavy enough or not.

-cheers
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Old 09-24-2016, 07:27 PM   #9
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Well, my only objective is to take the switch out of the system for the low beams, I have no plans to upgrade the wiring to the headlights themselves. From what I see at the switch the supply wires to the switch and out look like 12 gauge. And I can't see any benefit to upgrading it by using the same wire just newer.
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Old 09-25-2016, 04:35 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vectraguy View Post
Well, my only objective is to take the switch out of the system for the low beams, I have no plans to upgrade the wiring to the headlights themselves. From what I see at the switch the supply wires to the switch and out look like 12 gauge. And I can't see any benefit to upgrading it by using the same wire just newer.
It comes down to the length of the wire and the load.

Assuming you have two standard 55w bulbs along with all of the 5w & 10w marker lights running through the switch. If you rewire the low beam, then you still have the high beam feeding through the switch with either 2 or 4 65w bulbs.

When you are using your low beams (2x55w), you are running a little over 8 amps. Your high beams (2x65w) you are running almost 10 amps. The next factor is the length of the wire. If your battery is located on the front fire wall, then I'm guessing about 6-8 feet of wiring from the battery to the switch and back to the relay location. To get 1% voltage drop (what is really important here for maximum light output) you should be running an 8 gauge wire back and forth to the switch. This is not counting power to the running lights. If you run it directly from the battery on the fire wall to the relays and then on to the headlights, then you can use a 12 gauge wire to feed the relays.

If it were my installation, I would run a single 10 gauge to the relay location (2ft) split with inline fuses for each relay and then separate 12 gauge wires to each headlight bulb (not more than 8 ft). Any smaller wire than that and you will start getting voltage drop at the bulbs which means less light output.
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Old 09-25-2016, 05:56 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vectraguy View Post
Well, my only objective is to take the switch out of the system for the low beams, I have no plans to upgrade the wiring to the headlights themselves. From what I see at the switch the supply wires to the switch and out look like 12 gauge. And I can't see any benefit to upgrading it by using the same wire just newer.
12 gage should be heavy enough depending on how long the runs are. The only way to know for sure if any of it's "worth it" is to measure the voltage drop in the areas of concern. You might find that the new switch is just fine.

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Old 09-25-2016, 06:19 AM   #12
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Upgraded but still interesting. Also replaced complete headlights with European ones with real glass lenses. Well worth the $ it cost. My headlights are BMW Series 3 on my coach.
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Old 09-25-2016, 08:13 AM   #13
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Thanks, I don't use the high beams, I use led lighting to supplement because the color is white and no matter what I did the high beams will not be worth a darn anyway, I don't plan on hid in the stock hella reflector because they would not cast that light properly and could blind oncoming cars...that's why I have the LED light bars in the grill for high beam use. I also think changing out the marker light bulbs to LED will go a long way to reducing some of the running light load on the switch.
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Old 09-25-2016, 01:42 PM   #14
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Great job, Piker.

Nice to have better lighting in the vintage rigs.

I did the relays with my homemade wiring harness for my 2000 F350. Night and day improvement.

I'll be doing the same to my daughters 1990 Grand Caravan.

Rich
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